Empowering women in India to be economic leaders

Uttar Pradesh is India’s most populous state, but with 59 million people living in poverty and women experiencing very high amounts of inequality, there are few opportunities for women to make money and provide for their families.

That’s why the IKEA Foundation is funding an innovative project run by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), called Swaayam.

I’m in India this week, visiting the project with colleagues from IKEA, and I’ve been amazed by the women I’ve met who are finally able to take part in their local economy.

Entering the milk collection processing site
Visiting the Ksheer Dairy Company

Swaayam means ‘self-reliance’ in Sanskrit and is the perfect description of the work the IKEA Foundation is funding in Uttar Pradesh. Since 2009, UNDP has been running a pilot project in Eastern Uttar Pradesh to empower some of the poorest women in rural India so they can provide for themselves and their families economically, but also to allow them to play a stronger role in their households and communities.

Usha Verma
Usha Verma explaining to us how the Swaayam Ksheer Women’s Dairy Producer Company works

The pilot project has reached 55,000 women and has seen dramatic results, with the setting up of the Swaayam Ksheer Dairy Company which sees 12,000 women involved in producing 24,000 liters of milk a day.

Like the other businesses set up by the program, the Ksheer Dairy Company is an equity share holding company – so as well as having the resources to produce and distribute the milk, the women also have ownership of the company.

I’ve been able to meet Usha Verma, one of ten women on the company’s board of directors.

We were given a tour of the milk processing site and could see how this massive operation works.

Pushpa Devi shows milk chiller to Per Heggenes
Pushpa Devi shows the milk chiller to our CEO, Per Heggenes
Pushpa Devi shows milk fat analysis system
Pushpa Devi demonstrates the milk fat analysis system

The success of the pilot projects means that from this year UNDP and the IKEA Foundation will be expanding the work into three other states – Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat to reach an additional 2.2 million women.

This week, we’ve met women who are setting up small businesses and revolutionizing the private sector in rural areas. We know that when women feel empowered, they’re able to change the future for their families and their communities. At the IKEA Foundation, we’re proud to be part of that change.

If you’d like to hear from the women themselves, you can watch a video on our website.