Gauri Agrawal’s Skilled Samaritan Foundation helps women with traditional charpoy-weaving skills to create functional but beautiful products out of waste
What made you swap investment banking for social entrepreneurship?
GA: History demonstrates effectively that individuals who took their own path, and listened to their inner callings despite the current norms of society, were empowered with the ability to effect real change around them. We might not all be able to go down in history and become prolific game changers, but we can all certainly learn the value of listening to our own inner voices.
In 2008, I was finishing my Master’s in Finance and Economics from the University of Warwick and had three months to complete my dissertation. A strong need to deviate from the norm got me thinking about traveling to a country I had never been to before and exploring my education in a completely new context. My research on the ‘Success of Microcredit Provision’ led me to an internship with a small NGO in Trujillo, Peru.
Have you had to deal with many challenges?
GA: Most of the women we work with are engaged or married by the time they are 15 years of age and most of them drop out of school or study only till the tenth standard. In these communities, there is generally a lower value attached to daughters. Considering the women do not step out of their villages and are solely responsible for most household chores, we are currently figuring out the best way to centralize operations so the women can work in a common facility in the vicinity of their homes.
GA: By 2025, SSF aims to create income opportunities for more than 50,000 women from western Uttar Pradesh. Our model of combining existing skill-sets of rural women using modern designs, and locally sourced waste plus natural fibers as raw materials can be easily replicated and applied to women micro-entrepreneurs across India who wish to sell their products to a global community of buyers through the SSF online platform. We aim to be a strong contributor to a world in which every woman and girl enjoys full gender equality where all legal, social and economic barriers to their empowerment have been removed.
Using a circular economy model, we envisage an India where consumption and production patterns and use of all-natural resources are sustainable, and there is a significant increase in usage of waste plastics and textiles by keeping them in the economy and out of the environment.