Women’s Day – Women empowerment models

Indrani Sharma joined the Womanity family at the end of 2012 to manage the WomenChangeMakers Program in India. She brought with her 12 years of learning in the social entrepreneurship and economic empowerment sector, working with pioneering organizations like Ashoka, PlaNet Finance and independent projects with organizations like Greenpeace and Rockefeller Foundation.

Womanity: What does it mean to be a Woman Changemaker in India?

Indrani Sharma: While the program WomenChangeMakers Fellowship focuses on providing support to women empowerment models that are ready to scale – but could have been founded by both men and women- being a woman changemaker in India has very different connotations.

India is a progressive country that is uniquely a blend of both conservative communities and advanced societies. Thus far both schools of thoughts have co-existed with the fact that almost all women have been actually and realistically changemakers in their own setting (e.g. women are instrumental in encouraging education for their children and they are increasingly valuing economic independence). While there is no country yet in the world that has attained gender equality, India is no exception wherein the gender divide is a bit more apparent. Nevertheless, we do have a growing community of women disruptive innovators who are helping in changing the landscape and also providing boost to positive social change as whole.

Womanity: Tell us more about the WomenChangemakers program itself?

Indrani: The WomenChangeMakers (WCM) Fellowship provides support to women empowerment models that are ready to scale via capacity building efforts that includes professional assistance, training & mentorship as well as access to opportunities and networks.  Being in the 5th year of implementation, one question that always comes to my mind is: “How should we approach scaling this innovative effort?” Ideally we should have more of a deepening strategy than a quantitative expansion. But “how” is the question!

Womanity: What question these social entrepreneurs rarely ask themselves you wished they did?

I.S: The social entrepreneurs I have deeply worked with have shown a few trends that is worth mentioning – their problem statement and innovation models are awesome. But they rarely plan their interventions when they start their work. May be because they have more of a social interest in mind and not business. However, this sometimes cause roadblocks in their journey to scale their efforts. Another key factor is the sustainability tangent. This causes them to struggle when they have achieved great social success and change shift. But I am loving the way social enterprises are now developing – they are in start up mode with full planning in the background of social good such as Anu Sridharan of Next Drop.

Womanity: What would be a breakthrough for women in social enterprise in India?

Indrani: Indian environment is developing & evolving both socio-economically and politically. There is a huge shift in the way our society is thinking and reacting to change. As I mentioned earlier, we have two parallel schools of thoughts marching together – conservative and progressive. The government of India, social stakeholders and people at large are doing everything to create the backdrop to empower women. But the need to have the real shift in the patriarchal thought process is still underway and is a mammoth task. We still need more safety for women to voice their concerns, execute their rights and also make choices that they want to make. Technology could still have a huge role to play. Alongside, access to resources or sharing or collaborating on resources is limited, and that must be boosted. Also, there should be encouragement and incentives for collaboration and partnerships so that innovation is not stand alone.

From child brides to all girls to school

Womanity: As a woman, what do you think is the impact of your program in the lives of women in your country and what have your learnt from it that you are applying to your own life?

Indrani: I think Womanity’s biggest contribution to the women empowerment sector in India has been to identify scalable models that can change women’s status in society for betterment and provide organized support to them so that impact is manifold.

With support from WCM, Educate Girls have been able to expand to various “gender gap” districts of Rajasthan since 5 years to an extent that one of the district is now no longer considered suffering from a gender gap. It means all girls now go to school. Imagine this change – from child brides to all girls to school.

We are constantly learning about the vision of our fellows. I am personally learning about affordable housing, livelihood projects, access to resources and many more areas. It is a rich knowledge base to understand my own country and its diverse communities.

I am also inspired to become a social entrepreneur to contribute to change on the ground – especially around economic empowerment since it means really freedom from fear of dependence!

Womanity: When you are not working on this program, what do you dedicate yourself to?

Indrani: As I work part time with Womanity, every year I undertake one additional assignment for a short period that helps me to diversify my outlook on the social landscape. For the last two years for example, I am involved in creating and engaging with a community of young innovators who work on technical / technological solutions to social challenges, like low cost medical solutions, environmental innovations etc. I design a challenge for 3M-CII in India since 2015 to do this and love the outcomes. Take a look here!

Until 2015, I have also worked with Ashoka Changemakers as part-time community lead for Asia. It was a very rewarding role where I managed over 50 online competition and challenges at various level of design and execution for 7 years.

I am also a full time mother of two children so I do spend a lot of time caring for my family, and raising empathetic global citizens for the future!

Read more about the WomenChangeMakers Fellowship.