In India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, I met young ex-farmers who had moved out of farm jobs and were now working in factories and government offices. Their day to day circumstances weren’t all that different from millions of others around the world.
But yet, the people I met were remarkable. There was the disabled young man who, with skills training, found an IT job and a life outside his home, and is now supporting his mother. There were also women Self Help Group (SHG) members who, with support from their female Panchayat Leader, Pushpa, were helping to better the lives of their communities. They worked to improve water supply, build toilets and boost sanitation, and also found jobs in agro-processing.
My time in India made it clear to me that opportunity can change lives - especially in rural areas, where 78% of the country’s poor people live.
Opportunity can come in various forms. It can come in the form of social empowerment - by giving voice to groups that are often marginalized, such as women, youth and disabled people.
It can also come in the form of jobs - through skills training, job placement programs and other services that help people secure formal employment.
Jobs and social empowerment are two different opportunities. But they can be related: They both share transformative effects that are positive, and can multiply in unexpected directions.
For example, as women gain more confidence, their voices are listened to on a variety of matters within the home - such as on family planning and how to spend family incomes - improving the lives of their children and their families. Collectively, the power of their voices expressed through SHGs and other groups can bring about change on a larger scale, impacting the wider community as a whole.
Jobs, too, are known to have transformative effects. They give people the economic resources to improve their quality of life, open up new opportunities and enable them to engage with the outside world.