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Jobs and Development

Stitching Dreams: In Tamil Nadu, Rural Women Show the Way to Start Up India

Samik Sundar Das's picture
In our travels across rural Tamil Nadu we met many women who had a great deal of experience in working in the large garments factories of the state – in Tiruppur and Chennai. But, after getting married their family responsibilities forced them to leave their jobs and return to their villages. Now these young women have put their years of experience to use and are setting up small enterprises in their home villages, sewing garments for India’s huge domestic market. It is a win-win situation for all. Working out of thatched huts and refurbished cowsheds, the newly-minted women entrepreneurs not only turn in a tidy profit but also create much-needed employment for others. The large garment manufacturing companies, faced with crippling shortages of skilled labor, now outsource orders to these units. Today, these fast-growing women’s enterprises have not only opened up new avenues for rural women to work, boosting female labor force participation, but also added a new grassroots and gender dimension to the idea of Start Up India.   
 
As we entered the small hut of rammed earth thatched with coconut leaves, the sounds we heard belonged to a different world. Amidst the whir of industrial sewing machines, nine young women were busy stitching bolts of fabric into men’s shirts, destined for India’s vast domestic market for low-cost garments.  
 
Once a large cow shed, a garment unit today.

This was Inam Koilpatti village in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu. Even though many villages in the state were rapidly urbanising, this village still had many huts, and prosperity was yet to arrive.
 
Two young women, Indhurani and Gurupakkiam, ran this tiny unit. Born with an entrepreneurial spirit, these women have unwittingly given a much-needed boost to the idea of ‘Start Up India’ in this poor region.
 
“We were both working at a company in Thalavaipuram,” they began. (Thalavaipuram is an emerging garments hub nearby.) “But, with family responsibilities it was getting hard for us to travel 20 km to work. Three years ago we approached our employer with a proposition. We would set up a unit in our village, if he would give us orders,” they narrated.

Taking lessons from rural India to Azerbaijan

Ahmed Ailyev's picture

I have always believed that communities are like musical instruments. You need to tune them properly to hear their divine music. I actually heard this music from rural communities in India. And their song, which still resonates within me, is something I will now take back to my own country.
 
In May 2017, my colleagues and I from the World Bank’s Azerbaijan Rural Investment Project were on an exposure visit to India to see firsthand how self help groups and cooperatives were impacting the lives of rural people.
 

Kerala: AzRIP and Bank team at the Trade Fair of all SHG livelihood groups across Kerala organized by Kudumbashree at Kollam.

In my years of work in rural development, I have found that the unique feature we as human beings have is the ability to share  skills, values and experiences. As we travelled across six states, this proved to be true in all the people we met, be it in large commercial companies or in remote rural  communities.
 
The people told us that transparency and honesty were an essential factor in their success. I also found that the spirit of cooperation was clearly present. Cooperatives belong to all members, they said, and the managers were there to serve the members. The leaders of self help groups, producer organizations, cooperatives, and micro enterprise groups also told us that they must be party to the risk taken by the group, and should lead by example in order to motivate others.

College of Engineering Pune - taking reforms to new heights

Lola Nayar's picture
Reviving an institution to its past glory of being among the best in the country can be a tough task. But after fifteen years of administrative and educational reforms with financial help and guidance of the World Bank and the government, the 160-year-old College of Engineering Pune (COEP) has emerged among the top 25 in the country. The Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) has ranked COEP at 21 out of the top 100 engineering colleges in the country, in the first ever ranking exercise undertaken by it. Even in private sector exercises by various periodicals, COEP, which boasts a heritage building and a workshop complex which reportedly undertook armament manufacturing during the World War II, scores over some of the prestigious IITs and NITs.

Much more than just funding by the World Bank under its Technical Education Quality Improvement Project (TEQIP) has clearly helped COEP not just arrest the slide in academic standards but also reemerge among the top ranking engineering colleges in the country where both the faculty and the students take pride in being meritorious. 

Trophies and certificates of merit can be seen displayed not just in COEP director Prof Bharatkumar B. Ahuja’s airy room in the restored heritage building, which houses the administrative office, but in many other workshops and main halls of the college. Prof Ahuja states with pride that after IITs, it is the first choice of students from the state. 

In an environment where industry is known to be critical of most engineering colleges, COEP has received Rs. 1 crore worth scholarships for students this year. Many of the industries are coming forward to help the college set up labs for promoting innovation. Having got autonomy, a precondition under the World Bank project, COEP is striving to achieve university status to push ahead with its programme to introduce more specializations and research. It boasts of 118 PhDs among its 217 faculty members.
 
Rapid Prototyping Lab : The Rapid Prototyping Laboratory has facilities for making physical objects directly from Computer-Aided Design (CAD) models. UG and PG students use these facilities for experimentation and product development.

During a recent visit, unmindful of the high temperature in the tin roofed workshop of the yore, enthusiastic students could be seen engaged in club activities like robotics, racing car, 3D printing, etc.  The college has over 30 clubs including a satellite club, where like in a relay race projects are started and taken forward by next batch of students. On the fourth floor of one of the buildings,  in a makeshift station the satellite club members monitor and communicate daily with the communication polar satellite Swayam ( the fourth student satellite from India) when it passes over Pune. The club is now working on a new satellite - Solar Sail - with research funding from ISRO.

For Bangladeshi women, road maintenance brings better opportunities

Ashis Bhadra's picture
Bangladeshi women holding basket above their heads while working on road project. The Second Bangladesh Rural Transport Improvement Project interventions have created approximately 50,000 person-years of employment in project areas, out of which 30% were for poor women.
Bangladeshi women holding baskets above their heads while working on a road project. The Second Bangladesh Rural Transport Improvement Project has generated nearly 50,000 person-years of employment in project areas, out of which 30% were for poor women. Credit: World Bank

Not long after her husband suddenly died in 2012, Kunti Rabi Das struggled to put three square meals on the table for her family of three. Kunti, a member of the minority ethnic dalit community and living in the remote Rajnagar upazila under the Moulvibazar district of Bangladesh, simply didn’t have the means to produce enough to live on. Moreover, her prospects for any work that could support her family were dim.
 
That was her predicament until a Union Parishad (or village administrative council) representative introduce her to the Performance Based Maintenance Contract, or PBMC, program. Under PBMC, Kunti cleans drains, fills pits, clears minor blockades and plants trees on roadways near her home. Working six days a week, she earns up to 4,500 Taka per month.
 
The program provides a cost-effective and time-saving approach to keeping Bangladesh’s rural roads in optimal riding condition during every season. At the same time, it improves the lives and livelihoods of the country’s poorest women, who are given priority among other contractors vying for the work, according to the World Bank’s women’s empowerment principles.

Youth in Pakistan plug into digital jobs of the future

Anna O'Donnell's picture
Omer Ahsan, a program trainee who is now successfully freelanacing online as a professional content writer. Photo Credit/Waleed Abbas

Omer Ahsan is a chartered accountant in the making from Waziristan. He first heard about the Youth Employment Program, a free digital skills program offered by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Technology Board, from discussions on a group chat over Whatsapp, and applied immediately. Within two weeks of completing the digital skills program, Omer has built an online profile and has successfully earned money as a professional content writer.

Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is emerging from decades of instability and conflict, and would seem an unlikely place for digital workers to thrive. But with nearly 16 million youth in the province, and few available jobs locally, there is a pressing need to think outside the box in terms of equipping young people with the skills, knowledge and capabilities to take on the future.

In 2015, together with the World Bank, a series of pilot programs were conducted to test a model of digital skill training for youth. Growing connectivity, cloud technology, and the emergence of new business outsourcing models have lowered the barriers to entry for global employment, even for youth in remote parts of Pakistan. The key ingredients to accessing this employment: access to the internet, basic skills, and awareness, and the pilot program tested different approaches to supporting youth to develop online work skills.

In Bangladesh, an experienced – yet struggling – worker becomes an entrepreneur

Tashmina Rahman's picture
Nikhil Chandra Roy, who received certification through the Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP),
Nikhil Chandra Roy, who received certification through the Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP),
Skills recognition is changing the lives of informal workers in Bangladesh

In 2014, Nikhil Chandra Roy was struggling to find and keep regular employment. He had extensive experience dating back to 1977, doing the work of an electrician. But because he had no formal training or certification, Nikhil couldn’t win the confidence of employers in Bangladesh to give him anything more than episodic, relatively low-paying work.

At age 55, just as he was giving up hope for career progress, Nikhil saw an advertisement that ended up turning his outlook and life around. The ad introduced him to the Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) program, aimed especially at people like Nikhil, who have real skills and experience in a particular occupation but no formal, independently recognized qualifications.

Not long later, Nikhil participated in a three-day program, which entails one day of assessment and two days of training. That led to the recognition he had long awaited and needed to boost his career: a Government-endorsed skills certification from the Bangladesh Technical Education Board (BTEB) in electrical installation and maintenance.
 
A blog series to celebrate Bangladesh’s progress
toward #ProsperBangladesh 


“From that point on,” Nikhil said, “there was no looking back. With my years of experience, knowledge and now skills certification, I was ready to progress my career from just an electrician to an entrepreneur.

Nikhil was one of the many vulnerable informal sector workers in Bangladesh who have no regular jobs and who work on ad hoc opportunities, making it difficult to sustain livelihoods. These workers, with enough experience to perform the technical work well but not the credential many jobs require, improve their employability and bargaining power in job markets when they get the proper certification. And with that certification, workers gain social status in their communities.

The RPL program, which evaluates the skills level of workers and issues government certification to workers who pass an assessment, has operated since 2014 as a pilot activity under the Skills and Training Enhancement Project (STEP). STEP aims to give more Bangladeshis the technical skills they need to compete successfully in domestic and international labor markets.

The demand for RPL certification has been enormous. Since its inception, RPL has assessed more than 9,000 applicants from all over Bangladesh. Every month, RPL offers 600 applicants certification trainings in electrical installation and maintenance; IT support; block, boutique and screen printing; sewing machine operation; tailoring and dress making; motorcycle servicing; plumbing; and welding.

Pathways to Prosperity: An e-Symposium

Martin Rama's picture

 

Blog 12: Key lessons on road to sharing prosperity

India is home to the largest number of poor people in the world, as well as the largest number of people who have recently escaped poverty. Over the last few weeks, this blog series has highlighted research from the World Bank and its partners on what has driven poverty reduction, what still stands in the way of progress, and the road to a more prosperous India.

This is the last blog in the
#Pathways2Prosperity series. You can read all the blogs in this series and keep contributing to the discussion around #WhatWillItTake to #EndPoverty in India.


A thorough review of India’s experience in reducing poverty over the last two decades confirmed some of our previous understanding, but it also revealed new, unexpected insights. On the confirmation side, we found that poverty in India, as in other parts of the world, is associated with a lack of assets at the household level, and especially with limited human capital.

At the national level, 45 percent of India’s poor are illiterate, whereas another 25 percent have a primary education at most. Further down several Indian states, including a few high-income ones, show stunting and underweight rates that are worse than the averages for sub-Saharan Africa. While multiple factors lie at the root of the nutrition challenge, the prevalence of diarrheal disease is thought to be one of the main culprits, and diarrhea is triggered by poor hygiene. Only 6 percent of India’s poor have tap water at home, and a little more than a fifth have a latrine or some form of improved sanitation.

From this perspective, investing in education, health and the delivery of basic services for India’s most disadvantaged people remains a key priority. Investments of this sort would enhance the human capital of the poor, hence increase their chances to prosper.

What India’s successful rural development programs can teach the world?

Ethel Sennhauser's picture

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.
 
Photo credit: Irina Klytchnikova



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.

Pathways to Prosperity: An e-Symposium

Urmila Chatterjee's picture

Blog #11: Since 2005, fewer jobs for women in India

India is home to the largest number of poor people in the world, as well as the largest number of people who have recently escaped poverty. Over the next few weeks, this blog series will highlight recent research from the World Bank and its partners on what has driven poverty reduction, what still stands in the way of progress, and the road to a more prosperous India.

We hope this will spark a conversation around #WhatWillItTake to #EndPoverty in India. Read all the blogs in this series, we look forward to your comments. 

Female labor force participation in India is among the lowest in the world. What’s worse, the share of working women in India is declining.  This is a cause for concern since higher labor earnings are the primary driver of poverty reduction. It is often argued that declining female participation is due to rising incomes that allow more women to stay at home. The evidence, however, shows that after farming jobs collapsed post 2005, alternative jobs considered suitable for women failed to replace them.

Pathways to Prosperity: An e-Symposium

Martin Rama's picture

Blog #10: Three job deficits in unfolding India story

India is home to the largest number of poor people in the world, as well as the largest number of people who have recently escaped poverty. Over the next few weeks, this blog series will highlight recent research from the World Bank and its partners on what has driven poverty reduction, what still stands in the way of progress, and the road to a more prosperous India.

We hope this will spark a conversation around 
#WhatWillItTake to #EndPoverty in India. Read all the blogs in this series, we look forward to your comments. 


Rising labor earnings have driven India’s recent decline in poverty.  But the quantity and quality of jobs created raise concerns about the sustainability of poverty reduction, and the prospects for enlarging the middle class. The period after 2005 can be best described as one of a growing jobs deficit. Three deficits actually: i) a deficit in the overall number of jobs, ii) a deficit in the number of good jobs, and iii) a deficit in the number of suitable jobs for women. 

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