In recognition of its 75th anniversary, the Ford Foundation today announced $100,000 awards to 12 social innovators who, through their extraordinary vision and courageous work, are improving the lives of millions of people.
“In a period of uncertain transformation in global society, politics and the economy, the Ford Foundation Visionaries Awards seek to raise the profile of leaders whose innovative efforts on the frontlines of key social issues offer pathways to improved economic opportunities and expanded political and social participation for millions of marginalized people worldwide. We can’t think of a more fitting way to mark our anniversary than to spotlight the people who continually infuse new energy and ideas into the effort to solve our most pressing social problems,” said Luis Ubinas, president of the Ford Foundation. “They are thinkers and doers-people who pursue their vision with determination and a laser focus on impact.”
One of the recipients is doing work that should be interesting to associations.
Ela R. Bhatt, is Co-founder and CEO, of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), in Ahmedabad, India. Ela has dedicated her life to improving the lives of India’s poorest and most oppressed workers—the poor, self-employed women workers who earn a living through their own labor or small business. Constituting 93% of the labor force, these women are being taught by SEWA to organize into sustainable associations so that they can collectively promote their own development.
SEWA organizations have many different purposes. Some are trade associations that promote employment, increase income or link the women workers/producers with the market. Some aim to build assets through savings and credit, such as SEWA Bank. They can be organizations which provide social security, such as health care or child care. Some promote the cause of, and advocate for, poor women. They are organized at the village level, the district level, the state level, or at the national or international level.
Some are registered as co-operatives, societies, producers associations. Their members may be self- employed women directly, or primary organizations of self -employed women.
They all have the following characteristics:
- They exist for the benefit of the self-employed women members of SEWA.
- They are owned by the self-employed women workers.
- They are managed by them.
- They are democratically run.
- They aim towards self-reliance, both financially and managerially.
The structure of SEWA is labyrynthical — To date, there are:
* 99 Cooperatives with 90,604 members, representing milk producers, artisans, child care workers, and more;
* An “urban union” more than 100 trades with 56,000 street vendors, 53,000 home-based workers, 69,000 manual laborers and more;
* Rural and agricultural associations representing 330,000 individuals
Undaunted by the magnitude of the job to be done, the complexity of the structures, and the resource challenges that they face, SEWA is making a difference in the lives of its members. It is delivering tangible, visible benefits.
No wonder they are growing so fast.