Empowering Rural Women---the SSP Way

7:00 PM on Thursday 10 May 2018

Three leaders from Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP) of Pune to talk about how they have transformed 1,45,000 rural women in six states

SSP’s Prema Gopalan, Godavari Dange and Naseem Shaikh to speak

at 7pm on Thursday, May 10, 2018 at FCC Auditorium, AB-19 Mathura Road, New Delhi-110001.

You are cordially invited.

S Venkat Narayan 

Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP) empowers grassroots women’s collectives to move from “Margin to Mainstream”. Over the past two decades, SSP has built robust partnership eco-systems that enable women’s entrepreneurship and leadership in sustainable development. By choice, it is centred around low income, climate-threatened communities across Maharashtra, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Assam and Odisha.

In the water scarce regions of Maharashtra, marginal farmers are the most affected by climate change. These farmers are in distress since farming has become unviable. This problem is further intensified as the key stakeholder of farming is left aside: the women. Globally, 80% of poor farmers are women, and they have always been considered as mere labourers on their own farms.

The SSP’s Model Climate resilience farming model repositions women as farmers and bearers of the knowledge, enabling them to take informed decisions related to what to grow, what to consume and how much to sell. Since 2015, 41,000 women farmers have adopted this model; 30,000 acres of dry land has been converted to bio farms; they achieved 30% reduced input costs; and there has been a 25% increase in productivity per acre.

This model encourages women to gain cultivation rights from their families on a small piece of land which usually starts with half or one acre. During the last 20 years, SSP has empowered 1,45,000 grassroots women entrepreneurs, farmers, community leaders and young girls---thus impacting the lives of five million people in low income and underserved communities.

The key innovative practices that are building the resilience of marginal farming households are use of bio fertilizers and pesticides, preservation and exchange of local seeds, diversify from single to multiple food crops, increase in the number of crop cycles, choice of water-efficient and short-term crops, stress on water conservation through use of hydroponics, drip irrigation, sprinklers, farm ponds, recharging of bore wells, tree plantation and diversifying into agri-allied businesses.

In 2014, SSP teams evolved this approach with an aim to promote participation and leadership of women to ensure food and income security among marginal farmer households. In 2016, the partnership with Government of Maharashtra came as an opportunity to scale up the approach through building a cadre of agriculture leaders as Community Resource Persons to further train and handhold women farmers.

In three years, 41,000 women farmers and households have begun the shift towards climate resilient farming in drought prone regions of Maharashtra. SSP is organizing the women farmers in producer groups and collectives and has adopted a market-based approach that encourages first time access for marginal women farmers so they get competitive price for their yield.

Prema Gopalan Photo 2017 1

Prema Gopalan is Executive Director of SSP. Over two decades, she has built robust partnership eco-systems that have enabled 145,000 women entrepreneurs, farmers and leaders in sustainable development. Her leadership experience in seeding a women-centred market-based approach has gained wide recognition. She and SSP have received a large number of global and national awards for their work, including UNDP’s Equator Prize 2017.


Godavari Dange comes from a small village in one of the most climate-threatened regions in Maharashtra. She studied only till Class 7, was married at the age of 15. Her husband passed away in an accident when her children were very young. She restarted her journey first by participating in women’s self-help groups (SHGs), and was soon mobilizing other women in SHGs. Within one year, she founded the first women’s federation to work on women’s economic and leadership development. Presently, it has more than 5,000 members. She leads the community climate resilience fund that seeds innovations, and has disbursed more than INR 24 million for food security, sustainable agriculture, water conservation, environment innovations and women-led enterprise towards building greater leadership of grassroots women. Her motto is to act locally and lead globally. She has represented grassroots women in networks in India and 15 nations abroad.

Naseem Shaikh

Naseem Shaikh: Associate Director of Programmes at SSP, she has a Master’s degree in Social Work from Shivaji University, Kolhapur (Maharashtra). An expert with over two decades of experience in organizing rural grassroots women to build their economic, social and political competencies and move from the margin to the mainstream. After the massive earthquake 1993 in Maharashtra, she trained 500 rural women in as many villages to act as interlocutors between the Government and affected communities. After completion of the recovery effort, she persisted and redesigned grassroots women’s roles as leaders and planners in a large UNDP-supported project. In 2005, she came up with an innovative model Community Health Mutual Fund that allows women’s federations to own and manage people’s funds for health insurance. She is now an active global leader in the GROOTS International and Huairou Commission---the global network of grassroots women’s organizations of which SSP is an active member. Today, her movement of self-help groups includes over 100,000 women in rural India. Her expertise also includes project planning, business strategy, process design and operations management.