Author Archives: saath1

My Experience with Saath: Incubation at Grassroots Level

By Apurva Gajwani

My one-month internship at Saath, was under Development of Corporate Citizenship (DOCC), with the aim of sensitizing us towards many social issues of modern India. Saath is an NGO, which is a public charitable trust in Gujarat. It has reached out to over 100,000 slum dwellers in Gujarat. In 1994, it started community-based savings scheme. In 1999 it started its microfinance services by giving out small loan schemes. It employed a formal way and structured their operations by establishing a cooperative society structure. In 2002, it formed two co-operatives in Ahmedabad area. Today with over seven cooperative societies it has helped over 18,000 members.

Its main focus is on areas including health, education, infrastructure, livelihood & micro-finance, scope now being increased from urban poor to rural poor. Empowering local people to carry out the process of sustainable development, uplifting themselves from poverty, maintaining their social & economic status. It combined all cooperative societies to form the Saath Savings & Credit Cooperative Society. The main aim of Cooperative is to enable easy access of credit to urban as well as rural poor after they demonstrate their willingness to save and develop on the basis of the credit. Equal participation in credit availing process & providing it to the ones who have been excluded from this facility by formal institutions due to various reasons.

My internship started with a celebration, a celebration of women’s day. Almost 300-400 women had arrived from different centers being operated by SAATH in Ahmedabad, for this celebration. The program started with a drawing competition with a theme of “You are beautiful because”. I was amazed to see the enthusiasm as senior women also took onto crayons and started drawing with a passion. Being an MBA student, I always have a business perspective on everything. The first thing which I realized there, was that these women had awesome designing talent, they were very good at their drawings which could be easily useful in tailoring work. This thought of mine coincided with the aim of this program, i.e., to make people realize their hidden talents.  This competition was followed by some fun activities like musical chairs.

On the second and third day, we visited all the centers of Saath. First was Urmila Home Manager training center, which used to train women with training for being a home maid and also used to provide them with placement for the same. The business model, marketing techniques, and resources which they used to provide were very innovative, and it seemed like they had carried out extensive market analysis, as they exactly knew the requirements of each and every stakeholder in the process. The second was UDAAN, which to train ladies for starting their own beauty parlor, through interactive video tutorials. Also, it used to train people for retail management. The third was Women@Work; this center used to bring livelihood opportunity, to local women in sectors like mobile repair, plumbing, and electrical appliance. We also visited URC center which used to provide the local community with help regarding various schemes like getting a pan card or Aadhaar card. Last was Saath Co-operative, which is basically a micro-financing wing of Saath for providing the loan to small farmers, vendors, and entrepreneurs. I was literally amazed to see that it was completely handled by women and they used high tech tablets for accounting purposes.

After the third day, I was allotted my mentor, Kruti Ma’am, the Livelihood Programs Director of Saath; she was very cordial and helpful during the whole internship. My task was a part of the Business Gym program in coordination with Quest Alliance of Bangalore.  It was like an incubation program for small street-level vendors. It was divided into two parts:

  1. Pre-assessment for selecting the entrepreneurs – Developing a detailed quantitative as well as qualitative questionnaire for selecting the entrepreneurs suitable for this program.
  2. Developing curriculum for the program to help people who could then trains such entrepreneurs

This curriculum provides a structure and briefs points for the proper managerial training of micro and nano level enterprises. The nano-level enterprises are small street vendors, and road side food stalls, small plumbers, mason contractors.  Most of the owners of such enterprises are uneducated and don’t know how to expand their business to the next level. Also, they don’t have basic skills of communication and ignore major issues like inventory management and marketing.

This curriculum mainly focusses on six trades:

  1. Street Food stalls and Stores
  2. Small-scale electricians
  3. Plumbers
  4. Flour mills
  5. Laundry businesses
  6. Tailors

It focusses on improving the efficiency of businesses by improving their skills and knowledge on seven points including-

1) Market analysis techniques 2) Cost analysis 3) Inventory Management 4) Alternate business opportunities 5) Marketing Activities 6) Online Payments Portals 7) Government and other initiatives

This curriculum will require a certain level of motivation from the participation side to follow as most of the participants would think many of the modules as redundant, but examples such as most of the corporates follow these at a much deeper level may inspire them. Also, examples at a local level would inspire and motivate them.

I also carried out field visits to food stalls, electricians and plumbers to find out that practical examples of interviews, feedbacks forms, and inventory or storage cases would make them understand and make session much more interactive, only theoretical teachings would bore them and may lead to incomplete understanding. Props like pamphlets, boards can be given to show them effectiveness of marketing. Also, the online payments methods which have been shown could be given a live demo.

I am grateful to Saath and DOCC, SPJIMR for providing me such opportunities to get a unique experience, which was both remarkable and astonishing. Thanks a lot.

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Together we tread down the path to unity

By Natasha Garg

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As a part of my college SPJIMR’s DOCC program, I got the opportunity to work with Saath and was lucky enough to get a first-hand experience of how the smallest of initiatives can have a deep impact on people. It showed me how all it takes is one person wanting to make the lives of others better and how the ripple effect works and in turn improves the lives of a few hundred people.  Having interned with various NGOs throughout my life which mainly revolve around children and their education- this was the first time I would directly be involved with an NGO which works with not just children but also adults. I adore working with children and frankly, I was a little disappointed that I was not allocated a project where I got an opportunity to work with them.

I plainly recall being apprehensive when I strolled into the doors of Saath-which by the way, was hard to discover in light of the fact that Google Maps took me elsewhere and I was marginally embarrassed to be late on the first day itself. My orientation was led by Shikha and Kunal from the Research and Documentation & Communication (RDC) Cell and they ran us through what Saath is all about and how it has collectively helped hundreds and hundreds of people while keeping their main objective of creating inclusive societies intact. After that, we went to Saath’s Urmila Home Managers programme where I learnt the first lesson of my stay with Saath- the tools that I am learning in my MBA course are something that the women working there are already applying. For example, marketing strategy’s lesson 101 states that it is crucial to know your audience in order to succeed, which is exactly what Saath is doing. It has identified what the clients want and trains the women to be better home managers. Along with that, the most astounding thing for me was the kit that the women who are trained there are provided with- it includes everything, from a small thing like a nail cutter to apron to personal items like slippers and new sarees and lunch boxes for them to carry their lunch in. My first day being on Women’s Day I was told that a special programme was being held for all the women which was organised at DBS Camp on the outskirts of the city. This was the first insight I got into the kind of relationships that Saath focuses on building and the change it envisions in today’s women. There was a drawing competition where the women were supposed to interpret the term “Women Rights” and answer the question ‘I am beautiful because…’. The sole purpose of this competition was to incite thoughts by drawing upon their inner strength and it was a wonderful experience to see how unique each girl and each woman’s thoughts were. Over the next few days I visited the centres of Saath all over Ahmedabad including the Livelihood Centres in Odhav and Ghodasar and the Urban Resource Centre in Behrampur as well as the Urban Cooperative to understand the intricacies of the work that Saath does in the urban slums of Ahmedabad for marginalized children, women, youth and for holistic development of the community. It was a thought provoking experience to go to the field and see the reality and hardships that people face in their everyday life marked by struggle and subversion of their rights.

The main assignment for my internship was to come up with a business plan for the latest venture of Saath- manufacture of 100% bio-degradable sanitary napkins in the wake of Muruganantham of Tamil Nadu, the ‘padman’ of India and his sole intention of providing low cost sanitary napkins to the women who cannot afford to buy from commercial giants like Stayfree, Whisper, etc. Coming up with a business plan required understanding the target audience and the reason for them not adopting hygienic menstrual practices- whether it was lack of accessibility or sheer disinterest due to the presence of better alternatives. This required deep primary and secondary research and along the way I familiarized myself with facts about sanitary napkins which I would have never been exposed to otherwise. The assignment helped me put all that I had learnt about financial accounting in the first year of my course to practical use and helped me understand how intricately interdependent everything was with each other.

I would personally like to thank my mentor Shyam Sir under whose guidance I was able to utilize the opportunities to learn and grow and who showed me the path which I should follow to find the answers to the million questions that I had. I would lastly like to thank the whole Saath team for warmly welcoming me in their midst and for patiently answering the innumerable questions that I had during my field visits. It was certainly an experience that I will cherish in the days to come.

An Experience to Cherish for Life

By Pragya Tripathi

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“The only source of knowledge is experience” – Albert Einstein

The power in these words seem truer after my four weeks journey with SAATH. It was life changing experience to meet those people about whom you keep hearing from social media and NEWS channels. And what was more overwhelming was that people who came out of those situations are now part of the program and helping others.

I remember my first day at Saath, as it was International Women’s Day and there was a celebration for all the women who are part of Saath as beneficiary. The celebration had many competitions and food, but one competition really stood out for me. It was drawing competition the theme for which was ‘I am beautiful because….’ and women’s rights. It was good to see the thinking of all the ladies and girls and how much they were aware about. On the second day I visited various centers and cooperatives run by Saath and was so happy to see such humble people. The people who work on the ground were so optimist, full of life and wanted to make difference in the lives of the people. Saath takes pride in having more number of female workers and you could see in the field. In every activity you could find them, running center, cooperatives, training the students, mobilizing the communities almost everywhere. And every woman I spoke to had only one reason to work “I don’t want to sit at home, Didi.” They wanted to bring change in their life or in the lives of their daughters.

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I then started working on three tasks of my project. My first task brought me in touch with the students and trainers of the Beauty and Wellness Course. I interviewed 18 women/girls and each story had the only lesson, you need to have courage and heart to fight your own battles. A ray of hope was shown to them by Saath and they used it to transform their lives. I developed a video communication based on the life story of the four trainers who are real inspiration for these students.  My second task was more challenging as it was on interviewing and understanding the lives of the children enrolled in the Child Friendly Spaces program run by Saath. This initiative is for the children of migrant workers who cannot be enrolled in the school because of migration, unawareness and lack of documentation. Saath helps these students by starting an informal classroom at the construction site itself to make these students reach basic level, help the parents in documentation and get the students enrolled in the government-run schools. The space is not just for learning but also provides meals and shelter while the parents are working at the site. Lives of thousands of children is being impacted through this initiative. Children who had dreams of becoming officer, doctor, engineer can now see means of fulfilling it. One among such child was Anwar, whose life I shadowed and captured in a short video. My third task was to capture all the Saath programs in a short video. The orientation on the first two days about all the programs run by SAATH helped me to execute this task also successfully. The main challenge was that people were doing great work on the ground and I wanted to capture it flawlessly.

I would especially like to thank my mentor Vama Ma’am for her constant guidance and support and helping me identify correct methodologies to go about completing the tasks. She also helped in my personal learning and my project would have been incomplete without her valuable advice. She gave me an experience of how to work as a marketer – capture emotions and feeling of people and to develop communications based on it. I would also like to thank Priti Ma’am, master trainer of Beauty and Wellness course, who introduced me to various trainers and students and I shadowed her for two days to various centers in Ahmedabad. She herself is a story of inspiration and is also the inspiration behind the video of my first task.  I am also thankful to Kunal Sir and Nishant Sir for giving me insight on beauty and wellness course and Zuber Sir and Kamini Ma’am for their support in helping me to cover the CFS program. Getting correct statistics in my videos would have been impossible without support of Sharda Ma’am and Priyanka Ma’am and I am thankful to them. I would also like to thank Shikha and Pankaj for the orientation and constant support for all administration work. Everyone was so simple and humble and full of energy for the work they do.

I am glad that I got an opportunity to work with Saath for my DoCC (Development of Corporate Citizenship) project. Saath (in Hindi and Gujrati means ‘together, co-operation, a collective or support’) is truly living upto its name by extending its support to the marginalized section of the society in all the impact areas required. I would be more than willing to extend any kind of support to Saath even after my project stint and the experiences which I gained here will be with me as life lessons.

Slum Does Not Equal Homeless

 by Loren Breen

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DukeEngage-Ahmedabad 2017

After 15 years in the United States education system, I thought I had at least a general understanding of life in other countries. I still remember sitting in my AP Human Geography class during freshman year of high school; I was learning so much about the way people live. Of course, we discussed India in depth in regards to migration, urbanization, population growth rate, health care, etc. I foolishly assumed that my foundational knowledge of urban slums in India was decent since my exposure went beyond the depictions in Slum Dog Millionaire.

Even after being in Ahmedabad for just over a week, I can wholeheartedly say I was totally wrong. I perceived slums as a dangerous place to live and pitied these people because I assumed they would rather live anywhere else; I viewed slum dwellers as destitute and homeless. I thought I was coming to Ahmedabad to do charity work. Through my Western, American, and privileged lens, I thought slum dwellers needed welfare because they couldn’t support themselves. I am so grateful the staff at Saath Charitable Trust took the time to educate me and introduce me to their community partners, the inspiring people that reside in slum pockets of Ahmedabad.

Slum does not equal homeless. Anywhere from 40-60% of Ahmedabad’s population lives in a slum community at a given time. The people in the slums pay rent for their homes, have jobs, and want to improve their communities. Mr. Rajendra Joshi, the founder of Saath, spoke to all the DukeEngage India-Ahmedabad program on Friday, June 23rd, and this was a key point he addressed. Mr. Joshi said that Saath began as a youth group playing volleyball in one slum here in Ahmedabad. After volleyball, he would talk to the young people and asked them what they wanted to see changed about their communities. That’s when the Integrated Slum Development project was born. These young people said that the biggest issues their community faced was lack of infrastructure. Because slum fall into the gray area of the informal housing sector, there is no precedent on how municipal governments can provide infrastructure, or even if it was possible. When asked how Saath could help change that, these young people went out into their community, going door to door, to ask people if they would be willing to pay for a proper plumbing system. Almost unanimously the residents of the slum agreed that plumbing was necessary and they were not only willing, but capable to contribute financially.

Saath helped sponsor a pilot program for low cost plumbing in this slum pocket. It would cost 6,000 Rupees ($93) for each household to receive running water and plumbing. Saath facilitated an agreement between the slum community, the municipal government, and a corporate donor so that the cost would be divided equally amongst the three. Each household would pay 2,000 Rupees ($31) and the other 4,000 Rupees would come from the municipal government and local corporate donor. Because of this community effort, Saath assisted in getting approximately 700 households and 49 slum pockets the infrastructure they needed.

If you give a man a fish, he will eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he will only eat for a lifetime if he lives near a body of water with a lot of fish and can afford the market rate of fishing poles and bait. If you ask a young person what they would like to change in their community, and offer guidance, they will make it happen.

Saath didn’t stop there, they continued this approach of community needs based assessments to facilitate affordable electrical connections in over 5,000 households. After the initial 1,200 home pilot, there was 100% compliance with paying the monthly bill and the electrical company permanently lowered the initial connection cost to 5,000 Rupees from the original 10,000 Rupees. Community contribution has been a part of Saath’s model from the beginning. The financial contribution empowers the slum dwellers to improve their community because they finally gain a sense of ownership and accountability.

Today Saath has grown into a full-fledged NGO that employs 300 people and continues to empower the entire community of Ahmedabad. When I asked Mr. Joshi what he thinks is the best approach to an eventual goal of eliminating slum pockets in Ahmedabad his opinion was insightful and unique; he said he does not agree with the philosophy that we should attempt to shift all of the people out of the slums at once and raze this communities. He believes that the most sustainable approach is to slowly develop the slums and help these communities gain access to the resources from which they have been systematically excluded. Instead of trickle down, Saath subscribes to the bottom up mentality with an emphasis on market-based strategies for addressing the needs of urban and rural populations.

Saath has been working on this inclusive development approach since 1989; 27 years later with over 40 active and completed projects, Saath aids in almost all aspects of community development. Everything this organization does stems from its original mission, from those chats after volleyball games: community needs assessments. Saath is the Hindi term for together, society, and friendship.

Slum does not equal homeless. Slum does not equal people looking for a loop-hole and a way out of civic contribution. Slum does not equal a problem that needs solving. Slum equals a step in the right direction towards ending homelessness. Slum equals a motivated community that is happy and thankful for what they have. Slum equals parents migrating for work so they can save for their child’s education. Slum equals affordable housing for rural farmers and their families with dreams of living in the urban community. Slum equals the happiest and most grateful children I have had the honor of meeting.

Charitable Trust

by Gina Kovalik

As of today, we are a whopping 2 weeks in and already 1/3 through our shortened program. Through the ups and downs of attaining our visas, I feel as if I have just now accepted the reality that we are in Ahmedabad, India.

With this realization of our location, I have also begun to reflect upon our work so far with our partner organization. Although I had poured through their website when I was deciding on the program and after I was accepted, I had no idea the truly thoughtful nature in which SAATH works to develop slum communities. I have come to the conclusion that much of the organization’s function is in its name: SAATH Charitable Trust.

The “SAATH charitable” part of the name is fairly self-explanatory. As an NGO, they seek to give to the community without any monetary incentive. The “trust” part of their title is more intriguing. Although the term “trust” is used in more of a legal sense to describe the type of NGO we are working at, I am convinced that it also perfectly describes their attitude toward their work. The organization is centered around a mutual trust between the organization and the community, and that has clearly lead to the great success since their founding in 1989.

From the very beginning, the organization was founded out of the needs of the community. During one of our speaker events with SAATH founder Rajendra Joshi, he claimed that for the first few months, all he did for his organization was play volleyball. Through playing this game and building relationships with local slum residents, the first visionaries of SAATH began to diagnose the concerns and thoughts of the youth, around which they designed their organization. Hand in hand with this original youth group, SAATH facilitated a way for those living in the slums to connect with both government and corporate donors to improve sanitation, which was a major concern at that time.

This system of mutual trust has continued until today. SAATH listens to the community, regularly going from door to door to hear thoughts and concerns of those living in the slums. By doing so, SAATH shows a respect for the humanity of such marginalized members of society. And in return, community members become willing to accept SAATH’s help in job skills, financial training, or community networking.

One of the biggest questions I had coming into my specific DukeEngage project was on how I would be empowering women in a society that maintains what we consider traditional, patriarchal values. Working against what was common culture did not seem like a sustainable way to help a community. Instead, I can see now how SAATH’s network of trust enables community members to understand the importance of independence for all women. Instead of undermining values, SAATH field officers converse with families, sharing stories of women who were able to better provide for their families thanks to job and life skills training.

As such, I found during my one lesson so far that much of the hard work of my teaching here has been done for me. The women and girls that come into the livelihood centers are self-motivated and ready to improve their own situations as they have the support of their families. They are the ones improving their own economic and social situation. My role is simply to help facilitate that process.

SAATH’s method has given me a new outlook on service. To make a real difference, NGOs cannot come into a community offering services that at a glance seem helpful. To create a sustainable difference takes months of community cooperation. But through honest conversations and perhaps a cup of masala chai, a trust is built that can potentially lead to a better quality of life for those served.