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Rewarding Experience

By Caroline Moy

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I spent two months with Saath Charitable Trust as an intern, as part of my second year of studies in social work in France. During the first week of my internship, I explored many different programs. I visited Urban Resource Centre, Livelihood program centres, Child Friendly Spaces, Rweaves, and Saath Cooperative. While observing the NGO action, I was amazed about the numerous programs implemented by Saath, and how wide its actions are. During my previous internships in France, I have never experienced being in an NGO which undertakes so many programs and which has so many support from staff, from cooperatives, and from financiers.

During my internship, I focused more on Women@work program, centre of which is located in Odhav. I attended different sessions such as STEM theory training, mobile repairing practical course, and life skill training session. I also spent time with trainees and staff at the centre. There, I noticed how the staff is doing its best for the trainees, and that workers role doesn’t end to their assigned mission, they also have a deep wish to help these women getting into a better life. Indeed, I felt that all of the workers play a key role in women’s lives by teaching and educating them towards values of self-esteem, empowerment, taking own decision, and expressing themselves.

When I was at Women@Work centre, I felt this place was peaceful and safe for everyone. I had the opportunity to ask about the trainees’ wellbeing, and most of them answered that everything was good, there was no need of change. I think the trainees answers show how important this centre is in their lives. Also, I myself felt very comfortable, and both staff and trainees gave me a warm welcome.

I remember the day when I accompanied the trainees with the staff to science city. According to me, giving them the opportunity to visit such a place is also a way to make them explore places where they may not have gone if they were not involved in Saath, to encourage them going farther from home, and at the same time to enable them to develop their knowledge.

I still have the souvenir of the trainees smile, i felt like they were so happy to be together, in this place which is the symbol of knowledge. It seems to me that they enjoyed a lot sharing this moment together, learning new things on science topics. I also enjoyed a lot with them, and I will remember this particular day and the trainees repeating throughout the day gajab gajab! (amazing amazing!)

After spending two months in Saath Charitable Trust, I consider I have accomplished one unique, rewarding and educating experience that I will always remember. I met a lot of warm-hearted persons. I am also glad having met and sharing moments with the trainees of Women@Work. I consider all of these women as examples: they are brave and determined to change their lives for a better future. I learnt a lot from them and from their stories, I even learnt, thanks to them, some Gujarati words and it was very pleasant. I have also learnt and gained experience through the task I had to do: collecting life stories, creating an assessment for Women@Work programme, and sharing my experience on a blog.

All this experience wouldn’t have been possible without Saath agreement to enrol me as an intern in the NGO, which is why I would like to thank Saath staff for having welcomed me. I thank Niraj Jani for giving me his time to answer my questions. Moreover, Hakim, Nilam, Hetal, Kiran, Harshali, Dharmishtha and Megha from Women@Work staff were important support for me, they kindly gave me their time, helped me to interview the trainees, and shared with me their professional experience. I would also like to thank Hiren for having helped me, for his advices and for having helped me to better understand the programme and the challenges to be met. And finally I want to thank Kruti, for her support and her answers to my questions and Shikha and Pankaj for making me learn about the various programs and for guiding me throughout my internship.

I would like to end my testimony by one quote I particularly value: “The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new”. To me, it illustrates perfectly the trainees’ involvement in the programme, the staff involvement in their work and the sense given to Women@Work programme. I think that focusing on the future rather than the past is a way to achieve higher dreams, and is also a way to “bold strides towards gender equity”.

 

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My Journey from Banking to Humanity

by Akash Rungta,

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As a first-year b-school student, I have done numerous projects and case studies. Never did I think that during my two-year course I will have the opportunity of working with an organization which faces and solves such cases as a regular affair. It was my privilege that my college sent me to this outstanding NGO in Ahmedabad named Saath. Saath is not just an NGO, it’s a family. It is the perfect example of how interpersonal relationships and corporate professionalism can co-exist.

My month-long journey at Saath began with visits to various program centers. I was befuddled to see their scale of operations. What stood out for me was the Urmila home manager program. I never expected that a social organization’s activities could be so well organized. They level of detailing that goes into every job they do and the SOPs they follow are no less than a corporate. The theories that are taught to management students like us are actually used and applied in practice by these women home managers. Meeting Devu Ben, the COO of the Urmila Home Manager Program was an absolute pleasure. The kind of hectic work schedule she handles at this age is phenomenal. The next day we attended the Women’s Day celebrations by Saath. The women attending this event were making posters on “I am beautiful because……….”. It was a treat to witness their creativity and thoughts being penned down on the canvas.

After an extremely colorful and vibrant orientation, I finally visited Saath Savings & Credit Cooperative Society Ltd. (SSCCSL). This is the microfinance wing of Saath and the same was allotted to me on the basis of my interests and educational background. SSCCSL has a loan book of around 16 crores and savings of more than 15 crores. Unlike other commercial financial institutions who focus solely on giving out loans and make profits, SSCCSL has a unique way of functioning. For any member to avail a loan, it is mandatory for that member to save first. This is done to develop a habit of savings among the community. Hence, this is a holistic approach to lending. On my very first day at office, I was very warmly greeted and welcomed by my mentor Vishakha. I really liked the fact that my mentor asked me the reason behind me choosing this project and my prior knowledge about microfinance. It clearly shows that they really respect the time and efforts on their interns.

Vishakha introduced me to the entire team and told me about the people I could get help from. She made sure that all the resources are available for me to efficiently do my work. I also happened to meet Madhuben, the oldest working officer at Saath. Madhuben has received only primary education, but her knowledge about microfinance is unparalleled. The day I met her happened to be their AGM and it was a great learning experience to see her giving a presentation to the team and discussing charts and trends with her field officers. She has a questioning attitude which enables her to get to the core of any problem. She helped in deciding the scope of my internship. She told me that there is an increasing demand for agricultural loans in Oad and Bareja and it would be of great help if I could design some savings and loan products.

I visited the two villages- Oad and bareja. I must really thank Renison and Deepti without whom I would not have been able to do the primary research. Renison is the IT head at the cooperative and he provided me with a lot of perspectives which I could not have thought of by myself. Deepti, just 22 years old, heads the operations at Oad. Both Renison and Deepti taught me a lot about customer relationship management. Deepti knows all the details about every client she has. Not only does she know about basic information, she also knows the household affairs and the problems of all her clients. Generally, people try to avoid officers who come to ask for repayments and installments. However, I was shocked to see that people themselves call Deepti to pay their installments. According to Deepti and Rension, the key reason behind this is the kind of relationship they have maintained with their clients. They try to be a part of their family affairs and provide advice and help whenever they are in the need of it.

Above all, the warmth that the people of Saath showed me cannot be expressed in words. Every day, someone or the other would carry extra lunch for me. I got to relish on homemade Gujarati delicacies because of the extremely caring team at Saath Cooperative. The journey has finally ended and it feels as if I am leaving behind a family here. I would like to thank the following people for their constant support – Divyang Sir, Aakash Bhai, Mahesh Bhai, Ganpat Bhai, Nishita, Arpita, Dikshita, Rukmani Maasi, Hardik Bhai, Praveen Bhai, Abeda Ben and the entire team at Saath for making me feel at home.

 

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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.

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.