Empowering people and enabling them to transform their life and fulfil their dreams is what fuels Zarina and Ronnie Screwvala, husband and wife team, and founders of Swades Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation in India. It has an ambitious plan to lift one million villagers in the State of Maharashtra out of poverty within six years, and then help people to build better lives. Swades is now associated with 2,000 hamlets; Zarina has met the people, heard their concerns and understood their problems.
Zarina says, “An important part of removing people from poverty is to encourage them to dream and aspire. We want people to have dreams, and aspire to fulfill those dreams. We want to make it possible for them to live the life they chose to live, and not just for themselves, but for their families too. They should be able to educate their children and ensure they have a job. Poverty is when you can’t even meet those basic aspirations; we are trying to change their mindset and the physical reality around them.”
The Foundation has adopted a holistic way to address its goal of rural empowerment called the 360º approach. All aspects of development for an individual and community happen through five verticals – community mobilisation, water and sanitation, agriculture and livelihood, education, and health and nutrition. Integral to this 360° approach, is accountability, where people have to be a part of whatever the Foundation does. For example, when toilets are built, the community contributes to their construction. While their monetary contribution may be minimal, it helps to make them accountable, ensuring they take care of it as their own.
Since 2013, the foundation has made positive strides in different areas, such as building 10,889 toilets for family homes and 733 water storage structures that provide drinking water to 82,109 people. Its work on health and nutrition has included training 1,059 community health workers, eye tests for 177,123 people, along with the distribution of 32,500 free pairs of glasses and 5,873 free cataract operations. It has also trained 4,895 teachers and principals, offered computer and English literacy classes to 36,000 students and awarded scholarships to more than 2,500. While it has introduced 20,000 farmers to new farming technologies, planted thousands of mango and cashew trees, set up 1,411 people with dairy cows and 1,214 others with poultry for eggs and meat.
The Screwvala’s founded UTV in 1990, a very successful business that has since been acquired by The Walt Disney Company. This past financial success has enabled the Foundation to be independently financed; 90 percent of the funds come from the Screwvala’s themselves. This gives the organisation the advantage of starting up projects without delay under its own steam, and therefore helping to realise all those dreams of rural empowerment.
Photo Credit: Swades Foundation