HDFC: Envisioning a New India Where Every Woman is Empowered

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Nusrat Pathan

As our country is achieving economic progress, it is imperative that we pay attention to women’s social, economic, and human development. Forty-eight per cent of women live in 6,64,369 villages, of which 75 per cent are agricultural workers. It is, therefore, crucial to ensure that women can access financial services, education, and growth opportunities. Worldwide, women receive less formal education, thereby automatically reducing the realm of opportunities. Their talent, abilities, and expertise go unrecognised. The narrow mindset of society impedes their ability to outshine and attain a healthy and fulfilling life that impacts society at many levels – from personal to public. Women are also usually the primary caregivers and spend a sizeable amount of their time looking after children and elderly family members, hampering their financial independence and stability. Rural women especially face this challenge, leaving them with very little time to pursue their dreams and entrepreneurial spirit. 

The Government of India has put in significant efforts in developing self-help groups (SHGs) to expedite the empowerment of rural women by creating an ecosystem that nurtures their capabilities and encourages their dreams. Presently, over eight million SHGs cover more than 81.6 million rural women in India, making them significant contributors to rural livelihoods. While the Government has undertaken numerous initiatives, only a marginal number of SHGs are engaged in income-generating activities, primarily due to a lack of awareness, managerial capacities, financial and digital infrastructure, and social barriers.  

LEAP is an inspiring project launched in 2022 that unlocks rural women’s potential and unleashes a wave of positive change. Over the past year, we have witnessed hundreds of homemakers transform into first-gen entrepreneurs, and groups of women forming and running all-women Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) nationwide. Resilience is the common thread connecting these women who never cease to astonish us with their incredible strength. By empowering these women, LEAP is transforming their livelihoods and contributing to India’s economic growth.

HDFC Bank’s Focused Programmes for Women’s Empowerment

Through our CSR initiative, Parivartan, we are focused on creating a sustainable future for all and empowering marginalised communities. Our CSR strategy seeks to integrate our work in community development and social and environmental responsibility.

A New LEAP 

LEAP is an inspiring project launched in 2022 that unlocks rural women’s potential and unleashes a wave of positive change. Over the past year, we have witnessed hundreds of homemakers transform into first-gen entrepreneurs, and groups of women forming and running all-women Farmer Producer Organisations (FPOs) nationwide. Resilience is the common thread connecting these women who never cease to astonish us with their incredible strength. By empowering these women, LEAP is transforming their livelihoods and contributing to India’s economic growth.

The project aspires to accelerate women’s economic empowerment in the farm and non-farm sectors by evolving SHGs into efficient, transparent, and income-generating entrepreneurial platforms to facilitate sustainable livelihood enhancement for rural women. The project also aligns with the Central Government’s vision of transforming eight million SHGs into large producer enterprises.

To build an empowered and inclusive economy, there is a need to enable SHGs to reach the next level of economic empowerment through the formation of large producer enterprises or collectives, each having thousands of members and managed professionally.

Implemented in 24 districts in Assam, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Punjab, and West Bengal, the LEAP programme aims to achieve the following objectives over four years:

  1. Increase the real income of direct beneficiaries by 40 per cent.
  2. Benefit over 500,000 women farmers and artisans spread over 120 clusters.
  3. Leverage new investments, including government schemes and private-sector investments.
  4. Enable partnerships at the national, State, and local level.
Microfinance is a key element in empowering women across the world. It is the first step towards financial inclusion. Our Sustainable Livelihood Initiative (SLI) is a holistic approach that aims to provide financial knowledge to communities who lack access to such opportunities. Under this programme, our dedicated, trained staff visit remote villages to train women in accessing banking products, conceptualise and execute their small-scale businesses. These may cover livestock rearing, handicrafts, tailoring, artificial jewellery designing, setting up grocery shops, etc. 
Seeds of Success: Crop Diversification 
Aparna Adhikary
Senpur Dangapara, West Bengal
Aparna Adhikari, 42, hails from a large family. She has distinguished herself as an exemplary farmer compared to others in her village and its vicinity. However, a year ago, she faced challenges managing her substantial family with agriculture as the main source of income.
The turning point came in April–May 2022 when GT Bharat initiated the Parivartan STREE Project, mobilising the villagers of Chakdiknagara (Dangapara village), West Bengal, to establish a Farmer Producer Company (FPC). During these camps, Aparna and her fellow villagers learned how a Farmer Producer Company (FPC) works in helping to increase their family’s income.
With two acres of land, Aparna cultivated paddy twice a year, leaving it unused during the Rabi season. Facilitated by GT Bharat in collaboration with the Agriculture Department, she received training in mustard cultivation. After two stages of training on sowing, fertilisation, pesticides, and harvesting techniques, she successfully harvested 18 quintals of mustard in her first attempt.
Before the intervention, Aparna’s combined profits from the paddy seasons (Kharif and Zaid) totalled approximately Rs. 47,000. Post-GT intervention, and after introducing mustard cultivation during the Rabi season, she received a gross income of Rs. 90,000 and a profit close to Rs. 60,000.
Crop diversification has enabled Aparna to earn over Rs. 1 Lakh annually across three cultivating seasons, an additional Rs. 60,000. It has improved her financial situation, boosted her morale, and allowed her to allot more funds towards her children’s education. She is influencing others to follow the path she has taken. She inspires many women in her village and nearby areas, demonstrating that hard work can overcome challenging situations. Crop diversification has proven to be a boon to her fate.


Paving the Way through Financial Literacy 

Microfinance is a key element in empowering women across the world. It is the first step towards financial inclusion. Our Sustainable Livelihood Initiative (SLI) is a holistic approach that aims to provide financial knowledge to communities who lack access to such opportunities.

Financial literacy goes a long way in collectively empowering Self-Help Groups and Joint Liability Groups while eliminating their dependence on private money lenders, thus eliminating the possibility of exploitation and offering an opportunity to facilitate entrepreneurship.   



Under the SLI programme, our dedicated, trained staff visit remote villages to train women in accessing banking products, conceptualise and execute their small-scale businesses. These may cover livestock rearing, handicrafts, tailoring, artificial jewellery designing, setting up grocery shops, etc.

Skill Training for Employment Generation 

In association with the GTT Foundation, our Parivartan initiative is creating a highly skilled and job-ready workforce by training youth from marginalised sections of society in the target areas. We are training 2570 unemployed youth between 18-25 years of age with a three-month-long comprehensive curriculum-led vocational programme that provides placement opportunities and financial empowerment. They receive training in banking sales and customer care based on their interest and current skill levels.

At least 70 per cent of the trainees will be placed locally in the NCR region with an average salary of Rs. 10,000–12,000/- per month. This intervention will socially uplift these underprivileged youth and impact their families positively. 

Nursing for a Better Future 

Aiming to create healthcare livelihood opportunities for underprivileged young women from remote areas and deepening last-mile healthcare capabilities, we have, along with our partner PanIIT Alumni Foundation, been running a novel residential Auxiliary Nursing Midwifery (ANM) nursing programme at Nursing Kaushal College, Ranchi (Jharkhand) since 2018. The College is led by ex-armed forces personnel from the Indian Army. 

The programme caters exclusively to the underserved and comes under the State Nursing Registration Council. Admission to the college is based on a multi-dimensional poverty index of girls from remote areas. They are selected following a rigorous merit and means-based selection process. Students are provided best-in-class infrastructure through standardised templates with simulators, real-life situation rooms and practising wards. The teaching faculty has international work experience.

During the course, the candidates are exposed to practical training with deployment in affiliated public and private hospitals under faculty supervision to enable learning and on-the-job training. The programme has gone beyond the training domain and placed eligible nursing graduates in many hospitals. 

We are proud to support the Karke Dikhaungi athlete scholarship programme, which is curated by the GoSports Foundation. This programme is designed to promote women in sports and offers scholarships to talented female athletes across six sports – archery, athletics, badminton, swimming, table tennis, and weightlifting. Our aim is to help these athletes pursue their careers in these arenas and achieve their goals.

Goat Farming

In collaboration with SUPPORT, we developed a Holistic Rural Development Programme (HRDP) to promote goat farming among rural and landless families in the Chandwara block of Koderma district, Jharkhand. This initiative provides an alternative source of income for the rural inhabitants and positively impacts the economy and the nutrition of small and marginal farmers in the region.

Goat rearing is a sought-after enterprise among the rural population in Jharkhand due to its low production costs, minimal infrastructure requirements, and low management skills. Goats are adaptable to various agro-climatic conditions, and there is a local market for live animals and meat. As part of the intervention, we provide goat farmers with a male buck and three female bucks to support their operations. We are presently supporting over ninety-five households in 14 villages in the Chandwara block of Koderma, Jharkhand.

This programme has provided an alternative source of income for approximately one hundred marginal farmers, with the average household income enhancing from Rs. 20,000 to Rs. 60,000.

The Unstoppable Karke Dikhaungi  Scholarship

We are proud to support the Karke Dikhaungi athlete scholarship programme, which is curated by the GoSports Foundation. This programme promote women in sports and offers scholarships to talented female athletes across six sports – archery, athletics, badminton, swimming, table tennis, and weightlifting. Our aim is to help these athletes pursue their careers in these arenas and achieve their goals.

We have shortlisted 25 girls to receive support towards several key areas of their requirements, such as coaching and training, living expenses for food and accommodation, competition expenses at national and international events, equipment and gear, and various sports science support, such as sports nutrition, physiotherapy, strength and conditioning, and mental conditioning & psychology. We also aim to provide athletes with mentorship through a network of athletes and experts, guiding and helping them unleash their potential on the global sporting stage.

Conclusion

There is an urgent need to accelerate reforms which improve social values and uplift the status of women. A commonly held belief is that when a man receives an education, only he benefits from it. However, when a woman is educated, her knowledge and skills have a ripple effect that extends beyond herself, and positively impacts future generations.

Thus, education is one of the most important means of empowering women with the knowledge, skills, and self-confidence necessary to participate fully in the development process. Grassroots-level programmes play a crucial role in implementing on-the-ground initiatives and advocating policy changes. Their localised nature of programmes and approach towards community engagement significantly contribute to women’s empowerment and gender equality. 

   
The present Indian women have broken the glass ceiling in all sectors, including politics, science, IT, medicine, business, sports, and agricultureBy providing the same opportunities and importance, we will help communities thrive and strengthen the nationEach of us has a chance to build a New India – one known less for women’s development and more for women-led development. Through our Parivartan project, we are striving to build a nation where every woman knows that her possibilities know no bounds.

…Because when women are empowered, the entire community flourishes. 

Nusrat Pathan is Head of Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility at HDFC Bank.