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Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetam: A success story

India has made great progress with the Millennium Sustainable Goals (MDG) but little progress, specifically, with regard to women’s rights, gender equality, and environmental sustainability. Though gender equality has improved, there remains a higher proportion of men engaged in skilled labour compared to women. Also, basic sanitation continues to be an area of concern, with around half of the population lacking access to adequate facilities. In lieu of the upcoming Sustainable Developmental Goals (SDGs), these areas require systematic research and novel approaches to help identify effective strategies.

Amrita Multimodal Applications and Computer Human Interaction (AMMACHI) Labs, established in 2009, is a multidisciplinary research center of Amrita University with a focus in technological innovation for social impact in the fields of computer-human interaction, haptics, multimedia and virtual reality. Since its inception, AMMACHI Labs has created several initiatives that have effected systematic sustainable improvement in the SDGs related to poverty, quality education, sanitation, and gender equality. Here, we describe the brief methodology, results, and future efforts of AMMACHI Labs to expand on their mission of using technology to effect social change.

The Women Empowerment (WE) Project (2012- 2014)

In India, women constitute approximately 68% of the unskilled population, and over 95% of employed women are engaged in unstable and underpaid jobs. Amrita computerized vocational education training (Amrita-cVET) encapsulates an entire vocational education course into a computerized, multi-media enhanced learning management system. The tool includes a life skills curriculum termed Life Enrichment Education (LEE), to address dimensions of personal empowerment.

In an effort to ensure Amrita-cVET-LEE delivery included even the most marginalized learners, Amrita University implemented the Women Empowerment (WE) Project. 28 WE Training Centers were set-up over 18 months in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

By the end of the 18-month WE Project period (May, 2014), the Amrita cVET-LEE model trained over 4,000 female learners in largely rural areas. The successful implementation of the Amrita cVET-LEE model in heterogeneous environments validates the generalizable nature of these results shown below.

  • Decreased drop-out rate compared to the Indian Conventional vocational training model (17% vs. 30%)
  • Launched 9 confirmed small businesses
  • Obtained 7 international orders – with gross profits of Rs. 1,186,260
  • Started 36 micro-enterprise cooperative groups involving over 450 WE graduates to maintain and advance the technical skills gained by training
  • Generated self-help group savings – earning a total of Rs. 158,135
  • 1,102 Artisan cards issued for handicraft entrepreneurs
Table 1 – Post-Course Survey Results
Variable Percentage
Newly employed 94%
Self employed 58%
Income 57%
Plan to generate income 69%
Financial literacy 23%
Bank account logistics 70%
Control over own money earned 54%

In addition to these concrete economic and social benefits gained, learners self-reported an increase in personal confidence, esteem and efficacy (Table 1).

“The course gave me confidence that I can do anything. The LEE sessions helped develop my ability to talk with others. It prepared me for the job I received after the course. My main goal is to do whatever I can for my children. I also want to help others that are going through hard times. It’s to the WE project that I owe my transition from being a seeker of help to being a person who wants to help others,” Participant, Wayanad District, Kerala.

Sanitation and Health Outreach Project
To address the lack of toilets in the country and India’s goal to end open defecation by 2019, AMMACHI Labs DSCN5097began the WE: Sanitation Campaign, offering vocational courses in masonry and plumbing while also offering education regarding proper hygiene, specifically to village women. The WE: Sanitation Campaign is expanding to rural villages all over India with the vision to address social challenges through technology. As of September 2015, the Amrita cVET-LEE Toilet Building course has been offered in rural villages in 10 of the 18 states with the goal to reach 100 villages throughout India.

The groundbreaking work carried out by AMMACHI Labs has been at the forefront in realizing and working towards women’s empowerment, poverty, sanitation, and many of the SDGs which were adopted at this year’s UN General Assembly. Their projects have shown that sustainable social improvement can be achieved through a multidisciplinary approach to skill development, utilizing low-cost technologies. Besides the obvious economic gains of engaging some of India’s most marginalized populations in skilled labour, these projects have identified affordable, high-impact interventions that empower women and allow them to assume a decisive role in the family and in society. As we are aware, full human potential in the global society cannot be achieved if girls and women are denied their human rights and opportunities. AMMACHI labs is playing a crucial role in gender mainstreaming by providing a platform for women and girls and not only enabling them to enjoy access to quality education, but also improving standards of living through the ongoing sanitation project. AMMACHI labs has closely engaged the UN in their activities through the UN Democracy Fund, and has been partnering with other stakeholders to close the gender gap at local, regional, and national levels.

Bhavani Rao, Director, AMMACHI Labs, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetam
Christopher Coley, PhD candidate, AMMACHI Labs, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetam
Srividya Shesadri, PhD candidate, AMMACHI Labs, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetam
Padmini Murthy MD, MPH, FAMWA, Associate Professor, Global Health Director New York Medical College,
Hari Sankaran MD, MSc, Clinical Instructor, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas

Cross posted from academicimpact.un.org

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