Our Response to COVID-19

Avsar-SANKALP Project

SANKALP Project: Skills Training for Independent Lives

Background

Nearly 20 years ago, the 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami destroyed homes, shattered lives and ruined livelihoods. As one of the many responses to the crisis, Amma and the MA Math started the AmritaSREE program, a community-based Self-Help Groups initiative, to help the women impacted rebuild their lives. Three years ago, the Covid pandemic struck. While the Tsunami locked us out, the Covid pandemic locked us in. Memories of its trail of loss are still fresh in our minds. The pandemic hit hard rural women and transgender individuals in India. Apart from the tragic health impacts, job opportunities dwindled, pushing them further into economic uncertainty. The transgender community, already marginalized, faced heightened discrimination, making it even harder to secure employment or access social services.
To help them bide the storm, Amma supported over 250,000 women through the pandemic by providing cash support, food and clothing, and ration supplies, twice a year. It was Amma’s desire to build resilience and preparedness in these communities, addressing the challenges revealed by Covid, to strengthen the women's Self-Help Group structures through diversification of livelihoods. Under her guidance and as part of an initiative led by the Government of India’s Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, called “Avsar SANKALP – Skill Acquisition and Knowledge Awareness for Livelihood Promotion,” Amrita University provided vocational training to 4,500 women and transgender individuals.

Amrita’s Center for Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality’s study on SHGs during Covid
 
Amrita University’s implementation of SANKALP was designed based on a study conducted by its Center for Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality. During the height of the COVID pandemic, the Center initiated a comprehensive study to explore the impact of the nationwide lockdown on self-help groups (or SHGs). This study shed light on the plight of thousands of SHGs that came to a halt due to the inability to convene regularly and carry out their income generating activities. In response to these multifaceted challenges, the centre designed and implemented a comprehensive intervention approach that served as the backbone of Amrita’s delivery of the Sankalp initiative.
Amrita Overall Approach and States of Implementation

 

Amrita University’s SHG recovery model offers an enriched blend of vocational education and training designed to empower groups and individuals not only economically, but also socially and psychologically. It integrates vital components such as life enrichment education, entrepreneurship development, digital literacy, SHG leadership, and governance. This approach aims to rejuvenate and strengthen existing SHGs, and initiate new groups by preparing individuals for collective enterprises. Amrita University, guided by over a decade of experience in skill development for rural communities, took this Sankalp program to six states in India – Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Haryana, Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh.

Courses offered

Under Amrita’s Sankalp program, most participants started their journey by attending a pre-training workshop to assist them in selecting the job roles that would best support their business ventures within their respective communities. Overall, Amrita offered an array of over 40 courses, all officially approved by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship and aligned with the National Skill Qualification Framework. Each of the diverse courses offered unique growth opportunities for women and transgender individuals participating in the training. The participants in the Amrita SANKALP project enthusiastically embarked on the courses they selected, which included: organic farming, mushroom cultivation, seaweed cultivation, tailoring, hand embroidery, beauty therapy, general duty assistance, and beekeeping among many others.

Empowering Lives

This initiative has been more than just a training program; it created a transformative journey towards empowerment and economic growth, enabling women and transgender individuals to carve out their destinies, contribute to their communities, and be the change-makers of tomorrow. Amrita is philosophy, which underlies both its pedagogy and training methodology, is unique. This philosophy is outlined below.

 

Pedagogy: The aim and objective of any truly comprehensive and sustainable project should not only beknowledge and skill acquisition, but also the betterment of society and human flourishing. To achieve this, we turn to the timeless principles of Sanatana Dharma:

Satyam: To train in knowledge that is scientific and skills that are technical for livelihoods and gainful employment including vocational skills, digital literacy and finance, e-markets and communication, entrepreneurship and business skills.

Shivam: To build back a better life not just for oneself, but for all. Taking ownership and leadership for positive change–to give back to society and bring auspiciousness everywhere.

Sundaram: To cultivate beauty in all that we do, focusing on quality and aesthetics. The beneficiaries learned to unleash their creativity and bring joy to themselves and those around them.

 

Methodology
Amrita’s training methodology went beyond just delivery of the theory and practice of vocational skills. Courses were delivered through an integrated and blended learning format bringing together classroom learning, practical application, and digital literacy.The curriculum, designed for empowerment, included vocational and business skills for knowledge acquisition towards gainful employment as well as life skills (also called L.E.E. & SMART SHG) for the individual, and collective skills to build community cohesion, functioning, and overall well being. Training was delivered through a digital platform, tailored for learners with low literacy and digital skills. This platform offered interactive, user-friendly content. Alongside these lessons, it built digital literacy by incorporating the latest technologies and e-content in an easily usable format. In the LEE sessions, students developed their interpersonal skills. They engaged in activities or watched short films on pressing social issues and then discussed their thoughts and observations in small groups before sharing them with the larger class. These discussions provided a safe space for students to express themselves, learn from one another, and gain confidence in discussing sensitive issues. These sessions covered a wide range of important topics, including time-management, sanitation, health, substance abuse, nutrition, women's health, child abuse, human trafficking, and more. We also conducted activities called "Ideal Village" and "LEE in the Community," during which students were given a chance to address real issues in their communities. In the "Ideal Village," students worked in groups to envision what their perfect village might look like, highlighting the differences between them and their current surroundings. This reflection helped them identify problem areas that can be addressed with group support. In the "LEE in the Community," students collaborated to take action on community issues they are passionate about. This demonstrated both their increased awareness and capacity to address personal and social concerns.
Examples of LEE in the Community

1. One notable example of the LEE in Community came from a group of 43 women from one of the Amrita Sankalp Training Centers in Kanhangad, Kerala. These women, along with their dedicated trainer, successfully organised a powerful rally, inspired by their prior involvement in the "ideal village" project, where they recognized the pressing need for water conservation and safe drinking water awareness. As part of their "LEE in the Community" initiative, they joined forces with a local school where they assisted students to conduct a two-and-a-half-hour rally and awareness campaign. They successfully raised awareness among local drivers, pedestrians, and shopkeepers about the vital importance of conserving water, especially rainwater, as the summer season approached. Their collective efforts made them influential advocates for change.



2 Another example came from Kasaragod, Kerala. After their Ideal Village& project, the women in this SHG recognized the community’s issues of pollution resulting from plastic burning and construction that has led to wide-spread deforestation and loss of local ecosystems. To address these issues, they united for their &LEE in the Community&activity, choosing the eco-conscious approach of tree planting. Using the now famous Seedball Activity, they created 3,000 seedballs with a mixture of local seeds, soil, and clay, aimed at reforestation and biodiversity conservation. They dispersed these seeds in nearby fields and barren lands. This remarkable effort involved 47 women and their children, showcasing their commitment to a greener, more sustainable environment.
SMART SHG Component

An additional, remarkable aspect of this initiative is the “SMART SHG” intervention. SMARTSHG is all about fortifying the financial health and collective strength of SHGs. It achieves this through a holistic, three-pronged approach aimed at:

1. Strengthening financial and accounting management within SHGs, cultivating skills in digital finance and innovative bookkeeping;
2. Strengthening SHG Governance and functioning through training on curriculum based on Noble Laureate Elanor Ostrom's principles;
3. Increasing knowledge and capacity among the beneficiaries in group business development and entrepreneurship.

All graduates who successfully completed the SMART SHG course received MSDE certification and received guidance by Amrita University to form collective enterprises.

Remote Monitoring Methods (App
To track the progress of the Amrita SANKALP project, the Amrita Sankalp App, a customised, daily-reporting and monitoring tool, was developed. Through this mobile application, training centre staff and students reported on the progress and quality of the classroom sessions, and reported general observations from the day’s events, self-perceived challenges, and successes. This App enabled remote monitoring of the Amrita-Sankalp project, and ultimately helped to evaluate the extent that the prescribed training methodology was implemented in practice.
Products and services, and exhibition
As a part of the Amrita Sanklap initiative, SHGs gained the skills and capabilities to create and then sell hand-made crafts, products, and services. Some of the products made by the trained women and transgender individuals included clothing, accessories, home furnishing products, embroidery, honey, mushroom pickles, and seaweed. Services provided included beauty therapy and general duty assistant. One could see the core philosophy on display: Satyam – as perfection in skills; Sundaram – as reativity and beaut; and Shivam – as creation of products that were beneficial for all, such as the vastra chakra products that promote the reuse and upcycling of clothes to reduce pollution and waste from the fashion industry. These products and services have been displayed during several exhibitions, including international exhibitions organised in India in 2023 by Civil20, which is the official engagement group of the G20 giving a voice to civil society.Products are also displayed on the online Women Empowerment Project Store, which has become home to dozens of beautiful creations from the students trained (link to the website: https://weprojectstore.com/
Starting businesses and group empowerment
The last mile, or capstone of the program, includes mentorship, access to resources, networking opportunities, and guidance on business development. 150 businesses have been registered so far as enterprises under the Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises, which offers them both formal recognition as well as access to various benefits and incentives available to MSMEs by the government.

● Vocational skills for rural women & transgender people
● Skills training centres in 6 states
● Eligible for MSDE certification
● 2,000+ students enrolled
● 4,500+ projected reach

● Organic farming
● Mushroom cultivation
● Seaweed cultivation
● Tailoring
● Hand embroidery
● Beauty therapy
● General duty assistance
● Beekeeping

SANKALP

Selected ' Stories

Arya Prasad is one of the participants in the Amrita Sankalp Project at the Kozhikode Tailoring Centre. She has struggled with epilepsy since her childhood, which has led to certain behavioural and psychological issues. Because of this, she was only able to study till the 10th standard. Her limited verbal and social abilities has led to depression and feelings of low self-worth. Arya has two other sisters who do not have health problems and were successful in school, and therefore received all of the attention and care from their father, who has a long history of alcoholism. When she first joined the Sankalp project, she used to say, “I am no more than a patient who has to take medicine everyday. I am not good at doing things like others." However, many of her fellow participants in the training centre compassionately helped and encouraged her. She was a very regular participant, and fortunately didn't face epilepsy related issues during the class. She was very happy to come to the centre daily. Because of her limited physical abilities, she often needed more time to finish a practical lesson. To account for this, the Tailoring trainer allowed her to complete the work from home. Downcast, Arya responded, "My family cannot afford a sewing machine at home, and so I can't complete this work." The trainer felt compassion, and took it on herself to find a second hand machine for her. Arya’s classmates came together and collected enough money to purchase the machine for her so that she could practise from home and stitch neatly. She was able to complete the course, and successfully passed the NSDC assessment. Now, she is running her own small-business stitching children's clothing from home.

Arya Prasad, Kozhikode Tailoring centre Karunagappally

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