Asha Rajendran began her association with Kudumbashree in the year 2006 with the formation of a Neighbourhood Group (NHG) along with fifteen women from her village. She was made the secretary of the group and in this way Asha embarked upon her journey as a community leader. The group soon began with an income generating activity and with the help of a bank linkage loan of Rs. 50,000 started a ready-made cloth shop and tailoring business. As an individual she was quite driven and with other members of her group was involved in many developmental activities in her village. Once, the group took steps to clean and reconstruct an old 2-km-long road in their village. As an ADS member (Area Development Society- federation at the ward level) she helped many poor people access entitlements, facilitated the cleaning of local water bodies through chlorination, conducted health camps and other health awareness programs in her village.
In the year 2009, Ms Sreekala, the Micro Enterprise Consultant (MEC) working in the Panchayat informed Asha about the opportunity to work as an MEC. Asha consulted people from the District Mission and the Village Extension Officer of her Panchayat who suggested that the opportunity was good but was also informed about the rigorous training program that she will have to go through. With the support from her husband Asha decided to apply for the job.
She cleared the tests and got the job. Although the training program that she had to go through was grueling, it was one of the most fulfilling experiences of her life. As an MEC she handled two Panchayats. In the year 2012, she formed her own MEC group along with few other members and handled 26 Panchayats. She was the secretary of the group and got opportunities to provide different trainings to entrepreneurs and motivated them to start enterprises. She also helped in organizing a program for promoting enterprise development initiatives among tribals called ‘Unarv’ under which she provided General Orientation Training programs, soft skills trainings and helped six tribal women in getting engaged with the Adu gramam Samagra project of Kudumbashree. As an MEC, she supported over 500 women for earning their livelihoods under the Kudumbashree ME development scheme.
Later, she was also selected to work as a mentor under the MEC project of Kudumbashree NRO and as part of it; she was posted in Osmanabad (Maharashtra). Her responsibility was to guide MECs, (local community cadre trained in supporting enterprise promotion), selected by Maharashtra State Rural Livelihood Mission (Umed). There, she supported 47 MECs in their capacity building process and implementation of ME-development at field level. Under her guidance, the MECs gave handholding support to more than 5000 enterprises in the district. Initial days of her journey in Maharashtra was challenging as the community members only spoke Marathi. Asha knew only Malayalam and in a short period of time learning Hindi and Marathi was challenging. Slowly she picked up the language which also helped her gain support of the community. In Osmanabad, she supported MECs to identify business opportunities, business plan preparation, organized weekly markets and festival markets. From her previous experience of Kudumbashree, she helped in organising goat market in villages of Osmanabad. The market helped in reducing the commission of middlemen in buying and selling of goats and increased the confidence of the entrepreneurs.
Asha Rajendran training CRPs-EP in Jharkhand
She motivated SHG women and MEC cadre to reopen a local market which was shut down years back. Around 75 entrepreneurs participated in the market and in the first week itself the sales was more than Rs. 1,16,000. As part of other initiatives, she encouraged five MECs to complete their graduation. Five of the MECs who worked under her were selected as Master Trainers. As Master Trainers their responsibility was to provide training programs for MECs from other partner states. She also helped in developing a brand called AADYA for all SHG products in the district. In her three years’ mentor experience in Maharashtra, Asha spent her time to learn about innovative projects like the by-products of soyabean, making rangoli colors, lemon syrup, etc.Currently she is working in remote villages of Palamu district, Jharkhand as a mentor. She shares that her focus is to improve the livelihood of SHG women from marginalized communities, widows, illiterates etc. There are at least 50 women whom she knows from the district having excellent skills in preparing various value added products from bamboo, waste paper & clothes. She would like to mobilize these women, give them skill training programs and recognition for their work. This will also create larger employment opportunities for the community.
Her commitment towards the community was recently acknowledged when she was short listed for C. Subramaniam Award for community development and social change for the year 2018-19 by National Foundation of India. Asha will soon be travelling to Delhi for the final round of open discussion where she will be sharing her experience of working with the grassroots.
“I am a passionate social worker working for community development since the last 8 years. I am speaking on behalf of all
the community leaders who have been working in the field like me but have never been recognized or appreciated at any platform.
We have been working with selfless motives but have never got the opportunity to showcase our talents and skills to the outer world.
I hope our efforts get recognized so that more women are encouraged to come in the forefront and become an influencing force to the community.
– Asha Rajendran