How Foundations Like Ronnie Screwvala’s Swades Are Helping Entrepreneurs Emerge From Rural India

Monday, April 13, 2015

For Ronnie Screwvala this was an unusual success story. At a community centre in Khamgaon, a village 166 km south of Mumbai, he engaged a group of 25 rural women, all dressed in pink, aged between 30 and 40, in a discussion on sanitary napkins with great enthusiasm.

But then, success and Screwvala are not strangers. He has had plenty of bigger ones, as a media mogul, promoter of film and television production company UTV, which he finally sold to Disney (residual 49% for Rs 2,000 crore in 2012). His second innings, as dogooder, is just about taking off. At the same time, life also seems to be taking off for Rashmi Tambe, one of the pinksaree clad ladies talking ’female hygiene products’ with Screwvala on a hot April afternoon.

Screwvala’s Swades Foundation (named after the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer) is helping rural women in Maharashtra’s Raigad district start a small factory to produce sanitary napkins and sell them in the villages. Tambe, a housewife, is also one of the directors of a new company being formed. For about a year she has been engaged as a suraksha mitra (health worker) by the Swades Foundation. For a monthly salary of Rs 500, the health workers are supposed to assist people in their villages with health issues.

For instance, Tambe speaks about an afternoon in the first week of March 2015 when she rushed with a woman in labour from one government hospital to another; at both the doctors were on leave for Holi. Finally she got the woman admitted to a private hospital for a Caesarean section.

Swades’ suraksha mitras (SMs), typically housewives, have gained in stature in their villages through interventions like these. Swades now has more than 1,000 such SMs working with it in and around Raigad (once the capital of Shivaji’s empire). For the affordable sanitary napkins project, Swades is procuring a factory that will use cotton. Tambe and her band of women will form a company to run the plant and also sell the product. They have already helped coin a brand name ’Sakhi’ and the name ’Swaraksha Sakhi’ for their venture. There’s but one catch — to start off, the group needs to be 500-strong, each woman contributing Rs 500. So far, 256 women have signed up for this project. Tambe suggests that the SMs earning `500 a month be forced to join up and one month’s salary be deducted towards the capital.

Screwvala suggests a Rs 100 monthly deduction over five months. For Screwvala, it is important to succeed with this plant, so there can be one more later in the area. Screwvala today devotes 35-40% of his time to Swades Foundation and his wife Zarina works fulltime with it.

Source: The Economic Times (link opens in a new window)

rural development