An Inspiring Journey to Women’s Empowerment in India

 

I returned home to London nearly a week ago, and I am still buzzing with inspiration, ideas and excitement from my recent solo trip to India, which was for my nonprofit social enterprise Shakti.ism – a women’s empowerment initiative.

 

Spending time with our delightful talented tailoring team in Pondicherry

The trip was a huge success, and I am already planning the next trip(s) back. So much has happened in such a short time. I had the privilege of spending time with the first group of women who are making products for my nonprofit. Our time together was short but sweet and I am missing them already! I was fortunate to spend some time discussing social enterprise and sustainability with the awe-inspiring Bruno, who does so very much for 300 children + one of India’s most marginalised communities – I am truly lucky to collaborate with him + his incredible team. I was lucky to provide the women + girls of that very same community with a workshop around women’s health + menstrual hygiene, and my nonprofit sponsored a half-year supply of 100% compostable sanitary products for all of them. I was able to do this with the support of Menstrupedia, who creates informative child-friendly materials about menstrual hygiene, and bought the Anandi sanitary pads from Aakar Innovations, which I hope to be an ongoing purchase. I missed seeing my partner Gayle in person, but she was there in spirit and in my thoughts the entire time, and I am truly grateful for our partnership. None of this would be possible without her and I really cannot wait to see what we can achieve together.

A menstrual hygiene workshop for the tribal community

I also had the pleasure of partnering with the inspirational Gouree of Pankh Handicrafts, who graciously donated reusable sanitary pad kits for orphan girls in Pondicherry.

Inside Ahmedabad’s Old Swaminarayan Mandir

I spent some time exploring the nooks, crannies, secret temples, hidden passageways, majestic mosques, and pols of Ahmedabad, and spent time chitchatting with Gujaratis from all walks of life, including several social entrepreneurs!. I discovered the city on foot before the sun came up, and discovered even more after the sun went down. I was fortunate to find a social enterprise café called Seva Café, which is run by volunteers and works on the premise of paying it forward – your meal has been paid for by someone who came before you, and you pay whatever price you feel is adequate for a future guest’s meal. They had a brilliant book exchange there as well. I even got to ‘celebrate’ an 80-year old auto-rickshaw driver’s birthday with him in Gujarati. I somehow managed to purchase a grand total of 25 books and somehow carried them around India with me without a full-sized suitcase. I managed to get them home to London too. 

Heritage walk in Ahmedabad’s Old Town

I met incredible, passionate social entrepreneur contacts in Ahmedabad, and I hope we will partner together in the near future. Thanks to a serendipitously cancelled meeting, I got the opportunity to visit Gandhiji’s Sabarmati Ashram, which is something I have wanted to do for as long as I can remember. It was so encouraging to visualise Gandhi’s dedication to improving life for others, and it felt really appropriate given the mission of my visit. I actually saw quite a bit of women’s empowerment and gender equality advocacy at the ashram, and in the work that he did. It was so inspiring.

@ Gandhi Ashram

Of course, I couldn’t go to India without visiting my favourite Indian city, Mumbai. I spent some time getting to know Asia’s biggest slum, Dharavi. Dharavi was made famous by the film Slumdog Millionaire, and the novel Shantaram. Anyone who has seen the film or read the book will likely have an image of poverty and poor conditions about Dharavi, but this could not be further from the truth. Dharavi is home to over 1 million people and is a huge commercial hub in the middle of Mumbai. The area generates between US $650 million to $1 billion each YEAR). It was a delight to visit and explore, and I was particularly impressed with the functionality and professionalism of it all. The slum is home to more than 20,000 mini-factories and is a huge contributor to the leather, pottery, and recycling industries, and is an even bigger contributor to India’s GDP.

Inside Dharavi

Mumbai has changed a lot since my last visit, and I fell in love with the city even more after this visit. I had the pleasure of discovering conscious fashion and social initiatives all over the city. I discussed empowerment with lots of artisans in south Mumbai. I also got the hang of navigating the city by train on my own, which I want to do lots more of next time I visit! I think I may have even found my next partner NGO, which I am very excited about!

There were so many things I wanted to do, see, eat, and so many more people I’d have loved to meet with, but as my itinerary was really packed and my time was limited, the visit left me with an ongoing (and seemingly endless) to-do list. But such is the life of a social entrepreneur, particularly in start-up phase. I came home inspired, and eager to get to work. There is so much to do and I am thrilled to be doing it. A lot of other big ideas and ways to be more impactful came from this initial visit, so watch this space for future updates!

One of our beautiful tote bags made from 100% GOTS organic cotton and a repurposed sari

As always, if you are interested in contributing to the incredibly worth cause of disadvantaged women’s empowerment in India, please do so here (pledges of £25 or more will get you one of the beautiful tote bags shown here, and that includes shipping anywhere in the world. *Note that the tote bags may differ as they’re made from upcycled saris and the sari colours and patterns may vary.

To anyone who managed to read all of my excited rambling, and especially to each and every one of you who supports and contributes this incredibly important cause, thank you so much.

We are only just getting started! ♥️ 🇮🇳

PS shop launching soon, subscribe for updates. No spam, just infrequent impactful empowering emails ♥️