Subhalaxmi Cooperative, a movement for the empowerment of women in Odisha

Jharsuguda: Backed by Vedanta, India’s largest producer of aluminum and value added aluminum products, Rupsi Mehr, a housewife from Kelendamal in Jharsuguda, Odisha has written her own success story and how!

When she first heard of Subhalaxmi, her family barely managed to make ends meet, but Rupsi’s biggest worry then was not being able to send her two children to school. Seeking ways to increase her family’s income, she enrolled in a self-help group called Maa Laxmi, which operated under the aegis of Subhalaxmi. What began as a reluctant integration kick-started Rupsi Mehr’s challenging journey to becoming an entrepreneurial success story in the region. Today, she leads a group of other self-sufficient women to achieve their dreams of self-sufficiency, through a unique avenue – mushroom farming!

His business has reached new heights. With over 400 mushroom beds, his unit produces over 600-650 kg of mushrooms every day and around 15,000-18,000 kg of mushrooms in a single month. The stellar numbers are the result of his hard work and Subhalaxmi’s interventions in the community.

Subhalaxmi’s mushroom cultivation background provided Rupsi Mehr with the resources and knowledge to start his business. Today, she earns more than Rs 90,000 per month. In addition to changing her own destiny, she managed to provide employment for five other people in her village. Speaking about his entrepreneurial journey, Rupsi Mehr said: “A few years ago I wouldn’t even have imagined that I would provide employment for others, I just wanted to support my family and send my children at school. Today, I am not only financially independent, but also leading a women’s group under Maa Laxmi SHG. I am grateful for the immense support I received from Vedanta. I hope to inspire other women in my village to start their own entrepreneurial adventure. »

Rupsi Mehr’s story is one of many success stories that have emerged from Subhalaxmi Co-operative-Vedanta’s flagship sustainable livelihoods and women’s empowerment project in Jharsuguda. It is one of the largest women’s cooperatives in India with a membership base of over 4,100 women and promotes sustainable livelihood opportunities among rural women, creating opportunities for entrepreneurship through development skills and support for microfinance.

The member-owned, managed and controlled women’s cooperative provides its members with sustainable livelihood opportunities through various training and capacity building programs for enhancing women’s skills in various agricultural and non-agricultural activities. The service delivery model of the Subhalaxmi cooperative is based on four basic elements: capacity building and promotion of livelihoods, financial services (savings, credit and insurance), social development, collaboration and partnership.

Speaking on the success of the Subhalaxmi Project, Sunil Gupta, CEO of Vedanta Limited, Jharsuguda, said, “Vedanta has always done its best to catalyze positive transformation in the lives of communities residing on the periphery of its operations. Subhalaxmi members have made us proud by leading their way to self-reliance and Vedanta is proud to be a catalyst for women’s empowerment in the region. I hope to see more dynamic entrepreneurs like Mrs. Rupsi Mehr emerge from the community, with the support of our initiatives.

The Subhalaxmi cooperative has become one of the model community organizations in Jharsuguda, designed to create a landmark for disadvantaged women in the locality by improving their socio-economic conditions and providing livelihood security for their families. What started with a corpus of Rs 1,000 is now one of the largest women’s cooperatives in the country with over 4,100 women in 339 SHGs, where loans amounting to over INR 31.35 lakhs have been granted to more than 16,900 members to date. It should be noted that 83% of the loans have been granted to micro-enterprises and therefore more than 1,361 women micro-entrepreneurs have emerged from the cooperative, who are engaged in various agricultural and non-agricultural activities (sewing, farming, manufacturing, paper plate and cup making, animal husbandry, etc.). The initiative currently reaches 73 villages.

The Mahila Kalyan Panthi initiative of the Subhalaxmi Cooperative has catered to the financial needs of its women members by disbursing over Rs 22.82 Lakh so far in one-time cash grants for deserving students, pregnant women, the funeral support and loan waivers among 1034 beneficiaries so far. Speaking of self-sufficiency, the cooperative has organized various livelihood trainings and capacity building programs for over 1900 members. Today, cooperative members have generated cumulative savings of Rs 1.82 crore from a total fund of Rs 3.53 crore. According to a study conducted by Taru Pvt. Ltd.-an independent research agency, 94.7% of respondents in the intervention areas said they were positively impacted by the Subhalaxmi cooperative.

This inspiring women-led movement has won its fair share of accolades, with various national and international awards over the past few years. In 2021, it won the prestigious BRICS solution for SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) award for gender equality – its first international award. Apart from this, the cooperative has won various coveted awards like the FICCI CSR Award in 2021 in the category of “Women Empowerment” and the Apex India CSR Excellence Award in 2019. Kalinga Award from the Institute of Environment & Quality Management Systems in 2017 and has also been identified and awarded as one of Odisha’s Change Agents by ‘Yes We Can’ organization.

Vedanta’s social interventions in the areas of sustainable livelihoods, quality education, women’s empowerment, health, water and sanitation, bio-investments and community infrastructure reach a total of 72 villages in Jharsuguda and surrounding areas, benefiting nearly 80,000 people in one year. It empowers over 4,000 women from over 339 SHGs, provides home health services to around 32,000 people a year, provides educational support to over 6,400 students and has planted over 1.48 lakh of trees in partnership with residents at the community level.

Virginia S. Braud