Women on Wings celebrated its 15th anniversary on Tuesday November 7, 2022, with an inspiring impact summit on the topic of ‘Co-creating Livelihoods – the Road Ahead’ in New Delhi. Representatives of the ecosystem of Women of Wings took the stage: business partners, experts and team members, the co-founders, the Indian National Government and the Jharkhand State Government, the Dutch Embassy, and many other network partners. Shilpa Mittal Singh, joint managing director at Women on Wings: “Without these partners we would not be able to realize our mission of co-creating 1 million jobs for women in rural India. It was truly inspiring to celebrate, connect and look ahead together.”
Living proof: Mittal
After the traditional lighting of the lamp, the event kicked off with the powerful video of fifteen-year-old Mittal. In the video she illustrates that the income of her mother makes a real difference in her life. She can get to study whilst her mother was already working in the fields at Mittal’s age. This story is a true example of why Ellen Tacoma and Maria van der Heijden started Women on Wings 15 years ago. On stage the co-founders shared their personal and professional journey underlining that economic empowerment of women is the way to break the cycle of poverty.
Inspiring stories of entrepreneurs
Khitish Kumar Pandya, founder and CEO of EcoTasar Silk, and Shweta Thakare, co-founder and COO of GramHeet, both presented their social impact story.
EcoTasar Silk creates wage opportunities for small tribal producers in the textile industry. Key to the social impact strategy is to bring work to the doorstep, provide work opportunities around the year and ensure a predictable disbursement of income. Says Khitish: “This way seasonal migration of women and their children can be avoided thus creating more stability and educational opportunities to the children.”
GramHeet was started to reduce agrarian distress by providing end-to-end post-harvest services to farmers through a digital platform. Farmers are offered decentralized storage, post-harvest credits and access to the market through the platform. Shweta shared that in India more than 75 percent of farmers want to quit farming. She took the stage with a call to action: “Join us to build a sustainable food system where every farmer cultivates with dignity and feeds the world with pride.”
Impact for volunteer experts
Looking at impact from a different angle, two volunteer experts reflected on how working for Women on Wings impacted their life. Supply chain expert Florentine Steenberghe, a former Dutch National Hockey Player starring in World Cups & Olympics shared: “As a social entrepreneur you are also playing top sport. The outcome however is far more important than winning a medal; it is a better future for women and their children.”
Marketing communications expert Karen de Loos emphasized the learnings from working with social entrepreneurs: “In the Netherlands we tend to be very focused on how to achieve a goal. Almost in a project management way of working, from A to B to C etcetera, till we reach Z. Through my work in India, I realized even more that there are many ways towards the goal. And that agile was invented in India long before it became a ‘hype’ in the corporate world. So now I use the best of both worlds in my work for clients and for Women on Wings.”
Keynote speaker Charanjit Singh, Additional Secretary of the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM), gave an interesting insight in how the NRLM works toward enabling access to self-employment and skilled wage employment opportunities for the poor households. He concluded his keynote with: “When women work for the community, the sky is the limit”.
Nitish Kumar Sinha, State Program Manager at Jharkhand State Livelihood Promotion Society (JSLPS), explained in more detail the creation of the Palash brand, an innovative initiative taken by JSLPS and further developed in partnership with Women on Wings. Main objective is to strengthen the brand to create regular income and more jobs for women in rural Jharkhand. But there are more advantages says Nitish: “A brand provides a boost for the rural products; it gives equity and dignity.”
Lively panel discussions
Throughout the day, three panel discussions on The Future of Consumer’s Behavior, Future Funding Models and Co-creating Ecosystems offered a lot of food for thought. Although the three panels had different angles, the common theme appeared to be the need for collaboration. Changing consumer behavior, most notably the emergence of conscious consumerism, will create opportunities for social enterprises, but there are also challenges and entry barriers. It is therefore essential to work together to create enabling ecosystems for the social enterprises and the women at work, to convince them that they have the wings to fly. As Ronald van het Hof, joint managing director at Women on Wings summarized: “It is imperative that we focus on creating ecosystems, not egosystems.”