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Thursday, March 22, 2018
BAGAR, India, Jun 3 2009 (IPS) - What strikes a visitor entering the Source for Change business processing centre (BPO) in rural Rajasthan, a deeply conservative state where women are veiled and child marriage still rampant, is the near absence of men in the building.
Source for Change has launched a social revolution in and around Bagar, a quiet town of some 10,000 people, some 600 kms north-west of New Delhi. Before it opened, educated girls here had only two options: work on farms or at home.
Now after two months of training, each employee is assigned independent data entry duties, the BPO’s main work for clients like the Piramal Group, a big Indian drugmaker, and Pratham, a Delhi-based non governmental organisation for children.
Neelam Saini, 18, has been with Source for Change for 18 months. "I joined after class 10," she says. "We are four girls and two boys. I am the oldest. My father – a farmer – said he could not afford to educate us beyond class 10."
Now a confident Saini says she intends to keep working and study further.
Are her parents proud of her? They are "very proud of me," she says, a wide grin on her face. "Also," she adds in a serious voice, "because I am working my siblings will also be able to study further." The average salary is 4,000 rupees for an eight hour day.
The BPO, an initiative of the Piramal Foundation, was set up in 2000 by three men: Shrot Katewa a biotechnologist from the University of Rajasthan, Alim Haji, an optical engineer from the University of New Mexico (U.S.) and Karthik Raman, a graduate in economics from Case Western Reserve University, U.S.
Only Katewa is a local person – from Bakhtawarpura, a small village near Bagar. However, unlike his co-founders he has previous experience working with BPOs having worked with two companies in Mumbai.
Both Haji and Raman wound up in Bagar just by chance. The former "tired of my windowless office" in the U.S. decided he did not want to spend the rest of his life like that and found the Piramal Foundation on the internet. Raman has worked amongst tribal communities in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.
The Piramal Foundation is supported by the family-run Piramal Group, a giant pharmaceutical company with a turnover of 5 billion dollars.
The group’s early founders were born and brought up close to Bagar, and the Foundation is associated with many other projects in the area including the Bagar Employment Institute which runs courses in English-speaking and computer literacy.
Sonam Jangir, 18, who is in the first year of an undergraduate programme, says she is the first woman from her village, Islampur, to have a job. "My parents asked me why did I want to work when no women in the family had ever worked? I told them this is an era of computers and it is essential to know computers," she says.
She may have started a revolution in her village. "After I started working, five more girls from my village have got enrolled," she says with quiet satisfaction.
The BPO states its mission is to address the serious problem of lack of job opportunities for educated women in rural India. As Katewa, one of the founders, puts it: "A major problem in this part of the country is that while women were being educated, they were married off and their potential was wasted.
"We thought one of the ways to utilise their talent was to keep them here since the other constraint is that women are not allowed to move away from their homes in search of jobs," he adds.
Initially the going was tough. There was stiff resistance from family members. "We had to convince the men in the household like the father-in-law, brother, father, husband that this was something they should let their daughter-in-law, daughter, sister do," says Haji.
"On the first day of training, there was a crowd of men outside the office," he recalls. "They wanted to check out the place and us, whether their women were safe or not!"
Now Source for Change has expansion plans and intends to increase its employers in Bagar to 100 associates by January 2010. There are plans also to create a network of offices that will be spread across Rajasthan, each employing between 100 and 150 women.
With new clients like the Rajasthan government and the Confederation of Indian Industry, the biggest business association in the country with 7,500 members, the BPO can afford to make new plans.
In Bagar, its youngest employees are 18 and the oldest, Sunita, is 30. For Sunita Chowdhary, the BPO has been a life-saver. "My husband is not working," she confides. "Because of this job, I am able to educate our two children."
For Saini too, her life has changed. "Earlier I was very quiet and never voiced my opinions," she introspects. "But now I feel confident to say what I am feeling. My parents were asking me to get married and I told them, I don’t want to for another four years. I want to work for Source for Change!"
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