Retail co-ops in the UK help young women in India rebuild from the pandemic

Thursday Feb 10, 2022

Over forty young women in India will develop new skills to help them secure a regular income through the formation of two co-operatives funded by retail co-ops in the UK.

When the Delta variant hit India with devastating effect last year, a group of co-operative retailers collectively raised over £100,000 to support the crisis response, initially providing essential basic supplies, health kits and education.

Now thoughts turn to helping young women workers to grow a sustainable future out of the pandemic through a two-year incubator programme to help them develop skills in journalism, graphic design, photography, new media, research methodology and report writing.

Pranaliben is one of the young women who will benefit from this support. A 20-year old woman, from Ahmedabad city, both her parents are informal workers. After completing her graduate studies from a local university, Pranaliben struggled to find sustained work and this was made worse by the pandemic. Through her mother, a member of SEWA, she got in touch with SEWA Cooperative Federation and learnt about cooperatives. Now she is eager to work together with young women like her and lead her own cooperative.

Trade body Co-operatives UK, worked with the Co-operative College and Co-op News to co-ordinate the appeal, partnering with SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association) in India who are delivering the programme.

Mirai Chatterjee, Chairperson SEWA Cooperative Federation said, “ Women in India mainly work informally meaning their earnings can be unreliable and as soon as the crisis hit many lost their income overnight. Thanks to the vital support provided by our co-operative friends in the UK, we’re helping them to form two grassroots co-operatives to create a sustainable livelihood for themselves.

“As well as learning technical skills in communications and research, around forty young women will develop leadership and business management skills, and we’re developing market links to help them secure regular work and provide income security.”

Rose Marley, CEO of Co-operatives UK said: “We’re pleased to have been able to galvanise support from our largest members in the UK in solidarity with co-operatives across the world in India. This is true international co-operation in action.

“Our first wave of support was crisis response to the health emergency, now we’re helping to rebuild in a sustainable way, as co-operatives have done the world over for well over a hundred years. This demonstrates that the global co-operative values and principles are just as relevant now as they have always been.”

During the initial crisis period, £70,000 of the donation from UK co-ops was used to provide emergency support. This included the distribution of 4,000 household health kits prepared by the Indian co-operatives that form part of SEWA Cooperative Federation, with masks made by an artisan co-operative and soap and immune boosters produced by a health co-operative distributed across eight states across India. They also provided lifesaving information about the symptoms and spread of Covid to families in rural and low-income urban areas – to dispel myths and provide accurate health information.

The remaining £30,000 is now being used to deliver a two-year programme supporting the development of two young women’s incubator co-operatives. A grassroots media co-operative will support young women to build capacity in media, journalism, graphic design, photography and new media, whilst a second grassroots co-operative will focus on research, conducting surveys, focus group discussion and report writing.

The emergency response was co-ordinated by Co-operatives UK and the Co-operative College, who worked together as part of the International Working Group to collect and co-ordinate the donations from The Co-op Group, Midcounties Co-op, Central England Co-op, Scotmid, Lincolnshire Co-op, Southern Co-op, East of England Co-op, Channel Islands Co-op, Chelmsford Star Co-op, Heart of England Co-op and Co-op News.

Watch a video from SEWA Cooperative Federation here showing how the two new grassroots co-operates will help young women to rebuild their livelihoods out of the pandemic.