Pushpalatha Somasundaram, 55, was once an agricultural wage labourer facing extreme poverty. Inspired by the Working Women’s Forum-India (WWF) fellow members, she started with a loan of Rs. 200 and gradually grew her business over 20 years, purchasing goats and cows for milk and curd production, and engaging in coconut trading. “Later, I leased land for cultivation and ensured my children’s education. I also supported my daughter-in-law’s entrepreneurship. Today, I am proud to have expanded from small animal husbandry to agriculture cultivation, proving that with determination and hard work, one can overcome adversity and achieve extraordinary success,” says Pushpalatha, who was among five others winners of the ‘Best Poor Women Entrepreneurs Excellence Awards’ presented by the Working Women’s Forum (India) and the Indian Cooperative Network for Women (ICNW) to mark the International Cooperative Day on July 1.
The Awards were presented by Marten Van Den Berg, Netherlands’ Ambassador to India on the occasion of the 4th Death Anniversary of legendary social worker and cooperator Dr. Jaya Arunachalam.
Another award winner Sundari Devaraj, a 54-year-old member of the ICNW from Kancheepuram narrates a similar tale. “While I started off as a daily wage worker, a small loan helped me become a member of the Silk Weavers Society. After 25 years, I now own two looms, have my own house, and have been able to educate my children.”
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“The Awards serve as a symbol of the spirit and unwavering determination of these women who have overcome adversity and transformed their lives. These women have not only overcome poverty but have also become agents of change in their communities. They have created employment opportunities, educated their children, and served as role models for other aspiring entrepreneurs,” said Dr. Nandini Azad, President, WWF (India)-ICNW.
Sharing their stories, the award-winning women entrepreneurs said that after struggling to make ends meet, availing loans through the cooperative network helped them pursue their entrepreneurial dreams and even enabled some of them to become landowners, take up farming as well as explore animal husbandry.
Stories of these extraordinary women entrepreneurs are very inspiring. Boddu Ruthu, a member of the ICNW Narasapur branch, started her journey as a wage labourer. With determination and the support of the forum, she obtained a loan of Rs. 1000 and transformed herself into a self-employed carpenter. Over time, she made profits, educated her children, and reinvested in her business. Despite the challenges posed by Covid, she never defaulted on her loans or sought moratoriums.
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Devika Narendaran, a member of the ICNW Central Madras branch, began her career by helping her husband distribute newspapers as a wage laborer. However, after joining the forum, she received a loan of Rs. 1000, which marked the beginning of her entrepreneurial journey. Over 20 years, she successfully transitioned from owning a cooldrink shop to a garments store and finally to owning a medical shop. Devika’s determination enabled her to provide quality education to her children, with her son becoming an M.Phil graduate and her daughter achieving a postgraduate degree.
Shilpa Nagaraj (Chennapatna) faced the challenge of being a married woman with two children after her husband’s untimely death. She took her first loan of Rs. 1200 from the WWF-ICNW and began growing and selling vegetables, supporting her family with the profits. Over 18 years, she received subsequent loans, eventually reaching Rs. 50,000, which she used to buy cows and start a milk business. With her determination, she ventured into paddy farming and even purchased a 20-cent land, farming it independently to provide for her children’s education.
Kavitha Sivasankar, a member of the ICNW South Madras branch, hails from a fishermen’s community and faced numerous struggles in her life. With an initial loan of Rs. 2000 from the ICNW, she began her journey and eventually obtained a loan of Rs. 50,000 over 20 years. Starting with a small Tiffen shop, she expanded her business and now owns a thriving provision store. With the help of the forum’s scholarship scheme, she successfully educated her daughters, one becoming a doctor and the other a physiotherapist.
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While presenting the awards, Marten Van Den Berg, the Netherlands Ambassador to India, said the stories of the women entrepreneurs were inspiring. “Your stories are all about inspiration, resilience, determination, and transformation, and highlight your journey from poverty to success. It is heartening to see how you have worked towards turning your dreams into reality,” he said. He congratulated the efforts of WWF and ICNW in empowering women and their work at the grassroots level.
The Awards also commemorate International Cooperative Day (July 1). Over the course of 43 years, organisations such as WWF and ICNW have gained significant influence and have emerged as prominent voices on the global stage, actively shaping policies and having their voices and concerns heard in various international forums such as New York, Germany, Brussels, and Japan. “The WWF-ICNW, being represented in global unions and alliances within the International Cooperative Movement, has been elected by several countries’ top cooperative bodies. This remarkable achievement highlights the power and significance of this women’s cooperative union, which actively engages in global discussions on gender and cooperative issues. It is an extraordinary coincidence for the first time globally this powerful mass women’s cooperative union and an active global player (The Netherlands) on gender and cooperative issues met each other at this function,” concluded Dr. Nandini Azad.