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Policy brief

SEWA women’s social enterprises and their members

A baseline view (2020)

Paula Bronstein/Getty Images/Images of Empowerment

SEWA Women’s Social Enterprises and their Members: A baseline view (2020) - 2 MB

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Women working in India’s informal economy face vulnerabilities, exploitation, low wages and unsafe working conditions. SEWA, a national trade union of self-employed women workers from the informal economy, has over the last 50 years, supported women to form and run collective enterprises, to access living wages and resources and expand their agency through collective ownership.

SEWA Bharat developed a “grassroots accelerator” called the Enterprise Support System in 2019 to support women’s collective enterprises across different stages of growth. In 2020, IDinsight partnered with Imago Global Grassroots and SEWA Bharat to conduct a study on six social enterprises in the SEWA ecosystem, to understand their business performance and capacity, and the social and economic status of members engaged with the enterprise.

We conducted a phone survey of 1500+ enterprise members/shareholders, in-depth qualitative interviews with social enterprise staff members, and an analysis of enterprise financial data. We find that:

Enterprise performance
  • SEWA’s social mission of supporting and empowering poor women is deeply ingrained in social enterprise mission and operations, and managers are also actively working toward business profitability.
  • The social mission of the enterprise seems to be a priority and strength of SEs, reflecting SEWA’s mission-driven work.
  • Maintaining profitability and financial independence of the social enterprise is a harder challenge.
Benefits for members
  • Majority of enterprise members surveyed hold relatively empowered beliefs and live above national poverty line, similar to Indian average.
  • SEWA and social enterprise membership is a significant contributor to income and savings for many members – income from the social enterprise work contributes more than 60 percent of income of women employed with social enterprises.
  • There is still scope for member outcomes to improve, regardless of where they are with respect to the poverty line.