I am reminded of the hard work of the Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) in Mumbai every time I wear my favorite shirt. It is a homespun cotton short kurta in blue with beige embroidery that I bought during a trip to Ahmedabad, SEWA's home, while accompanying an American Center-sponsored speaker from Ashoka, a group that nurtures social entrepreneurs. After visiting the SEWA offices and learning about their extensive reach and impressive projects, we received the suggestion that beautiful clothing and other items produced by artisans that are beneficiaries of SEWA's microfinance programs were available at SEWA's retail store, Hansiba. I was so happy with my purchase that I made a special trip back to the store on a subsequent visit. It was therefore to my great happiness that a Hansiba store was opened in Mumbai.
The store happens to be on the route I take to drop my daughter off at school and it serves as a daily and powerful reminder of the power of the nongovernmental sector. Founded by Ela Bhatt and Reema Nanavaty in 1972, the SEWA is known as a pioneer in grassroots development. It is the largest union, with one million members, of informal sector workers in India. The SEWA Cooperative Bank, founded in 1974, impacts more than three million people. They have expanded beyond India and are now working in Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, and other countries. In fact, Secretary Clinton was served nuts from Afghanistan that were produced as part of a SEWA initiative.
This visit was also a reunion as Secretary of State Clinton has known founders Ela Bhatt and Reema Nanavaty since 1995, when the Secretary visited SEWA headquarters in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. In fact, the cover of the April 1995 issue of SPAN magazine, features a photo of Secretary Clinton and Ms. Bhatt. They have continued to stay in touch and the Secretary and Ms. Nanavaty worked together to form the Women's Trade and Finance Council (WTFC) in partnership with the Global Fairness Initiative.
During the visit, the artisans themselves took center stage as they demonstrated their embroidery and sewing techniques to the Secretary, while explaining how SEWA, through the access to markets, microloans, and banking services it offers, allows them to make a living from their craft.
The visit ended with a moving rendition of the Gujarati language version of "We Shall Overcome."