New Delhi: Prema Gopalan, founder of Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP), was awarded the 8th Social Entrepreneur of the Year award, 2018, for her work in promoting women’s entrepreneurship at the grassroots and ensuring rural livelihood.

Working in the areas affected by global climate change, Gopalan has helped women farmers, entrepreneurs and grassroots business leaders, who are solving the problems of their communities through small businesses.

After working for years with issues of urban communities, Gopalan got a closer view of rural realities and women’s woes after the devastating Latur earthquake in 1993. This triggered her to change course and launch her work with rural communities through SSP in the Marathwada region. Gopalan and her team have so far built vibrant ecosystems to enable 145,000 women to succeed in remote and ailing markets.

Jointly founded by Jubilant Bhartia Foundation and Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship in 2010, the award recognizes promising and high-impact social entrepreneurs who implement practical and sustainable solutions. This year’s winner was chosen out of 107 applicants. The other finalists this year were Smita Ram and Ramakrishna N.K. of Rang De, who are providing a platform for peer-to-peer lending by building a bridge between India’s credit started communities and ordinary citizens.

Gopalan in her speech said the recognition will go a long way in making visible the invisible revolution that rural women are creating at the grassroots. “Government and private sector should partner with the rural women very directly and look at them as job creators and not as beneficiaries. Time has come when we look at grassroot women entrepreneurs as the future to revitalize our rural economy."

The SSP model comprises four ventures: A network of 5,000 self help groups; a fund for women-led businesses; a rural school of entrepreneurship and leadership for women; and a market aggregator that provides warehousing, branding, marketing and distribution services to last-mile business women.

Over the last two decades, SSP has had a domino effect in 2,000 climate-threatened villages across six states in India. Around 97,874 women in drought- and flood-affected villages have set up enterprises in clean energy, sanitation, basic health services, nutrition and safe agriculture with the help of SSP. They have transitioned from self-employment to diversifying their ventures, aggregating into value chains and mentoring thousands of others to get on the path of entrepreneurship.

Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship is a sister organization of the World Economic Forum. The Foundation provides unique regional and global platforms to promote social entrepreneurship as a key element to advancing societies and addressing social problems innovatively and effectively. It also fosters a peer global community of social entrepreneurs.

Jubilant Bhartia Foundation, established in 2007, is the not-for-profit organization of the Jubilant Bhartia Group. It focuses on conceptualizing and implementing the corporate social responsibility initiatives for the Group. The foundation’s activities include community development work, health care programmes, cultural and sports events, an environmental preservation initiatives, vocational training, women empowerment and educational activities.

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