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CSR Leaders: Sheena Sakhuja from Aye Finance talks about their Shoe Artisan Programme empowering women in Agra

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Women empowerment is still the need of the hour in parts of our country no matter how much we have progressed as a nation. Taking up women empowerment on priority, fintech organisation Aye Finance Pvt. Ltd. is running a Shoe Artisan Programme for women from marginalised and minority communities in Agra.
The programme is being run by FAME (Foundation for Advancement of Micro Enterprises), which is the CSR arm of Aye Finance. Under this programme, the beneficiaries are provided comprehensive training in shoemaking techniques, design aesthetics, quality control and business management. Through this programme, regular job work is being provided to the women, which leads to not just honing of their skills but also ensures a regular flow of income, thus enabling them to support their family.
Apart from being trained in digital marketing skills, these women are also supported in selling their products on e-commerce platforms which creates an additional revenue line. Sheena Sakhuja, Deputy Vice President, Head – Corporate Impact, Aye Finance Pvt. Ltd. opens up to The CSR Journal sharing details about how they are making women shine in a male-dominated industry.

Please tell us about your Shoe Artisan Programme for marginalised women in Agra.

FAME’s Shoe Artisan Programme is an innovative initiative that was launched to provide women from marginalised and minority communities with a platform to acquire valuable skills, helping them generate livelihood opportunities leading to economic independence. FAME has established its own training centre in Agra, Uttar Pradesh to provide comprehensive training in shoemaking techniques, design aesthetics, quality control and business management.
As this is a livelihood generation programme clubbed with a skill building programme, FAME also provides regular job work to the women post the training which leads to not just honing of skill but also creates an income generating avenue for them. The women are also supported in selling their products on e-commerce platforms which creates an additional revenue line along with teaching them digital marketing skills. Beyond technical skills, FAME organizes industrial exposure visits for the women to enhance their practical knowledge, boost their confidence, and to show them the possible career options that exist for them in the footwear industry.

How many women have benefited from this programme to date?

This programme was launched last year in April and is supporting 150 women.
A beneficiary of the programme

How is this CSR programme financially empowering female artisans?

For FAME, skilling is not the end but means to an end, the end being financial independence. The skills that we are teaching the women through our Shoe Artisan Programme help them generate income and better their lives as well as the lives of their families. Being aware and familiar to their social construct and care giving responsibilities, we have created opportunities which work around these restrictions. As they cannot take up a 9-6 jobs in factories, we provide job work for the women at the training centre itself. For a two-hour work, over 60 women have been earning Rs 2500 per month since July 2022. We are also training them on digital marketing techniques to prepare them for selling shoes on ecommerce platforms and further augment their incomes.

Shoe artisanship is mostly a male-dominated occupation. Why did you choose female beneficiaries for this project?

FAME believes that empowering women entrepreneurs is essential for achieving the goals of sustainable development. And we are also aware of their challenges that are of different dimensions and magnitudes to those faced by their male counterparts. This prevents them from realising their potential as entrepreneurs and creating a transformative change in the economy despite there being over 20% of grassroots businesses that are women-led in India.
FAME, cognizant of the hidden entrepreneurial potential of women and the challenges they face in realising them, has designed its interventions that work toward breaking down these hurdles becoming their partners in growth. The Shoe Artisan Programme is a step in that direction and that is why has been launched only for women. Through this focused intervention we are building their skills as well as confidence to power their growth and make them agents of change.
The Shoe Artisan Programme helps to build skills of marginalised women as well as the confidence to power their growth and make them agents of change.

How fast are your beneficiaries in learning skills like shoe making, design aesthetics, or digital marketing? How has been the experience of training them?

Despite never having gone through a training of this rigor and structure, the learning curve of the women has been very steep. The drive they had to make a difference to their lives worked as a catalyst encouraging them to learn faster. The challenge was not in their learning abilities but the resistance they encountered from their families to visit FAMEs training centre to attend the training. To address this problem we ensured that the training timings did not clash with their household chores and even spoke to their family members wherever the resistance was too strong.
During the course of our engagement with the women we have seen a shift in their families’ outlook towards this Programme. The husbands who had earlier opposed their wives coming to the centre now come to drop them and support them in their household chores when the women are manufacturing shoes or doing job work, and that is the impact we have created through this programme.

Do you plan to expand this programme to any other state/city in India?

We are very impressed to see the commitment of the women towards learning new skills to make a better living for themselves and their families which has led to the programme showing results in a short span of just one year. We will be opening another centre in Agra this year and the women at the current centre will act as inspiration for the new cohort of women. Next year we will be taking this programme to the other shoe clusters of India.
Ahana Bhattacharya can be reached at ahana@thecsrjournal.in