'Empowered Women Are The Best Change Makers'
Femina|March 2021
Zarina Screwvala believes in ensuring that progress and empowerment are achieved by one and all. She tells Radhika Sathe-Patwardhan how she is achieving that and more through the Swades Foundation
Radhika Sathe-Patwardhan

Empowerment is the key to a better future, and the Swades Foundation is ensuring that rural India is being empowered via holistic and sustainable growth using its unique 360-degree model. Zarina Screwvala co-founded the foundation with Ronnie Screwvala, and she is also its managing trustee and director. Apart from her work with Swades, she is also the co-founder of the media company UTV where—among other ventures— she has created many TV channels like Hungama, Bindass and UTV Movies. She is also a member of the UN Women Business Sector Advisory Council (BSAC). In an interview with Femina, she shared more about her work with Swades Foundation, lockdown, and being a changemaker.

Tell us about the vision of Swades Foundation.

Ronnie and I have a dream to lift one million people in rural India out of poverty. Today, we have a force of 270+ full-time staff, most of whom live and work in the villages, and thousands of community volunteers, impacting over five lakh people. We have a unique holistic model of development with interventions in water and sanitation, health, livelihoods, and education.

We believe poverty is both material and mental, and, while, sometimes, it is possible to remove material poverty, mental poverty remains. To us, mental poverty is a lack of hope, the inability to dream of a better world. The key to Swades Foundation is to create a ‘can-do’ attitude in our communities. ‘Swa Se Bane Des’ (I make my country) is what we believe in and what we tell them all the time! And, today, after six years, I am deeply proud of the thousands of village development committees, hundreds of Swades Swaraksha Mitras, or voluntary health workers, mostly ladies, who are our true heroes, and show us what a truly empowered India looks like.

What has been the main learning of the foundation in its work with women?

Women can be economically independent when they have water in their homes. Women and their oldest daughters often walk for two to three hours every day to fetch water. Once we completed our water interventions—and they got a water source available nearby—women had free time and started to practise poultry, goat-farming, dairy and other livelihood opportunities.

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