Vedanta’s Subhalaxmi Co-Operative: A Tale Of Women Empowerment At Grassroots

Jharsuguda: In the rural hinterlands of western Odisha, a movement of grassroots financial inclusion, rural entrepreneurship and women empowerment has been silently brewing for the past decade. With nearly 3900 women as members, the Jharsuguda based Subhalaxmi Cooperative is a wondrous tale of passion and enterprise. It is the flagship CSR project of Vedanta Limited Jharsuguda in ‘Sustainable Livelihood & Women Empowerment’ which offers financial services, technical knowledge and support, raw material, market linkage and above all, a support structure of women for women who wish to take destiny into their own hands.
The journey of Subhalaxmi Cooperative started a decade back with 10 women – Madhuri Bhainsa; who was elected as the First President of Subhalaxmi Co-op, Pushpanjali Seth; who is currently at the helm of affairs as President, Khirabati Chhachan, Kishori Naik, Khiteshwari Naik, Sulochana Majhi, Jayanti Kalo, Krishna Kumari Barpanda, Sushila Rohidas and Mina Marei, who contributed 100 rupees each to create a fund that has become a treasury worth INR 2.93 crores today. Although the journey of the co-op was paved with many hurdles and socio-cultural constraints, with the grit and determination of these women to overcome their deprivation, Subhalaxmi earned the trust of Jharsuguda’s rural folks and today it has members from 72 villages of Odisha. Women of Jharsuguda who earlier barely ventured beyond their hamlets, today own and run enterprises like fast food centers, packaged snacks, poultry farms, vegetable farms, grocery stores, beauty parlors, tailoring centers and many more.
The seed of this movement was sown by the then Vedanta Jharsuguda CSR team for creating successful livelihood projects and strengthening community institutions. In the initial days, the team faced a lot of resistance from the husbands, in-laws, brothers and other male members of the family and community who were not comfortable seeing the women of the house venture beyond the four walls. Despite lack of support and trust, Vedanta’s CSR team persisted knowing that this project had the potential to be an institution of great change and could significantly better the lives of many women and families in the region. In due course of time, Vedanta Jharsuguda’s CSR team won the trust of people and today, Subhalaxmi is the biggest women’s cooperative movement in western Odisha.
Today, the cooperative is thriving with a strong membership count of nearly 3900 women belonging to 328 Self-Help Groups. Each member of Subhalaxmi has access to doorstep-facilities like savings, loans, knowledge and skills trainings for enterprise development, besides the strength and comfort of thousands of women who continuously encourage and support each other. The co-op has a special provision called the Udyami Fund through which budding entrepreneurs can avail higher loan amounts for procuring machinery, get help with raw material and market linkages, and have access to specialized trainings. Subhalaxmi also has a welfare fund called Mahila Kalyan Panthi, created with contributions from all members, which helps support its members during critical phases in their lives, like pregnancy, matriculation of children, death in the family and so on.
Subhalaxmi has many laurels to its name, like the Vedanta Chairman CSR Award, FICCI CSR Award, Fame Excellence Award, India CSR Award, Greentech CSR Award, Best CSR Practice award in Odisha CSR Conclave, etc. In the days to come, Vedanta Jharsuguda and Subhalaxmi aim to take the cooperative to new heights. With its Vision 2020 set on achieving financial inclusion of 5000 households in Jharsuguda, the co-op aims to establish a women’s cooperative bank in the long run.
Vedanta Jharsuguda’s CSR dept. shoulders the responsibility of transforming lives of thousands of people living in the community. Today, the company’s CSR efforts reach out to 72 villages of Jharsuguda, covering more than 75,000 people annually. It empowers nearly 3900 women of 328 SHGs, provides doorstep healthcare services to about 25,000 people annually, gives educational support to more than 5000 students, has planted more than 1.43 lakh trees in partnership with the community, and built 568 plus infrastructural projects at community level.