In the decades to follow, women have time and again proved why their decision matters the most in the board room. Be it leading a great company to greater heights, or even the smallest step as starting a small company and making it big in the market; women everywhere have proven to be a beacon to all those girls out there dreaming of starting a business, or asking for what they deserve and simply being the ambitious selves.
Featuring the Cover Story of The Enterprise World’s this issue of The Most Influential Women to Watch in 2022 is Meera Satpathy – Sukarya, a visionary on a path to changing reality.
The Leader, the Excelsior-
The entrepreneurs in the social sector must play the role of change agents by adopting a mission to create and sustain social value for the greater good of society, recognizing and relentlessly pursuing new opportunities to serve that mission, engaging themselves and the right kind of people in the process of continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning, acting boldly without being limited by resources currently in hand, and exhibiting a heightened sense of accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes created.
Entrepreneurs in the social sector must pursue social interventions and novel applications that have the potential to solve community-based problems. They must take risks and put effort into creating positive societal changes through their initiatives. They must believe that this practice is a way to connect their life’s purpose, help others find theirs, and make a difference in the world (all while eking out a living).
They are in business for the greater social good and not just the pursuit of profits. They must seek to produce environmentally friendly products, serve an underserved community, or focus on philanthropic activities. Yet, they must still be financially savvy to succeed in their cause. For this, they must be well versed in making tough decisions in life that need courage.
“The journey of Sukarya has taught me what a social entrepreneur is, and what power one holds to change the minds of many.”
How Meera changed Sukarya –
The journey of starting Sukarya has been one of the most life-changing yet challenging journeys for Meera. It is her journey where she graduated from being a wife and mother of three children to running an advertising agency in her early forties for almost 15 years.
By that time, she was running two different kinds of organizations, one profit, and another a non-profit. But Meera’s greater calling and her heart were in serving the needy.
“We had begun this humble journey of 24 years with a few handfuls of volunteers and supporters. It was not at all easy.”
Sukarya was born to improve maternal-child health and nutrition with a special emphasis on anemia and malnutrition, reduce IMR [infant mortality rate]), Gender equality/ Empowering women as per the Millennium goals set by the UN reflecting the most pressing issues prevalent in our society then and even now.
Meera always believed that problems could not be seen in isolation as all development issues are closely interconnected. That is why most of Sukarya’s interventions are designed multi-pronged and integrated.
She feels that development and desirable results cannot be achieved alone. Everybody must play a crucial role — government, civil societies, community stakeholders, and other influential persons. It requires a collaborative approach and collective efforts to yield more significant results.
Over the years, Sukarya has set the pace as a developmental organization advancing the cause of underprivileged women, children, and adolescent girls, more than six million of them so far in 600 plus villages and about 120 slums, eliminating barriers hindering their social-economic progress and enabling them to live a better, healthier, and successful life.
The Founding Stones of Sukarya-
Even After 75 years of freedom, women and girl children are not treated equally in India. Women’s health and education are not of priority for the policymakers, business, community, and elected leaders. Women in cities, peri-urban areas, and villages struggle daily to live their lives under domestic violence, sexual abuse, ill health, forced marriages, and no income. So, citizens, authorities, and women must consider their situations seriously.
Talking about women’s empowerment is easy in boardrooms and policy-making sessions. But implementing it at the grassroots level efficiently and effectively with accountability is a different ballgame.
Non-profits like Sukarya should join hands with the government, other CSR donors, and funding agencies to provide a structural and effective action plan to battle, prevent and control anaemia, ensure ANC and PNC care, and prevent maternal morbidity, and infant mortality, and malnutrition.
“Sukarya treats food and nutrition as the most powerful tool to fight malnutrition conditions in women and children.”
However, behavioural changes, social-cultural food habits, and acceptance and understanding of low-cost nutritious meals are few known tips to fight malnutrition.
There has to be a continuous public health plan to tackle pandemics like Covid. There also must be a strong realization that COVID-19 has compounded manifold the nutrition-related challenges but giving up at this critical juncture is not an option.
If women, especially those pregnant and children between 5 -60 months, needed nutrition interventions before COVID-19, they need it much more now than ever. For children’s future in India, stopping COVID-19 and stopping malnutrition are equally important and urgent.
Changing the Paradigms, One Step at a Time-
“I am a committed social change maker and I believe in what I do that includes empathy, sensitivity, and creativity to mobilize grassroots people as leader of their communities.”
With Sukarya, Meera is here to inspire people, especially women and children, who are unaware and lack information.
It is very inspiring to hear what Prime Minister Modi said in his national address on the 76th Independence Day – “The next 25 years is going to be the golden era for “Nari Shakti” (women empowerment).
Sukarya, a woman-led, women-centric, and women-focused organization, has been a strong advocate of women’s empowerment since 1998. The team places them at the centre of the development curve, equipping them with education, life skills, training, and career opportunities. Sukarya works with women at the individual/group level to build their self-esteem and self-worth. That’s how they have stood by our communities, which most impactfully came into play during the COVID-19 pandemic.
A change can begin anywhere and can impact many. None the less they try all the time to reach out to various donors, agencies, and authorities to evoke the spirit of generosity for the needy.
Challenging the Challenges-
Initially, the challenges were:
- The society’s non-acceptance of NGOs as a serious profession.
- Undermining our integrity.
- Not being able to get a qualified workforce.
- No donation approach in our community.
- Lack of consistent resources and funds.
We live in an age when charity has become a business, and NGOs have been publicly questioned on their integrity. Yet, Sukarya stands alone in its direct and human approach to social service. This is further underlined by its committed system and its belief in focusing on what’s essential to give back to society.
There were many failures along the way. Neither has it been easy to work in this challenging terrain to show results and improve the conditions nor has it ever been easy to run the organization full-fledged with less or no funds. Yet Meera found her way through hope.
“My biggest tool is to have faith in myself to do what I do.”
Along with the National Family Health Survey 4 (NFHS 4) report, the government announced ‘Poshan Abhiyaan”, the nutrition policy. As a result, Sukarya’s nutrition programs have undergone tremendous growth, witnessing increased awareness, acclaim, and demand for its programs in India and globally for filling the health and gender gap among marginalized communities.
Because of Sukarya’s consistent effort and outcome, they are at this pivotal moment for the organization. Sukarya along with Sukarya USA and other empathetic volunteers from Microsoft, Salesforce, and T-Mobile have worked closely with local businesses and corporations. This was particularly true during COVID.
As a result, they could go from strength to strength while at the same time expanding their outreach to more significant communities fighting anaemia and malnutrition. Furthermore, the same will be an integral part of this next phase of Sukarya. With 57% of the total women population being anaemic, 40% of adolescent girls, and 67% of children between 0-5 years, it is a huge task ahead.
Building the Trust, Growing Ahead-
Sukarya’s most valuable assets are:
- A committed and focused leadership
- Sincere and hardworking volunteers,
- Compliance with the government policy and programs
- Teams of professional workers form the social development sector, and
- Trust from the Communities
The experience of bringing together supporters, stakeholders, donors, and government agencies creates synergies beyond boundaries, enabling the organization to implement and execute programs and look for positive impacts.
“I am proud to say today that not only new supporters are reaching out to us as partners, but researchers and experts are also proposing to work on our methodology of implementation.”
Sukarya has have been enabling tens of thousands of women and adolescent girls in the villages and slums to make their own decisions and actions for their health, nutrition, economic freedom as well as their children’s health, education, and well-being.
Tapping into Maternal-Child Health and Nutrition with Sukarya-
Sukarya’s MCHN program aims to improve the maternal and child health (MCH) status of mothers and infants, reduce infant mortality rate (IMR) and morbidity amongst children and mothers and improve the overall knowledge, attitude, and practice (KAP) of communities to strengthen our country.
The first general health camps in and around the slums of Delhi and Gurgaon were funded and supported by like-minded individual donors since 1998. Today, Sukarya is known for its works
- on urban slum health action program in Delhi and Gurugram,
- rural community health action program in Haryana and Rajasthan,
- knowledge-based intervention for reproductive health advocacy and action, an intervention study among adolescents, pregnant and lactating mothers to reduce the prevalence of anemia (a contributory factor of maternal morbidity & mortality),
- education on wheels for slum children,
- gender equality program for adolescent girls, and
- the empowerment of rural women through Self Help Groups (SHGs) and entrepreneurship building.
A Step Ahead-
To make the programs sustainable and to support decentralized development, Sukarya works closely with government officials, government-appointed social workers, religious and community leaders, village elders, women, and men at the grassroots level. All their developmental strategies are based on the need of the communities they serve.
“Currently, I have two things in mind: first, to have a developmental plan, and the other is to make our programs sustainable while reaching out to more marginalized communities.”
With the growing need to deal with troublesome health conditions of women and children, Meera’s priority is to have trained and dedicated workers. It must fight to reduce the percentage of affected anemic mothers and children and empower each adolescent girl for their education and economic independence.
Meera intends to prepare an issue-based strategy to address anemia and malnutrition for mothers and children and give equal importance to gender equality in the coming years. And that requires the help of technical experts of our country and if need be from other countries as well, who can also help monitor the progress.
There is a need of support from the government at various levels to provide more rigorous training to the beneficiaries in the deprived areas to push governments’ existing schemes forward. Additionally, the team should continue with an objective of responsible social developmental behaviour.
“I must look into various barriers and roadblocks in approaching philanthropic organizations and develop an effective communication plan to raise funds. This will enable us to hire qualified, experienced staff for digitalization. All said and done, I don’t want to set a specific milestone because it is easier to say so. Yet, I have miles to go before I give women and children their basic right of health and education.”, says Meera.