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WhatsApp empowering women in rural India to build sustainable livelihoods

Over 400 million Indians use WhatsApp to stay connected to their loved ones, message businesses of their choice and access essential services. WhatsApp being a simple, reliable, private and secure messaging app, takes away the hesitancy towards tech for a ‘new-to-digital’ user and often serves as the primary digital gateway for millions of Indians, particularly in semi-urban and rural areas.

The platform’s extensive reach makes it a powerful tool to scale social impact and deliver solutions for education, healthcare, and skill development. Women, in particular, have leveraged WhatsApp to create livelihoods, raise awareness, access services, and support social causes for their communities. Here are a few stories of resilient women who have empowered their communities through WhatsApp:

  1. Dr Shruti More

Samphia Foundation: An organization working with children with disabilities. Their vision is an Inclusive world for people with diverse abilities.

In Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, there are close to 1,700 children with developmental disabilities. With the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown imposed by the government, these children could not attend their therapy sessions. With each passing week of no intervention and therapy, families found that the children were lapsing into their pre-therapy routine. To solve these challenges, Dr Shruti More, the founder of the Samphia Foundation launched a ‘Therapy on Wheels’ programme on 3 December 2020. This was India’s first mobile van therapy unit and enabled the foundation to provide a door-to-door therapy service. The ‘Therapy of Wheels’ program continues to be functional, even post-pandemic and aims to reach every last mile and help as many special-needs children as possible. The foundation continues to use the simple technology of WhatsApp and uses different WhatsApp groups to connect with people and volunteers.

  1. Aparna Krishnan

Paalaguttapalle Bags: Women’s collective designing and selling eco-friendly and pure cotton cloth bags.  

In the drought-affected village of Paalaguttapalle in Andhra Pradesh, Aparna Krishnan helped a group of women start stitching eco-friendly and pure cotton cloth bags to support their families. All aspects of design, procurement, quality control and delivery were managed by these women. Aparna used social media to promote these bags and used WhatsApp as a primary platform to sell these bags. The women artisans use WhatsApp to share prototype images, colours for the bags and any details that need to be discussed over WhatsApp. Aparna and her team, who call themselves friends of Paalaguttapalle, assist women artisans online and help them tell their stories and engage with customers. So far, they have sold over 50,000 bags to customers in India, the USA, the UK and Canada and supplied them to many conferences, events and functions. They have also started making tasty pickles, free of preservatives, using traditional recipes. This enterprise has enabled women in the village to lead self-sufficient lives and showcases the transformative power of technologies like WhatsApp which can transform lives even in remote regions of the country.

  1. Dr. Ankita Raj

GreenHath: Greenhath is an all-women firm that offers a wide range of decorative, utility, fashion products from simple use key-chains to luxurious elite products. Handicrafts of Rural India for Women Empowerment through Employment is the focus area.

With the goal of empowering rural women via job opportunities and financial independence, Dr. Ankita Raj founded Greenhath in August 2017, an all-women firm that aims to empower rural women by offering them employment and training them to be financially independent.  Greenhath enables women in small towns and villages to create and sell a wide range of unique hand-made products – including mugs, coasters, decorative pieces and artificial jewelry, from the comfort of their homes. Dr. Ankita educates women in rural parts of Uttar Pradesh, about various aspects of business such as finance, doorstep delivery, and new technologies using WhatsApp. The women get trained and updated on WhatsApp and are connected to run the business from their homes. Dr. Ankita also creates mini-documentaries on social topics to create awareness and shares her insights with women and youth on aspects of life.

Over the years, WhatsApp has become a powerful tool for promoting social impact among underserved communities. These stories are a testament to the fact that WhatsApp is a powerful tool to promote and scale social impact, particularly at the grassroots level, thereby integrating them into India’s digital revolution.