Reaching one million jobs for Indian women in “the last mile”

“Women on Wings” aims to create one million jobs for Indian women by 2018. And according to Ronald van het Hof, Managing Director, India, it is on track to meet its goal. The organization has fuelled 101,250 new jobs since its beginning in 2007, through partnering with Indian businesses that share its vision but lack the relevant business know-how.  

I visited Ronald on March 11 at his home office on the 6th floor of a tall apartment tower in Gurgaon, a mushrooming urban industrial centre, 28 km. from New Delhi. Women on Wings was created by two visionaries, Maria van der Heijden and Ellen Tacoma from the Netherlands, both with strong marketing, communication and change management backgrounds and experience in India.

Women on Wings has a novel approach. It aims both to create new jobs but with a view to sustainability, both of the jobs and of the environment. It works with Indian businesses to help them develop, improve and expand their work, while at the same time create new jobs for women. It works primarily with volunteers, bringing experts (to date, from the Netherlands and India) to work with managers of Indian companies to create business models for sustainable jobs. 

One example of the work of Women on Wings that particularly interests me is a sanitary napkin production and sales project in Maharashtra. It is a start up project in Latur and Tuljapur, in collaboration with Aakar and Sakhi Retail, that aims to create a sustainable model for the production, marketing and distribution of sanitary napkins, ultimately creating around 50,000 jobs for rural women. A model of business development, it combines the local knowledge of Sakhi Retail, the technical knowledge of Aakar, and knowledge about business development to create optimal local solutions of Women on Wings..

The project will also empower girls and women by allowing them greater freedom of mobility during their menstrual cycles. In many parts of rural India, girls have to stay home at t because they this time because they lack readily disposable products and have to rely on cloth rags that need changing frequently. Because of the stigma attached to menstruation, these cloths are washed and stored in unhygienic conditions, harboring micro-organisms that can cause vaginal infections.

A major challenge of the sanitary napkins project is finding products that are biodegradable, in keeping with the goals of Women on Wings to contribute to environmental sustainability. Currently, no commercially manufactured napkins meet this requirement.

Women on Wings also works in the private sector. Since 2011Women on Wings has been working with Jharcraft, a public sector organization established in 2006, that opens up new opportunities of employment for local artisans and the underprivileged of the State of Jarkhand, employing 175,000 people, 85% of whom are women.