Teaching women to become professional drivers has become the signature program of an Indian non-profit development organization, Janvikas, as it strives to meet the United Nations’ 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The SDGs emphasize that “development will only be sustainable if its benefits accrue equally to both women and men; and women’s rights will only become a reality if they are part of broader efforts to protect the planet and ensure that all people can live with dignity and respect”.
Started in 2016, the “Driverben- Ek Nayi Pehchan” is the key initiative of Janvikas’s skill based livelihood programs, and it is run by an Indian-American, Kirti Joshi, It’s goal is to empower resource-poor women from marginalized communities to become professional drivers. The program operates in the heart of the poor communities in Ahmedabad.
A majority of the women participants are either separated, widowed, divorced and some hail from communities which used to earlier do manual scavenging, according to a press release from Janvikas.
By preparing and placing women as professional drivers, the program enables socially excluded female members of the society to move from the margins to mainstream economy, Janvikas contends.
The program works to enhance the women participants’ awareness about their rights, builds their confidence, and helps them negotiate their status in the family. It teaches them self-defence, grooming, first aid, legal, banking, gender awareness and car care skills.
“It is challenging to convince women’s families to join the program as driving is seen as a ‘non-traditional profession’ for women, but once the families are assured of their safety and that they would earn a substantial income, many came forward to take charge of their lives,” Joshi, an Indian-American who is the program director of JanVikas, is quoted saying in the press release.
Joshi, a social development consultant with non-profit organizations, has been living in India for the last four years. She has spent more than 25 years in the social development sector, mainly in the area of healthcare, women’s empowerment and education She is currently engaged as a consultant – Programme Director Ulive, Janvikas, with the Driverben project
The program started with help from Azad Foundation and Mahindra & Mahindra. So far 119 women have been trained and 52 are currently enrolled in the program. Janvikas ensures that graduates of the training are placed in secure jobs as professional chauffeurs, and some of them are now the sole breadwinners of their families and can support themselves economically, the organization says.
Janvikas plans to train 200 women in a year and increase their income by 25-40%. “We see a high demand specially among women, families, senior citizens and schools for women drivers,” the organization said in the press release.
On its website janvikas.in, the non-profit describes itself as a Public Charitable Trust which became operational in 1987, and strives “To contribute to building and strengthening a just, democratic and secular society and to bring about concrete and sustainable changes in the lives of poor, marginalized and disadvantaged communities (SC, ST, OBC, minorities, women, urban poor) so that they lead a life with dignity and social justice.”
Over the last 27 years, Janvikas has grown into a web of 17 decentralized autonomous institutions which started as program support to young professionals and/or community leaders. The mission of Janvikas is to empower, capacity building and facilitate change agents who serve their communities.
The Founder Trustee of Janvikas, Gagan Shethi, is a development educator and practicing organizational development expert and gender trainer, who has helped set up several strategic organizations in India
like Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan, Sahjeevan, Drishti, Centre for Social justice, HID forum to name a few.
Managing Trustee of Janvikas Vijay Parmar has worked with the underprivileged since his student days, and later, as a Director of Human and Institutional Development Resource Centre (HIDRC) (formerly Behavioural Science Centre), he was instrumental in designing and setting up women’s savings & credit cooperatives, people’s organisations (POs), community based organisations (CBO) and other NGOs. Since 2000 he is associated with Janvikas in various capacities.