Credit Suisse and Barefoot College International (BCI) have announced a three-year partnership that will support the latter’s ‘Women Prosper Initiative’ (WPI). The objective of this initiative is to equip women with the necessary skills so as to enable the building of resilient and prosperous rural communities. As part of this initiative’, 400 rural women in 6 states will be selected for participation in an entrepreneurial and skill development programme.

The focus of WPI is to address intergenerational rural poverty by harnessing the ‘entrepreneurial spirit of rural Indian women’. The six states from which the women will be selected are: Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan, Kerala, Nagaland and Manipur. The women will undergo a three-month training programme at BCI’s campus in Tilonia, Rajasthan. Credit Suisse employees will also engage in volunteering activities to support capacity-building  efforts across specific areas of BCI.

According to the company, the programme is designed to equip women with financial and digital literacy, critical thinking, and enterprise skills that they need to establish meaningful livelihoods which are aligned with their geographical location and to facilitate environmental stewardship, biodiversity, and carbon reduction at a community level. The areas of focus include renewable energy, sustainable agriculture and nutrition, taught through BCI’s Bindi Solar and B.Barefoot non-profit social enterprises. These topics are aligned with BCI’s Zero Carbon systems change initiative, which was announced in January 2020 at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The programme will emphasise aspiration mapping and sustained regular income generation, to help towards achieving positions as teachers and leaders of their communities. During the 100 hours that form BCI’s curriculum, trainees will undertake courses on topics such as ethical apiculture for honey production, regenerative farming for coffee production, development of solar-based home lighting, lanterns and flashlights, sale and maintenance of clean-tech energy products, and production and sale of nutritional supplements. Micro-enterprise skills, women’s wellness, menstrual and reproductive health, human rights and citizenship, and environmental awareness are also covered. The trainees are provided with a smartphone to teach them the benefits of mobile technology, such as the ability to make digital payments as well as critically engage with and access public information.

The charity partnership supports BCI’s goal to reach 5,000 rural semi-literate and illiterate women in India by 2022, by providing them with viable avenues to increase economic prosperity for themselves and their communities. At the end of three years, it is expected that around 67,000 beneficiaries will be directly impacted by the partnership, including the trainees’ family members and individuals in their communities. 

As shared by the company spokesperson with CauseBecause, the women are selected based on insights and recommendations of the local community, ground partners, and Barefoot’s regional managers. The selected participants are often those who are deemed confident, willing, and able members/leaders of their communities. They are then formally invited to join the programme, asked both individually and through their families ( husbands, in-laws and children).

The programme is completely free for beneficiaries. Governments, private sectors, partners and donors sponsor their training and provide initial necessary equipment once they have graduated. Post completion, the programme supports beneficiaries by providing them with the necessary equipment and supplying them with digital and, when required, in-person support (such as re-training, inspection, etc.). This includes panels, lanterns, applicable tools, bee kits, and protective gear. 

Impact will be measured through field visits by regional managers, collected statistics, the number of sales, and interviews/surveys.

In a press release shared with CB, Mickey Doshi, CEO of Credit Suisse India, said, ‘Credit Suisse is committed to building an inclusive future where people can access the resources necessary to develop financial, entrepreneurial and other skills to thrive in society. We are pleased to support Barefoot College International’s high-touch education, enterprise and empowerment model specifically designed for rural women. We understand the need for harnessing the potential of rural India, to enable consistent and inclusive growth of the Indian economy. It is imperative to support innovative programmes like the Women Prosper Initiative which are highly impactful and can be rapidly scaled as needed.’

Meagan Fallone, director of Barefoot College International, said, ‘Together, we are working to build a much-needed programme dedicated to serving rural women who may not have had an opportunity to access a formal education but whose wisdom, innovative thinking and tenacious spirit are ideally suited to entrepreneurial action. We are excited to have Credit Suisse employee volunteers as resources for our team and we look forward to learning, unlearning and relearning together over the coming three years.’