CII Foundation Woman Exemplar Program 2018

16 May 2018

The Vice President of India, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu, presented the three grassroots women leaders with the CII Foundation Woman Exemplar Award 2018 for their extraordinary contribution in transforming the excluded and disadvantaged communities in India. Ms. Munni Begam, Ms Asha and Ms Vechulou Kanuo were conferred the awards in the fields of education, health and micro-enterprise respectively at the CII Exclusive Award Session held on 8th April in New Delhi.

The CII Foundation Woman Exemplar Program promotes women empowerment at the community level by discovering, recognizing and supporting grassroot women leaders who chose to look beyond their limitations and positively impacted their community. Since its inception in 2005, 41 grassroots women have been recognized and further empowered. The Exemplars have battled social injustice, stigma, poverty, illiteracy and exploitation, to triumph and further ignite the spirit of empowerment in others. The Foundation is creating a network of such outstanding women to spur dynamic learning and exchange among these change makers. The program will also explore opportunities and partnerships between CII members and these women exemplars to build a progressive and inclusive India.

Born into a family of farm laborers, married at the age of 12, home-schooled herself by writing with coal on waste papers, Munni Begam’s journey is a tale replete with challenges at every step. Despite all odds, today, Munni is a leading advocate for women’s functional literacy, campaigner for women’s education and advisor to the Gram Panchayat. This ‘Malala of Eastern UP’ has transformed the lives of 5,770 illiterate rural women through functional literacy classes and advocacy for access to government schemes and entitlements in Jaunpur and Pratapgarh districts of Uttar Pradesh. From being a tailor to becoming a sewing tutor, educator, and Zilla Panchayat member; Munni’s story is truly an inspiration.

Married by the age of 9, a daily wage labourer at 11; widowed & diagnosed as HIV positive, and lost her newborn child by the age of 16; Asha is a survivor and campaigner for the rights of people living with and affected by HIV. An epitome of courage and willpower, Asha founded Saksham, the Ajmer chapter of the Positive Women’s Network to eliminate the stigma of the society by opening access to government health services & welfare schemes for HIV affected people. In her endeavour to eradicate the social exclusion she faced herself, Asha provided de-stigmatized counseling, free treatment, and nutritional supplements to over 6011 HIV patients via Saksham in Nasirabad, Rajasthan’s most high-prevalence HIV belt, giving the right treatment at the right time.

Vechulou Kanuo grew up in an isolated Thetsumi village, Nagaland with limited resources, on the Indo-Burmese border, managing farm work and domestic chores. Her capacity for back-breaking work enabled her to transform a bankrupt organization, the Chakhesang Women’s Welfare Society, to one of the most successful livelihoods ventures in the state. Vechulou has introduced modern agriculture and animal husbandry to 10,586 women, farmers and youth, seeding thousands of small entrepreneurs in the deep rural interiors of Nagaland. The only woman to be invited to traditional Naga tribal council meetings, Vechulou represents the voice of Naga women in the state.

Selected by an eminent panel from Industry and social sector, the awardees were shortlisted through a 4-step rigorous process from over 225 nominations received from NGOs across the country. In addition to a cash reward of Rs 3,00,000 each to the three women exemplars, the 15 finalists of WEP 2018 will be part of the CII Foundation leadership training and mentoring program. The award, now in its 14th year, was supported by JK Tyres (in Health category) and JCB India (in Micro-Enterprise category).
As part of the Woman Exemplar Program, CII Foundation also organized a capacity building workshop for 15 shortlisted women leaders on 5-6 April in Delhi, to understand their future plans, areas of support, draft mentoring program and provide them with the opportunity to interact with industry members.