By Amrita Gupta and Meenu Vadera, Azad Foundation
The Azad Foundation is a professional feminist organization working across social and religious divides to enable resourcepoor women to empower themselves by engaging them in viable non traditional livelihood (NTL) options like professional driving. We are committed to breaking patriarchal boundaries and structures so that the women, in particular those from underprivileged backgrounds can exercise control over their lives, enjoy full citizenship, earn a livelihood with dignity and generate wealth and value for all. Azad Foundation’s mission is to equip resource-poor women with knowledge and skills so that they excel as professionals and entrepreneurs and earn a ‘livelihood with dignity’ in jobs and markets that have traditionally been closed to them. We do this through transformative, capacity building programmes around the self and the skills needed for nontraditional livelihood, based on adult learning principles. We also engage with both men and women in their communities so that both can construct a safe and supportive space for their development. Azad Foundation currently operates through their offices in Delhi, Jaipur and Kolkata and through likeminded partners are also present in Indore, Ahmedabad, Bhuvaneshwar and Lucknow.

Azad works not only at an individual level, i.e women and their families but also aims to create a supportive ecosystem at the community level as well. Programme initiatives like the Feminist Leadership
Program (FLP) build a cadre of young women feminist leaders who through their transformative leadership act as catalysts of change in their communities. The Men for Gender Justice Program also engages with young men in the age-group of 18-25 years to promote and build an environment for gender equality while challenging concepts of masculinity in their lives. Such engagements help build an ecosystem of support in communities.

To date, 47 FLP community leaders in Delhi and 19 in Jaipur have emerged from this programme. These leaders have helped 3290 women access social security schemes, citizenship documents and supported them in violence related issues. Similarly, the Men for Gender Justice Programme has been able to create change agents through its transformative training on gender and masculinities at
the community level. Since it started in 2015, more than 600 young men have been trained through the program across Delhi and Jaipur.

The Azad Kishori programme was started in Jaipur in 2016 to reach out to adolescent girls in grades 9-12 to develop their awareness on issues related to ‘self’, gender and work. Azad Kishori 9 to 12 aims to support and facilitate these young girls in their school to work transition in life and also enable them to gain life skills that will support them in whatever they do. The programme is delivered through interactive workshops on subjects such as gender, ‘self’, legal rights, sexual and reproductive health, NTLs for women, a residential leadership camp and scholarships to selected Kishoris. To date the programme has reached out to more than 4000 Kishoris in 10 schools.

To enable women to access NTLs more widely, Azad understands the need to create an enabling environment at a macrolevel. To achieve this, it is important to engage various stakeholders including the government, other NGOs and corporates, amongst others, and to build evidence and knowledge to back its claims. Hence, Azad undertakes research that is rooted in its experience on the ground, to further inform the policy discourse in what it takes to bring women into livelihoods with dignity. This is critical, given that women’s participation in the workforce in India has been declining over the last two decades and currently stands at 24% – one of the lowest in the world. In order to gain strength from a collective and strengthen the sector of nontraditional livelihoods for women in India, Azad seeded a Network of Organisations involved in NYLs for Women, which currently has 29 members from across 11 states. Azad organised an International Conference on Making NTLs work for the marginalized in January 2019 which was attended by practitioners, academics, activists and policy makers from across 20 countries and five continents. Azad is active at local, national and global level in ensuring that the commitments made for ‘decent work for women’ in SDGs – as well as other policy instruments such as the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA) and the national constitution – are translated into reality.

Another programme, the Azad flagship Women on Wheels trains and prepares women with low economic and social capital to become professional and commercial drivers, enhances their awareness of rights, and provides them with opportunities of self-empowerment. Qualified women drivers are provided employment opportunities in partnership with Sakha, the for-profit strategic partner organization of the Azad Foundation.

Sakha is a social enterprise that provides safe and reliable professional chauffeur and cab services for women by women. Sakha enables the women to access ‘livelihoods with dignity’ and ‘decent work’. By working as professional chauffeurs the women in turn are not just able to provide safe transport options to women users; but also transform their own lives in multiple ways leading to inter-generational impact.

Over the years, Azad has enabled around 2000 women become employable. There are more than 1000 women engaged as professional chauffeurs, where there were none as of 2008. The women have together provided more than a million safe rides and generated a cumulative income of more than 11crore INR (1.5m$) over the years. Sakha is a one of its kind social enterprise, a pioneer in the sector that has many ‘firsts’.

As we write this Sakha is getting ready to launch its cab hire services in Indore. It has entered into an agreement with the National Handicapped Finance and Development Corporation (NHFDC) Foundation that will enable Sakha to lease as many vehicles as it needs from the Foundation across any city in India. As per the agreement, the vehicles are owned by persons (mostly women) with disabilities. The monthly lease rentals paid by Sakha to NHFDC will be used to pay off the vehicle loans and provide an additional income to the persons with disability. For Sakha, this is a significant milestone as it enables Sakha deepen its impact like never before. With every car that comes onto the road through this agreement, Sakha will be able to contribute to not just economic empowerment of the women drivers, safety for its women customers, but will also be able to contribute towards economic self-reliance of people with disability. The NHFDC Foundation and Sakha are committed to taking the circle of impact a step ahead next year, by introducing e-vehicles that will also address the challenge of rising air pollution especially in Delhi and ensure environmental sustainability.

Sakha has also been invited by DIAL to set up a counter at the T3 International Airport (Arrivals) to offer safe transport to the women travellers. Sakha will have its 24*7 counter, along with its cabs available in the first row outside Gate no. 4. We thank GMR and DIAL for being visionary and committing themselves to the safety of women travellers that use the airport on a daily basis. For Sakha, this will enable us to deepen our impact by providing safe rides to several thousands more of women travellers. The increased business will enable Sakha to bring more women into the driving profession and ensure that benefits as well are shared with the vehicle owners – persons with disabilities.

Sakha increased its annual revenues by 27% from 2017-18 to 2018-19. The first half of 2019-20 is already reflecting a 30% increase as well. Sakha currently has a total strength of 370 drivers in private placement, 52 commercial drivers and 12 members in their management team and 33 vehicles which include two special needs vehicles as well. 

Sakha is:

  • The FIRST in India to provide women chauffeurs for private placements
  • FIRST all women cab service in India
  • Gave Delhi its FIRST woman bus driver with Delhi Transport Corporation
  • FIRST women drivers placed with UNICEF, US Embassy, Five Star Hotels, Delhi Commission for Women and Municipal Corporation of Indore
  • Will soon be the FIRST transport service for-women – by-women to be lunched at the Indira Gandhi International Airport.