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Ela Bhatt, the founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)

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©The Elders Foundation
Ela Bhatt, the founder of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), is widely recognized as one of the world's most remarkable pioneers and entrepreneurial forces in grassroots development. Known as the "gentle revolutionary," and a follower of the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, she has dedicated her life to improving the lives of India's poorest and most oppressed citizens.

Ela Bhatt established SEWA in 1972, and the trade union has now grown to more than 1 million members.  She led SEWA to form a cooperative bank in 1974, which offers microcredit loans to help women become financially independent.  Ela Bhatt was a member of the upper house of the Indian Parliament (the Rajya Sabha) and subsequently a member of the Indian Planning Commission. She founded and served as chair for Women’s World Banking, the International Alliance of Home-based Workers (HomeNet), Street Vendors (StreetNet) and of Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing Organizing
(WIEGO).  For a decade she also served as a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation.
 
She has received many awards, including the Padmashree, the Ramon Magsaysay Award, the Right Livelihood Award, the George Meany-Lane Kirkland Labor Rights Award by the AFL-CIO of the United States, the Légion d’honneur by France, the Madrid Creatividad Award, and the CGAE (Consejo General de la Abogacia Española “The General Council of Spanish Lawyers”) Human Rights Award in Spain. In 2010 she will receive the 27th Niwano Peace Prize.  In addition she has received honorary doctorate degrees from a number of universities, including Harvard, Yale, and Natal. She is a member of the Council of The Elders brought together by Nelson Mandela in 2007, and authored the book “We Are Poor but So Many,” published by Oxford University Press in 2006. 


 

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Click here to learn more about Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)

 

The Elders: Ela Bhatt