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India’s Changemakers:
Ideas to Impact

Sustainability, inclusion and equality are at the forefront of social change in India.

Home to the world’s second largest population, India is a country of diversity. Spanning dozens of languages, thousands of different ethnicities, and myriad vibrant cultures, it is a nation of variety, heritage, and distinction.

Sadly, diversity does not always equal inclusion, and India is at a crossroads. Gender equality is still a major issue with the World Economic Forum ranking the country 140 of 156 nations in its Global Gender Gap report 2021. Real change needs to occur and marginalized groups will need empowerment if India wishes to drive economic growth.

Across the country, pioneering thinkers, local organizations, and corporate giants such as Accenture are breaking down barriers and empowering disadvantaged individuals and communities to lead active change in three key areas: sustainability, inclusion and equality. And digitization is helping to fuel that transformation.

Future Leaders

Shireen Khatoon grew up in a traditional family, in Metiabruz, Kolkata, but wanted more from life than marriage alone. “I told my parents that I wanted to work,” she recalls. “And they said: ’Why do you want a job? You’re a girl. You should get married.” Today, she leads a team of 20—both men and women—at IT outsourcer iMerit, identifying hazards to train AI that controls autonomous vehicles.

It was the Anudip Foundation that helped Khatoon become the first woman in her family to work outside the home. “Anudip was formed 15 years ago with the original intent of bridging the digital divide between urban and rural India,” explains CEO Monisha Banerjee.

As we progressed, we realized that digital is really pivotal to the more aspirational jobs that youths from underserved communities want in India.

Monisha Banerjee, Anudip Foundation

Anudip helps marginalized women and underserved youth overcome their circumstances by training them for in-demand digital jobs. Particular areas of focus include women, people with disabilities, individuals from minority backgrounds, and victims of trafficking. It has so far prepared more than 450,000 people for the modern workforce, among them Khatoon.

For the last nine years, Accenture India has partnered with Anudip, not only as a sponsor but by helping to digitize the curriculum, providing volunteers for pro bono projects, and building capacity within the organization: at the start of the pandemic, it provided 600 desktop computers and 100 tablets to help keep Anudip running.

“Accenture is doing a lot of volunteering for us to help mentor students,” Banerjee says. “That plays a big part because students are not just exposed to the training or resources from industry. The dream that gets painted is bigger. Students come out more resilient. They come out with aspirations.”

And that’s certainly true for Khatoon who recently joined her manager on a business trip to Visakhapatnam, a city 900km from Kolkata. While there, she overcame a language barrier (Telugu is the city’s official language, so she had to work in English rather than Hindi), to deliver essential training and progress her career.

I am very lucky, I get to manage a wonderful team and now my job is to keep them motivated. To help them shine, and grow.

Shireen Khatoon

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Equality in the

“I was 11 when I married for the first time,” says Shankari, a Kolkata mother of three who uses just one name. “He was 21. And when I was around 12, I learned that he was having an affair — but when I protested, his family beat me terribly.”

One in three Indian women will experience intimate partner violence. A mother at 15, Shankari only escaped her toxic first marriage after police intervention. Trapped by circumstance and poverty, and without the means to support herself and her family independently, she married again. Her second husband, who was also violent, refused to provide for her two children from her first marriage, forcing her to work long hours as a domestic helper while also keeping house.

When an employer mentioned the Azad Foundation, Shankari’s life turned a corner. Led by feminist development worker Dolon Ganguly, the foundation’s Women with Wheels project is helping to break the gender bias in urban Indian areas by transforming the lives of resource-poor women and helping them into male-dominated roles, specifically driving: Women with Wheels put women behind the wheel of buses in Delhi for the first time.

Women with Wheels taught Shankari to drive, but, even more importantly, trained her in self-defense, women’s rights, communication, English, and interview preparation, as well as providing psychosocial counseling.

If we only provide training on driving, the technical training, then women are not able to enter the market or do the job. This age-old idea that this is not a woman’s job forms a barrier even if they are technically sound.

Dolon Ganguly, Azad Foundation

With partner organization, Sakha Consulting Wings, which provides female drivers and chauffeurs for clients, Women with Wheels raised a loan to set Shankari up as a taxi driver and created a structure to ensure the loan is repaid. Despite the panic button in her vehicle, it’s a challenging role. Female drivers face not only a shortage of clean women’s washrooms but abuse from male drivers — but Shankari feels stronger than ever.

And that empowerment is spreading through her community. “Living with dignity is our objective. Of course, money is important, but also dignity. They have their identity. They have their respect,” Ganguly says.

When women have a four-wheeler and drive into their local community, it makes them a different person. Many of them invest in their children’s education and buy property in their names.

Dolon Ganguly, Azad Foundation

Today Shankari is using her new income to provide for all her family — including her husband, who stopped beating her after an intervention led by Azad — and educate both herself and her three children. Having left school when she married, she has now graduated grade 12, as has one of her sons. She is raising both her sons and her daughter to break down gender barriers.

“My message to all women and men is to raise your daughters in a way that they don’t face the discrimination and suffering I faced,” Shankari says. “Give them opportunities so that they don’t fall into suffering. And teach your boys to honor and respect women and that no job should be called a man’s job or a woman’s job. All jobs can be done by everyone.”

of Accenture’s board of
directors are women
of new hires are women
of the global workforce
are women
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Building a Bright Future

In Tiruchirappalli, Tamil Nadu, Rani Surendran, a former kindergarten teacher, has founded a business creating and marketing herbal soaps and hair oil. In 2019 her endeavor was a cottage industry that helped her support her family by selling to local businesses and families. Today, she travels to big cities to meet with hotel operators and promote her products to a much wider market.

A big part of Surendran’s success comes from the Entrepreneurship Development Initiative of India (EDII) and WeAct, an organization it created in tandem with long-term partner Accenture. “The senior management of Accenture, myself and my colleagues identified a program for women at the grassroots level. Instead of teaching them how to become skilled labor, we taught them how to be skilled entrepreneurs,” says EDII’s Dr. Raman Gujral.

We decided we would create a chamber of commerce named WeAct: Women Entrepreneurs Access Connect and Transform.

Dr. Raman Gujral, EDII

The concept is to bring together grassroots Indian women entrepreneurs and help them grow their businesses. So far, WeAct has touched 40,000 different entrepreneurs, with over 6,600 members currently active. The women’s businesses span three broad sectors: handicrafts, food, and organic or herbal consumer products.

Small-scale entrepreneurs face a wealth of challenges in India, not least the language barrier: the nation recognizes 22 official languages. WeAct helps its members negotiate challenges, such as creating branding that works across multiple languages, allowing them to reach larger markets. It also provides connections to local producers so they can source sustainable ingredients, and may offer outside expertise to help guide product development, finance, and regulatory strategies.

Accenture is an active partner in WeAct, with senior staff mentoring selected women entrepreneurs to help them grow their businesses. “Accenture is everywhere,” says Dr. Gujral. “They offer volunteering support; they are providing tech support for the online networking platform; they are providing financial support to WeAct.”

And for women like Surendran, that support can make all the difference.

I am so grateful to be recognized as an entrepreneur, particularly as a woman entrepreneur, during this time.

Rani Surendran

“EDII gave me information on product development, while WeAct has continuously supported my digital platform, networking, and marketing,” Surendran says.

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Closing the
Gender Gap

The digital transformation has reshaped India’s economy, and narrowing the digital divide between men and women is helping to close the gender gap. While women’s employment suffered during the pandemic, the work-from-home revolution and gig economy that Covid-19 accelerated makes digital roles more female-friendly than ever before.

There is a long way to go: before the pandemic, less than 43% of Indian women had ever used the internet. Alongside education and visible representation, change requires leadership, and as a leader in their field and a pioneer of equality, Accenture is leading the change.

*Images for illustration purposes only