In his Independence Day speech in August 2023, Prime Minister, Narendra Modi launched the ambitious 'Lakhpati Didi' scheme which promised self-employment to 2 crore rural women, who could have a yearly income of ₹1 lakh. A part of the National Rural Livelihood Mission, the scheme identifies women self-help group (SHG) members who have the potential to run micro businesses and trains them in skills such as tailoring, beautician training and soft toy-making amongst others.

In the Interim Budget 2024, Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman said that 'Lakhpati Didi' in less than a year has already touched the lives of close to one crore rural women, which has inspired the Government to raise the bar. "Eighty-three lakh SHGs with nine crore women are transforming the rural socio-economic landscape with empowerment and self-reliance. Their success has assisted nearly one crore women to become 'Lakhpati Didi' already. They are an inspiration to others. Their achievements will be recognized through honouring them. Buoyed by the success, it has been decided to enhance the target for 'Lakhpati Didi' from two crore to three crore," said the FM.

There are mixed opinions about the success of the scheme. A senior rural development professional calls it a 'populous measure'. "Though the scheme has managed to cover a significant number of women, I am not too sure if the women entrepreneurs will sustain. They haven’t put together an ecosystem that cares about quality and standardisation. Even market reach is a challenge. Although 'Lakhpati Didi' sounds promising, it's too early to call it successful."

Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder, TeamLease, says that the government has to go an extra mile to create awareness about this scheme. "It is indeed a motivating scheme, but it doesn’t reach people it needs to," she claims.

Mangesh Wange, CEO, Swades Foundation, believes that the model definitely works if executed properly. He says that his foundation has trained over 1,000 women in the Nashik district in various healthcare and hygiene services. "They make and sell sanitary napkins. They even do eye-screening and connect patients with the nearby hospital. A lot of the women are also earning by repairing mobile phones and solar panels. Initiatives like 'Lakhpati Didi' do create livelihood," Wange explains.

Similarly, social commerce platform Frontier Markets, which offers last mile connection to one million rural women consumers in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh has created a 5000-strong community of women entrepreneurs using smartphone technology.

"The ‘Lakhpati Didi’ initiative perfectly captures the idea of improving women's employability through hands-on skill-based training, especially for those who might not have had access to quality higher education. We are optimistic that this will eventually contribute more to increasing women's participation in the mainstream workforce at scale," says Viswanath PS, MD and CEO, Randstad India.

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