Source: Daniel Nesbit


By Joan Hanawi | July 1, 2015
Kalpana Dhange is a leader of a local women's self-help group near the geographical heart of India in Wardha. Meeting her for only a moment will tell you why she is perfect for the job: she is fierce yet compassionate; a patient listener yet an expressive and confident speaker.

Kalpana's group is one of many in the area that serve as hubs for women to discuss their collective struggles and figure out ways to overcome them. For many members, group meetings are the only time their husbands have allowed them to leave their homes. Kalpana and others in her group are on the very frontline of changing gender norms in rural India.

The self-help groups are in a network supported by the Kamalnayan Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation, an organization deeply rooted in Gandhian principles. Through the simple act of being together, Kalpana and her fellow group members have forged a community identity of strength and innovation. These groups are an essential resource to the women, providing a place to receive support for financial planning and decision making and an important outlet for the discrimination they face daily.

Kalpana was among those women elected to attend a Self-Employed Women Association (SEWA) training in order learn about the interplay between social and financial responsibility. Upon returning from the training, Kalpana brought back the knowledge gained to her community and her own business, a general store that provides for a diverse set of needs in her village.

Her group was so important to Kalpana that instead of running in local elections, she opted instead to take on the leadership role in it that she has today.  With the support of her group, she opened a business and made a better life for her children. More importantly, she is leading women down the road of transformative self-empowerment.