After rummaging through heaps of garbage in the morning, Kapila Rathod, a 24-year-old waste-picker from Gomtipur in Ahmedabad, does a nine-to-six job for World Bank. If all goes well, she may also work for global retail giants Walmart and IKEA. Kapila is one of 200 women, who have spent most of their lives below the poverty line. But today, they can call themselves stationery suppliers to World Bank and global stationery major Staples. The women run Gitanjali Mahila Sewa Industrial Stationery Producers Cooperative Mandli Limited, a cooperative of 48,000 waste-pickers associated with the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA).
The cooperative manufactures diaries, notepads and pens made from recycled waste. At least 1,000 pieces of each product is sent to institutions across the globe. “I hold my head high these days,” says Parvati Solanki, 50, who has picked waste all her life. She now earns Rs 3,000 instead of Rs 1,200 earlier.
SEWA director Reema Nanavaty says the initiative got an impetus after they represented the waste-pickers’ case to World Bank. “The 2008 slowdown had hit waste-pickers hard ,” Nanavaty says. “They made us part of We-Connect, a private sector forum. Global consulting firm Accenture helped the waste-pickers upgrade their skills and taught them costing, accounting and setting up a unit to manufacture world class products .” After eight months of training, the women started supplying to World Bank and Staples. Negotiations are on to secure orders from Wipro and IBM. SEWA had opposed 51% direct FDI in retail, but Nanavaty says, “We are negotiating with Walmart and IKEA to supply our stationery products.”