A small group of spirited women in Maharashtra walk the talk on empowerment and how! Using their culinary skills to start a business has seen the financial fortunes of these women change for the better and they are finding renewed vigour in their lives. "And this journey of transformation began at an Fulfilment Center in Mumbai," say the women, with endearing smiles.

Amazon's Fulfillment Center Operations have come a long way since its inception in 2014. Starting with just one center in the enterprising neighborhood of Bhiwandi in Mumbai, they have grown into five fully functional centers. These fulfillment centers serve as the nucleus for Amazon Cares. The program has extensively empowered communities in the field of health, education, women empowerment and livelihood. Amazon supports gender diversity in all walks of business, and strongly strives towards inspiring women to be more than just employees. It encourages women to become sellers and vendors for the brand's various businesses.

Helping yourself to help each other

Traditionally, women in project villages were empowered through Self Help Groups (SHG). Amazon Cares trained these women to work together with their own micro-savings or small bank loans to set up businesses for additional income.

While collective business activity is common in rural areas, it was time to encourage women to bring their ideas and skills to the table. Hand-in-hand, women in the rural stretches of Maharashtra learnt to stand together and make a living.

Bhiwandi started flourishing with a rise in the number of industries and roadside eateries. In 2017, the program in started grooming women by training them in the best practices of hygiene, customer engagement, inventory management and production indenting. The skilling initiative combined the forces of women empowerment and livelihoods. Rural women were equipped to put their best foot forward in various trade sectors including stitching, catering, hair care, skin care, and computers. Some women set up shops to cater to the local market, while others bravely stepped out of their home grounds to find work. Women were no longer confined to the walls of their humble abodes and kitchens, they were making waves and contributing towards the economic growth and development of their surroundings.

I never imagined that I would be able to step out of the home for work and stand on my own two feet someday.
Lakshmi, member of Annapurna Udyog Gat (group)

Empower a woman, empower the world

Self Help Groups that were into cooking and catering, caught the eye of the Amazon FC leadership. Fulfillment Centers in this region became the first to hire Self Help Groups formed by women to cater to their canteens by late 2017. These women were making waves and making their way into logistic parks. It was a double win for Amazon! These women were growing and using their skills to provide home-cooked meals to young associates. While Amazon employees were getting access to healthy and nutritious food, women from local villages were paving a path to a brighter and more prosperous future.

“We never thought that our first opportunity would turn out to be such a big one! Starting a canteen in an Amazon warehouse gave us the strength to believe in ourselves that we could do anything. We want to inspire other women to work like our group and help themselves become self-reliant.” - says Savita.

Centers for fulfilling dreams

As of today, canteens at the Fulfillment Centers in this region are led by women from 5 Self Help Groups. The hardworking women of a Self Help Group called Annapurna Udyog Gat (AUG) are serving the Fulfillment Center in Mumbai. This enterprise is powered by the spirit of 12 women from Padgha and Vafale villages. Udyog Gat means a group that does business collectively, and Annapurna literally means someone who fulfills a food request.

They are small farmers with large families to support. Agricultural activities are hardly profitable because of dropping agricultural yield and rising costs. Depending only on farming was a risk and venturing into new trade practices by joining forces with other villagers in a Self Help Group was a new and improved path to prosperity. These women wanted to help their families and contribute to paying for their children's education and family's well-being.

Women carve a new future

Lalitha joined the crew when her husband passed away almost a decade ago. She had no other bread-winner in the family and no help came from the extended family. About working with AUG she says it has been a blessing as it made her self-sufficient to fund her children’s education and support her family.

Lalitha says, “It’s just me and my husband in our home, we have no children. My husband was home without a job for 2 years. AUG came as a blessing in disguise. In today’s world women need to be independent and work to establish their own identity.”

If these women had been stuck indoors they would have to struggle with poor agricultural earnings. During the peak season, they cater to as many as 500 associates and earn over Rs.8000/day. Amazon Cares and the skilling programs have uplifted them with a new means of livelihood. AUG started small, but has grown phenomenally. These women are packing a better future for themselves and their families, and creating a legacy to be proud of. They are an endearing symbol of empowerment and resilience - a beacon of hope for the future of the country.