Poverty Reduction in IndiaPoverty remains a significant challenge in India, a country with a population of more than 1.4 billion people. However, efforts to alleviate poverty have shown progress over the years. Here are six things to know about poverty reduction in India.

6 Things to Know About Poverty Reduction in India

  1. Significant decrease in poverty rates – From 1993 to 2011, according to the World Bank, the national poverty rate declined from 45% to 22%. This notable achievement could be due to a combination of factors, including economic growth, targeted government programs and increased access to education and health care. This reduction has lifted millions of people out of poverty and improved their living conditions.
  2. Rural-urban divide persists – Poverty rates in India are still higher in rural areas compared to urban areas. Approximately 65% of India’s population resides in rural regions, where access to basic services and economic opportunities can be difficult. Addressing rural poverty remains a crucial focus for poverty reduction efforts. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) guarantees 100 days of employment per year to rural households, providing a safety net and enhancing livelihoods.
  3. Social welfare programs – The Indian government has implemented various social welfare programs to combat poverty. One significant initiative is the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), launched in 2001, which aims to provide free and compulsory education for all children between the ages of 6 and 14. The Mid-Day Meal Scheme started in 1995 and is another crucial program that ensures free lunch meals at schools for underprivileged children. These programs have contributed to increased school attendance and improved educational outcomes among disadvantaged communities.
  4. Affirmative action policies – To promote social equity and equal opportunities, the Indian government has implemented affirmative action policies. These policies include reservations for Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Classes in educational institutions, government jobs and political representation. These efforts aim to address historical marginalization and create a more inclusive society.
  5. Targeting marginalized communities – In addition to affirmative action, the government has launched development initiatives specifically targeting marginalized groups. For example, the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) focuses on empowering women and the rural poor through self-help groups and skill development programs. Similarly, the National Urban Livelihoods Mission (NULM) aims to enhance livelihood opportunities and improve living conditions for urban poor communities. These programs have reached millions of individuals, providing them with training, access to credit and support for entrepreneurial ventures.
  6. Progress toward universal access to education and health care – The Indian government has taken significant steps toward ensuring universal access to education and health care services. Efforts like the Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana, launched in 2014, have aimed to provide access to financial services for the unbanked population, enabling them to save money, access credit and benefit from government welfare schemes. Another program is the Ayushman Bharat program which aims to provide health insurance coverage to millions of vulnerable households, reducing the financial burden.

Looking Ahead

While progress is visible, challenges persist in India’s fight against poverty. Income inequality, regional disparities and limited access to basic services remain key issues. It appears that there is a need for continued efforts to enhance social protection systems, promote inclusive economic growth and ensure equal opportunities for all in a bid to reduce poverty in India.

India’s commitment to poverty reduction, coupled with its growing economy, cultural diversity and vast human resources, provides a foundation for continued progress. By addressing the multifaceted nature of poverty and implementing targeted interventions, there is hope that India can strive toward establishing a more equitable and prosperous society for all its citizens.

– Pranav Ramanathan
Photo: Flickr

Vocational Education Training in IndiaVocational education training in India is different from formal education in some ways. It is “skill-based,” as it involves learning real-life expertise. This type of training or education prepares individuals for specific skills involving crafts, trade and other practical activities.  Vocational training can qualify as “teaching procedural knowledge” as it teaches technical skills and abilities compared to formal education.

Why is Vocational Education Training Important?

Many skills that individuals need to compete in the modern work industry are technical and vocational abilities. Vocational skills could be especially impactful in impoverished communities, offering a more affordable or cost-efficient path to education. Specifically, individuals do not need to attend college to obtain vocational skills. In fact, vocational training is quite accessible in most local settings. The accessibility and affordability make it especially important, as it could lead to a path of stable income for participants.

As of April 2023, India’s unemployment rate went up to 8.11%, which considering the country’s high population, results in many Indians having no jobs. With vocational education in India, there is a potential to reduce the unemployment rate. Moreover, more Indians could receive not just access to employment, but also skills that could increase their chance of remaining employed.

History of Vocational Education Training in India 

In 1950, India established Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs) to provide vocational training at full capacity. After this establishment, more than 13,000 ITIs opened across the country. The Standing Committee on Labour noted that around 64% of trainees in ITIs were employed, which is significant as more than 40% of individuals enrolled in ITIs are below the poverty line. This was a significant leap of progress for India’s labor and employment rates.

STRIVE Program

The Skills Strengthening for Industrial Value Enhancement Operation (STRIVE) Program is a five-year government-aided organization that aims to improve the quality of vocational education training, according to the World Bank. Specifically, STRIVE aims to improve the quality of vocational education training that is provided in ITIs and other apprenticeships in India. The program intends to increase government support, improve teaching methods and expand apprenticeships nationwide. As of 2017, STRIVE has supported 300 ITIs and 100 industrial apprenticeships nationwide.

Impact of Vocational Training on Women

In India, 30% of the population lives in extreme poverty, with women and children being “the weakest members” of Indian society. This evident gender disparity combines old Indian tradition and female access to education. While the bias against women working and gaining education is gradually subsiding, there is still room to make education more accessible for women.

By emphasizing the importance and adequately funding vocational education training, the gender disparity could decrease significantly. Not only would this allow poverty rates to decrease, but it could also provide women with the basic skills they need to make a living. For example, vocational education training in India can teach women the skills to become receptionists, carpenters, cosmetologists, clothesmakers, cooks and other positions that can provide a steady income. 

India’s labor force could experience increased productivity by significantly raising the rate of female employment, which currently stands at only 31%. Shockingly, more than 50 million women in India neither attend school nor participate in the workforce, as reported by the World Bank. Additionally, women constitute less than 9% of the enrollment in Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs). Studies indicate that women are less inclined to pursue training due to concerns about family responsibilities.

Varthana’s Help

Steve Hardgrave and Brajesh Kumar Mishra founded Varthana in 2013. It is a private company that provides financial assistance to students interested in vocational education training in India. It specifically provides aid through loans. The National Skill Development Center (NDSC) partnered with Varthana to lessen the gap between low-income families and enrollment in education. While vocational training is rather accessible and does not require prior education, it can still be costly for many individuals. There are many that avoid vocational training because of financial obligations. With Varthana’s help, vocational education can be even more accessible with supplied funds and support. 

Particularly, Varthana has funded approximately 4,500 private schools, providing education for more than 3 million students. Additionally, Varthana has partnered with more than 500 institutions helping fund 5,000 financially challenged students. Varthana made an inspiring and motivational goal to make education in India accessible to more than 10 million students by 2025.

Looking to the Future

In India, vocational education training holds immense potential to address unemployment and poverty rates, providing individuals with practical skills that can lead to stable employment. Initiatives like the STRIVE program and organizations like Varthana are actively working to improve the quality and accessibility of vocational training across the country, benefiting both men and women. By expanding vocational education opportunities and reducing financial barriers, India can empower its workforce and uplift communities, ultimately fostering economic growth and reducing inequality.

– Samsara Shrivastava
Photo: Unsplash

Child Poverty in IndiaWhile it can often feel challenging to raise awareness and take action in the fight against poverty, a group of street children across northern India is proving that being proactive can result in progress and change. These children are taking their fates into their own hands and fighting for the alleviation of child poverty in India by telling and spreading their own stories across the country.

Balaknama is a monthly newspaper run by a team of 40 street children spread across seven districts in northern India. Apart from the advisor, editor, sub-editor and seven reporters who are in charge of writing, editing and printing, there are 30 reporters, or Batumi, who find leads and pitch stories. However, they cannot read or write, and many are familiar with homelessness. The stories focus on the lives of India’s poorest, with the aim of garnering enough public attention to compel the Indian government into taking action.

Balaknama’s Purpose

The eight-page newspaper presents one of the only openings into the realities of Delhi’s 80,000 street children. From its conception almost 20 years ago, Balaknama’s purpose has been to highlight the injustices that street and working children experience across India and the world. It says of its purpose, “When children did not find space among adults, they decided to pen down their issues and glories, [in] an attempt to change people’s perception and ensur[e] identity, dignity and participation of street children.” The newspaper covers a range of topics pertinent to child poverty. These topics include child labor, street children’s homelessness and malnutrition.

Run by current and former working children, Balaknama gives its contributors the chance to improve their lives through their own agency. Many who have worked for the newspaper have gone on to attend school and work for Childhood Enhancement through Training and Action (CHETNA), the NGO that helped make Balaknama possible. This helps bring more Indian children out of poverty.

Balaknama’s Long History

Balaknama has been running since 2003. In May 2002, CHETNA organized a leadership-building workshop that attracted 35 street and working children. During the workshop, the organization realized that child poverty in India was hugely under-researched. As a result, it decided to take the matter of educating the Indian public into its own hands.

These children then went on to found their own organization, Badhte Kadam, which translates into “Stepping Forward.” The children of Badhte Kadam published the first edition of Balaknama in September 2003. They published in Hindi on a quarterly basis until 2014, from which point onward it became a monthly publication. Today, while Balaknama continues to be printed in Hindi and English and is preparing for its 20th anniversary, CHETNA continues to hold weekly support group meetings, allowing street and working children in the area to voice their troubles and concerns.

The Paper’s Impact

Balaknama has been a huge springboard for many talented and ambitious children to fight for greater attention and care to be given to child poverty in India. Balaknama’s current editor, 18-year-old Kishan Rathore, was able to live in a shared house and begin proper studies with the help of a stipend from CHETNA, which also contributes to the required funds that keep the newspaper operating. Another editor, Shambhu Kumar, was able to study for a psychology degree at Indira Gandhi National Open University in Delhi after his experience with Balaknama and CHETNA opened new doors for him. He said, “I have seen my life transform – from getting beaten on the streets to living a life of dignity through education.”

Balaknama’s contributors have also gone on to raise awareness for child poverty in India at the international level. In 2016, Chandni, then a journalist for the newspaper, gave a TED talk about the importance of child journalists and the challenges they face every day. Chandni also appeared in a report for the Hindustan Times where she said, “Children are the future of our country. If [the] Government sincerely wants to develop our country, [it] need[s] to focus on children first.” She said, “I want to provide education to the children like me who can’t go to school on their own, those who are still stuck somewhere like me and dream of better education. I want to provide them with that education. This is my only dream now.”

Looking Ahead

Apart from raising awareness for child poverty in India, Balaknama has become a site of opportunity for children who contribute to its pages. One day, Badhte Kadam hopes, children will have their rights protected so that they will no longer work on the streets of Delhi.

– Tiffany Chan
Photo: Flickr

Disabled People in IndiaThere are around 1 billion disabled people in the world. And the prevalence of disability within a nation’s population is often higher in the developing world. Disabled people in India are more likely to miss out on education and employment opportunities and experience higher poverty rates than their able-bodied counterparts. In India, one organization that is fighting to improve the lives of disabled people is the Spark Minda Foundation, and it is doing this through its SAKSHAM program.

The Challenges of Being Disabled

Individuals with disabilities encounter numerous challenges in their daily lives, ranging from inaccessible transportation and buildings to inadequate access to mobility and adaptive aids. They also face social stigma and discrimination, which is widespread. The Covid-19 pandemic has also caused lasting repercussions for many disabled individuals, impacting their health and access to transportation and education.

Disabled people in India also face challenges that are a result of the country’s infrastructural weaknesses. And socially, some perceive disabled Indians as a burden to their families if they cannot contribute to their household income or medical expenses. Unfortunately, this kind of outlook further perpetuates discrimination.

On the bright side, the Spark Minda Foundation continues working to alleviate the challenges and issues of discrimination that affect people living with disabilities in India. The following is a brief look into the organization’s efforts.

SAKSHAM and the Spark Minda Foundation

The Spark Minda Foundation’s SAKSHAM program is committed to empowering individuals with disabilities in India. It provides employment training and develops and fits mobility aids to help create a harmonious and inclusive society where disabled individuals can realize their potential. The program aligns with the Indian government’s Accessible India Campaign, which kicked off in 2015. It employs the following key strategies to improve the lives of disabled individuals.

  1. Providing accessible and assistive technologies
  2. Offering on-the-job training to improve their skills
  3. Ensuring inclusive workplace environments
  4. The incorporation of ergonomic changes into workplaces
  5. Employing more people living with disabilities

The Spark Minda Foundation employs more than 300 disabled individuals throughout India and has aided disabled Indians in securing employment elsewhere. In December 2019, the SAKSHAM program held a week-long camp in Chimbali Phata, Pune, which included a job fair for local disabled individuals to connect with potential employers. Companies such as Aegis Global, Sodexo, and Accenture participated in the job fair, resulting in 265 disabled individuals finding employment in Pune alone thanks to the program’s efforts.

The SAKSHAM program has also distributed almost 8,000 assistive devices in India. In addition, the program has helped over 500 disabled individuals in Indonesia and Vietnam, granting them life-changing disability aids. The fitting of 1,335 assistive aids took place at the Pune camp in Maharashtra.

Looking Ahead

The United Nation’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development asserts that disability should not hinder access to development programs or fundamental human rights. Seven of the agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals directly reference the rights of disabled individuals, which are often under threat, particularly in developing countries. The Spark Minda Foundation is working to help realize these goals in India and beyond by creating more employment opportunities and providing vital assistive aid to those in need.

– Martha Probert
Photo: Flickr

Women’s Education in India, What You Need to KnowIn the fight against global poverty, women’s education in India is overlooked as a stimulant of change. Similarly, gender equality is a significant issue that prevails in India today. As a result of the country’s patriarchal structure, women continue to struggle to gain equal opportunities for success.

Women’s Rights in India

Throughout India’s long history, patriarchal and religious practices have greatly affected women’s rights. Misogynistic practices and ideas limit educational opportunities for women. Consequently, the reassertion of harmful gender roles is prevalent. 23 million girls drop out of school every year because communities are unwilling to provide proper feminine sanitation. This lack of women’s education hinders India’s economic and social growth.

Women also often take up domestic, unpaid labor because employers feel they are unqualified for employment. On average, women work six hours of unpaid domestic labor per day while men work 30 minutes of unpaid labor. This discrepancy severely limits women’s educational opportunities and ability to obtain employment. It also reinforces the belief that women are unable to provide for themselves and cannot actively contribute to the economy.

Women’s Education in India

Having equal access to education is crucial to alleviating poverty. According to the World Bank, countries with limited educational opportunities for women lose $15-$30 trillion in predicted lifetime earnings. Providing education for women helps strengthen female autonomy and allows them to contribute to the national economy.

Furthermore, educated women are less likely to marry young. According to The Tribune, women’s education could lead up to 60% fewer women getting pregnant under the age of 17. Educated women also have more opportunities to achieve higher socioeconomic status due to increased career avenues. By educating women and promoting gender equality, women are able to more confidently enter the workforce. Education is considered to be one of the best catalysts for sustainable growth within any country.

3 Organizations Promoting Women’s Education

Many organizations, including Pratham, Girl’s Who Code and Educate Girls Bond are fighting against global poverty by emphasizing the importance of gender equality and women’s education in India.

  1. Pratham: Founded in 1995, Pratham is an organization designed to improve education for children in Mumbai. Since then, it has grown in size and effectiveness. The organization seeks to provide necessary resources to educators in India, increasing the quality of education. Pratham has become well-established within the country’s educational system as an organization that developed testing programs for state governments and local communities. Pratham focuses on the implementation of grassroots initiatives and sustainable growth within local communities to educate children who are not receiving an adequate education. The organization makes yearly reports public for people to track their progress. In the year 2018, Pratham improved gender equality and education for 15.7 million children in India.
  2. Girls Who Code: Girls Who Code is an international organization that aims to provide opportunities for women to learn about and obtain specialized skills in computer science. Though the organization functions in many countries, its Indian branch is one of the most successful. After-school clubs and summer immersion programs are able to teach young girls valuable technical skills in a short period of time. Today, women hold only 26% of computer science employment positions. Girls Who Code acknowledges this and works to provide education for women to thrive in this field. The organization also provides scholarships to recognize students who excel in the programs. As of 2019, the organization has provided education for 300,000 girls at their camps.
  3. Educate Girls Bond: Educate Girls Bond is a Development Impact Bond that utilizes finances from independent investors to create new opportunities for girls’ education. As a part of this goal, the organization has created 166 schools in Rajasthan, North India. Educate Girls tackles gender inequality by addressing it as a social problem and showing its positive, social impact. The organization promotes gender equality by providing education for young girls throughout India. In just the first year, 44% of the targeted girls successfully enrolled in schools. This compels independent investors to continue their financial support while also attracting new investors to take part in this positive change.

Women’s education in India is often overlooked in the fight against poverty. However, promoting gender equality and providing equal access to education empowers women and boosts their socioeconomic status. Today, more women in India are able to contribute to the economy in ways that fight against poverty.

– Stella Vallon
Photo: Flickr

Education in India
Schools in India shut down in March 2020 due to COVID-19. While a lot of schools transitioned into online curriculums, many were unable to make this infrastructural shift. More than half of India’s population lives in rural areas. Furthermore, only 15% of rural households have access to the internet. The pandemic has put a spotlight on the digital divide within the country. NGOs, foundations and other social enterprises have become key to improving education in India.


Sampark Foundation has reached more than 10 million children in six states throughout India. It focuses on education equality, providing low-cost educational services in order to broaden its reach. Sampark Smart Shala uses innovations such as board games, mobile applications and rechargeable audio devices to keep students engaged in lessons. These innovations specifically cater to students in rural areas.

Sampark’s COVID-19 response utilizes the national television channel Doordarshan and language-friendly apps to share quizzes and improve education in India. Furthermore, this organization posts ideas on a crowdsourced platform called Baithak for teachers to use. Teachers are also encouraged to keep in touch with their pupils.

Recently, Sampark has launched a program called Har Ghar Science STEM for Girls. This program’s goal is to establish science labs in rural schools and adopt an ascending approach to educating girls. As a result, education in India continues to evolve positively within rural communities.


Pratham is an NGO based in Mumbai. Its goal is to bridge the gap in the Indian education system by implementing high-quality, low-cost and replicable interventions. This organization’s programs have improved education in India tremendously. Additionally, Pratham aids the government in encouraging children to regularly attend school. The organization relies on parents, local communities, volunteers and state governments to create personalized models of learning.

Currently, Pratham is working to engage underprivileged children and improve education in India through new programs. Karona Thodi Masti Thodi Padhai (Do it: A Little Fun, A Little Study) is a new program developed to aid students during the COVID-19 pandemic. This program uses popular messaging services, radio and WhatsApp to check in with students virtually. This new aspect of learning prioritizes “fun” and “study” to motivate students during this stressful time.


Eklavya is an NGO that works in education resource centers in Madhya Pradesh. This organization focuses on helping impoverished children become self-sufficient learners. Eklavya has published several books on education, children’s literature and other resource material, believing that education should be based on curiosity and experiences to motivate students. This NGO aims to enhance education in India by focusing on rural areas. Eklavya trains eligible parents, siblings and local youth to teach at well-ventilated spaces within local, socially distanced locations. Additionally, it has established a mobile-library system that rotates between localities.


Vidya is an NGO that has served 3.7 million people in major cities such as Delhi, Gurgaon, Bangalore, Pune and Mumbai. This organization aims to provide education on life-skills, vocations and mental and physical wellbeing. Vidya’s goal is to improve education equality throughout India.

In response to the pandemic, Vidya developed strategies to combat the effects of COVID-19 on education in India. The NGO divided its solutions into technology and organization-based approaches. Solutions include reorganized exam schedules, adjusted syllabi and increased planning for a teaching aid for the next academic year.

The technological divide has made it difficult for students living in impoverished areas to access education in India. However, Vidya has received donations for phones, laptops and other devices to improve access to education. It arranges for students to pick up these devices at their convenience.


Thinkzone is a social enterprise that aims to improve educational outcomes for children living in vulnerable communities. It uses “tech plus touch” models to combat inequality in education. Similar to other organizations, Thinkzone uses community-based approaches. This organization’s COVID-19 response is rooted in home-based learning that relies on phone calls and SMS to interact with parents who have started teaching their children. Fortunately, automated calls and interactive voice response technologies are accessible in many different languages. These automated calls provide pre-recorded course material to improve education in India.

This organization also strives to train community educators and assess the needs of students for further improvement. Furthermore, Thinkzone has partnered with various organizations and the government to improve education in India. Its home-based initiative has successfully reached more than 10,000 children in India.

These organizations have taken significant steps to improve education in India and aid the government in creating a more sustainable way of learning. With improved access to technology, education equality will continue to improve long after the pandemic has ended.

Anuja Mukherjee 
Photo: Flickr

How Ekal Vidyalaya is Adapting for Indian ChildrenIn India, literacy and education stand as critical tests to measure success, whether in future prospects for the individual or future success for a community. After the end of British rule in the nation, the literacy rate stood at about 12%. Today, the rate has more than quintupled to nearly 70% across the nation. Even so, disparities exist across villages, provinces and states. To tackle these issues and advance the education of India’s next-generation, a non-profit organization is helping the children in the midst of a global pandemic. Ekal Vidyalaya is adapting for Indian children, continues to build schools, prioritize sustainability and maintain ambitious objectives from a variety of different chapters across not just India, but around the world.

Initial Difficulties and Welcome Surprises

As a non-profit, Ekal Vidyalaya delivers various resources and instructional services through its village-to-village outreach. Establishing schools with a teacher impacts a previously education-lacking community in significant ways. Before the pandemic, various Ekal Vidyalaya’s chapters would host different events per year to raise funds to allow various programs to continue. The Chapter President Senthil Kumar detailed to the Borgen Project how typical efforts would no longer be viable this year. Kumar shared that most of the average fundraisers are cultural events for local Indian communities in various parts of the world. It drew in between $70,000 and $100,000. He carefully notes that just “$1 can keep a school open for a day.”

Moreover, Ekal Vidyalaya seeks to grow its impact in communities 10-20% more than last year. Because of significant differences across India’s economic, geographical and social landscape, funding necessities can vary. In addition, transitioning to online events has its own advantages. Local gatherings can still survive in digital spaces. Because annual events usually bring in singers, actors, and other notable icons from India, overhead fees can be entirely forgoed. Empty seats in auditoriums are not concerns over Zoom or similar platforms. As a result, this diverts resources to more directly meet program financial targets. It makes a tangible change for rural children and has allowed the same level of grassroots fundraising to persist, according to Kumar. Adapting for Indian children might mean venue changes and alterations from a traditional schedule. However, it seems that sacrificing the fundamental missions is not an insurmountable concern.

An Implementation Landscape: Three Things to Know

  1. Kumar told The Borgen Project that “[About 30%] of all schools are self-sustaining.” He spoke on the long-term ability of Ekal Vidyalaya to support students and communities to utilize and provided tools for future improvement. The Standard Social Innovation Review points to “scale and scarcity.” They are the two most essential obstacles that nonprofits and organizations working in India have to overcome. To that end, Ekal Vidyalaya continues to strive forward to meet its ultimate goal of total literacy across India. With well over 120,000 schools running, supported by trained volunteers and others, a necessary review of financial disbursement comes into the forefront.

  2. The usage and allocation of the fund play a crucial role in a nonprofit’s vision. According to Kumar, funds Ekal Vidyalaya raises are divided into the following amounts: 60% is set for teachers and teaching, 27% is for training and capacity, 4% is dedicated for teaching materials and 9% is used for administrative costs. While these numbers alone don’t necessarily signal direct change, a key signifier of the nonprofit’s attentiveness to its mission. By extension, its effectiveness is its recent shift in order to facilitate adapting for Indian children and families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  3. Efforts in towns and communities, outside of Ekal villages, highlight wide-scale mask distributions and food outreach. There is also information campaigns that make use of Ekal resources to protect Indian communities. The teachers and volunteers served as health volunteers in many situations. Additionally, they keep villages and tribal areas safer under guidelines through checks that might have otherwise been difficult to establish and enforce. While the situation has changed, useful approaches using existing resources also testify to the resiliency of Ekal villages. In many areas, trained villagers are taught through school programs and skills sessions to manufacture materials like face masks. This is to ensure reliable incomes and necessary local health support.

The landscape that Ekal Vidyalaya functions on is perpetually shifting. However, it isn’t beyond the reach of sustained communal efforts and careful elasticity when meeting new intentions and ambitions. Even in light of a public health crisis, Ekal Vidyalaya’s work extends beyond a single facet of nonprofit capability. Due to the nature of its support and of where it’s positioned, Ekal Vidyalaya bears the capacity for change. This change happens in the relatively short term and in the long term. The education, literacy and future of millions of India’s next-generation depend on this.

Alan Mathew

Photo: Pexels

Phones Are Providing a New Relief From the Poverty Wave In IndiaThe recent technological revolution booming in the developed world is showing positive results. To that end, many people are urging the distribution of these technologies to developing countries like India. Rural villages in the country have largely not been part of the mobile phone trend. Even certain urban areas remain hidden from these new technologies. Several nonprofit organizations and recent government movements have vowed to fight this reality, looking to increase the availability of cell phones and cell phone data in India. Here are three ways India is using phones to combat poverty.

Increasing Education Opportunities

Many rural villages in India focus on agriculture as their primary form of livelihood. Most farmers only earn around $2 per day. In 2010, a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, mPowering, partnered with a charity working in Orissa, India to distribute mobile phones to village residents. mPowering relied on cell phone towers in the area to give farmers and other rural families more functionality. The nonprofit’s initiative, conducted in the Indian village of Juanga, saw a 19% increase in its school attendance for children. In addition, more women were able to gain access to important health care needs through a so-called point system loaded onto communal phones. People can then redeem these points for commodities like food and clothing. As a result, the Juanga experiment found a 67% decrease in reported diseases.

Government Intervention for Economic Stimulation

The Indian government has developed a scheme to hand out phones to children and impoverished families because more than 10% of Indian families cannot afford to purchase a cell phone. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the country is distributing phones to children learning online. In the Punjab region, 75 million children should receive a handset. These initiatives are a direct response to the rising fear that more than 24 million children worldwide could lose access to proper education.

According to a UN report, if online school without other alternatives continues, this very fear might become a reality. The Indian government’s push to include children in its mobile phone plan is just one step to introduce mobile devices to the general population. It has also developed a $6.65 billion scheme to increase the production of electronic goods within the country. The move has helped increase the number of phone manufacturers in India, which rose from two to more than 200 in just a few years.

A Variety of Options for a Variety of Users

Estimates show that more than 900 million Indian citizens do not own a smartphone or have access to the internet. However, recent economic growth has turned India into a leading market for cheap phone data options. As a result of this spark in data growth, companies developed a variety of cell phones and cell phone software to reach a wider demographic. There are currently more than 100 smartphone brands that dominate the Indian cell phone market, with Chinese manufacturers holding more than 75% of the space. Recently, companies like Apple have begun to market lower-end budget phones to expand their outreach in India as well. Growing demand and relatively low tariff rates have allowed mobile phone markets to gain millions of users in mere months. The launch and future cultivation of 3G and 4G networks are only expediting initiatives that use phones to combat poverty.

The expanding economy in India is allowing newer technologies to reach a wider range of consumers. The target audience in the country has slowly shifted from urban individuals to inhabitants of impoverished rural regions. As India’s economic prosperity grows, using phones to combat poverty ensures that people receive more education, are better off and experience inclusion.

– Mihir Gokhale
Photo: Flickr

Problems in Rural India
Despite the country’s soaring GDP, India is home to almost a quarter of the world’s poor population. Although India lifted 270 million people out of poverty between 2006 and 2016, 270 million more people continue to live below the global poverty line. The extreme poverty that India’s poor faces disproportionately affects rural populations and women, who receive fewer opportunities in education, healthcare and employment.

Named after the goddess of education, nonprofit Bani Mandir works to elevate people in India’s most vulnerable communities by solving problems in rural India. The organization, based in West Bengal, India, aims to address the root causes of poverty, particularly in rural areas and among women. By providing solutions to education inequality, access to healthcare and women’s opportunities, Bani Mandir empowers India’s rural poor.


One of the root causes of poverty is a lack of education. Access to education is integral to lifting people out of poverty, as education reduces inequality and drastically improves the opportunities students obtain as they age. In India, where 45% of the poor population is illiterate, improving access to education in rural areas is vital.

Girls in India, particularly those living in poverty, face additional barriers when it comes to attending school. India gave girls the right to education in 2009. However, many girls are still unable to attend school due to housework responsibilities, stigma and health concerns. The lack of girls in school contributes to fewer women in the workforce. Women make up only 25% of the labor force in India.

To increase enrollment of girls and students from rural areas, Bani Mandir has provided education for more than 10,000 students, maintaining equal representation between girls and boys. Bani Mandir also helps children receive sufficient nutrition support and trains teachers in effective teaching practices. These advancements are improving the quality of education for a larger number of students.

Access to Healthcare

In India, rural communities receive significantly less access to healthcare. Due to the lack of health facilities and insufficient awareness about the benefits of healthcare, many workers in rural communities are unwilling to sacrifice a day’s wages to attend a healthcare visit. Additionally, women in India receive less access to healthcare than men. In a 2019 study, men and boys were two times as likely to visit a healthcare facility. The study also found that many women who should have seen a doctor did not.

To improve access to healthcare in India’s vulnerable communities, Bani Mandir offers comprehensive healthcare programs. Women make up 60% of those benefiting from Bani Mandir’s health services. Bani Mandir’s 23 health projects served more than 3,500 people living in rural villages and slums. The organization also arranged more than 100 health camps to address immediate medical needs. Finally, Bani Mandir partners with schools to provide health programs to students. Its work is encouraging students to seek healthcare and to grow up in a culture where going to the doctor is standard practice.

Women’s Empowerment

Since many women are often denied access to education and healthcare, their employment opportunities are limited. Furthermore, employment is not a guarantee of equal treatment. In fact, pay inequalities result in men making 65% more than women for the same labor. Although gender equality in India is a constitutional right, many women are unaware of their rights and of the ways they can support themselves financially.

Bani Mandir offers more than 375 self-help groups across 30 villages and supports more than 15,000 women and girls to help eliminate problems in rural India. These women’s empowerment groups educate women about their rights, organize finances and offer loans for small businesses, encouraging female entrepreneurs. Bani Mandir also aims to change societal perceptions and stigmas against women by educating broader communities. Bani Mandir’s programs are educating upwards of 10,000 community members about women’s rights issues.

By addressing the problems in rural India pertaining to poverty, such as education, healthcare and women’s opportunities, Bani Mandir is inciting change across entire communities and improving the lives of rural populations. The organization also offers services that improve sanitation, care for the elderly and support for abandoned children. With its wide scope, Bani Mandir is providing countless examples of concrete ways to create change. To build upon the positive change that Bani Mandir and other nonprofits have inspired, the Indian government should sharpen its laws around gender equality to ensure that women and girls obtain adequate access to employment, healthcare and education.

Melina Stavropoulos
Photo: Unsplash

STEM Education in India

According to India’s latest census, 7.8 million children must earn a living while attending school. Another 84 million children do not even attend school. One of India’s biggest challenges is making education accessible to all its people. While primary education in India is now required, many children do not have the means to attend school. Although India’s literacy rates are rising, studies show that many children in primary schools fail to comprehend basic skills and concepts. As new technologies emerge, STEM education is becoming an important aspect of India’s education. The Agastya International Foundation and India STEM Foundation are two nonprofit organizations introducing rural children to STEM education.

STEM Education in India

In 2011, The Wall Street Journal reported that 75 percent of India’s technology graduates lack the qualifications for jobs in their fields. This report came a month after India released its 2011 census stating that nearly 92 million children in India struggle to achieve an education. Today, India’s government and nonprofit organizations, such as the Agastya International Foundation and the India STEM Foundation, have partnered to provide children with a strong education they can depend on later in life.

Agastya International Foundation

Founded in 1999, the Agastya International Foundation is a “transformative educational organization” that provides poor rural and urban children with hands-on learning through its mobile science labs. With more than 130 mobile labs set up across India, Agastya provides more than 500 students with hands-on learning every day. The Agastya International Foundation hones its curriculum to fill noticeable gaps within India’s education system.

  • With a rural 172 acre campus, Agastya provides children and young adults with a wide range of hands-on learning activities. The Camps @ Campus program is a unique opportunity for rural and urban children to come together. During the program, children sharpen their academic abilities while simultaneously drawing lessons from their rural or urban counterparts. Agastya also offers learning opportunities for remote children who are unable to attend on-campus programs. Lab-in-a-Box contains science experiments that are sent to village schools in the more rural corners of India. Agastya trains at least one teacher per school to assist the students as they work through each experiment. There are a total of 12 boxes packed with more than 133 experiments that range from chemistry to biology.
  • The Agastya International Foundation’s most effective program is its mobile labs. Trained teachers travel across India in a van to supply rural children with an education in science. In 2018, over 160 mobile labs reached nearly 4 million children in 2,460 schools. The teachers reported seeing a spike in attendance whenever the Mobile Labs came to visit. Agastya’s Lab-on-a-Box programs also saw similar results, reaching more than 600,000 children in 780 schools.
  • Agastya is also empowering aspiring teachers through their Young Instructor Leaders program. This program breaks down the traditional setup of a classroom by allowing the students to become the teacher. Last year, over 18,000 children participated in the YIL program. One young leader organized cleaning programs in his village while another provided her family with financial and educational advice. Due to Agastya, the young leader “lost [her] fear once [she] became a young leader.” Already impacting over 6 million children and 200,000 teachers, the Agastya International Foundation continues to create, connect and empower children with science throughout India.

India STEM Foundation

Similar to the Agastya International Foundation, the India STEM Foundation’s mission is to educate young children about science and technology. In an interview, the program manager, Nityanand Channur, stated that “there is definitely a need [for a] holistic learning approach in [India’s] education system.”  Through its hands-on education in robotics, the India STEM Foundation hopes to inspire young students to pursue careers in STEM fields. Since 2006, the Foundation has created robotic labs, workshops, training for teachers and robotics competitions.

  • Robotics has quickly become one of the many stepping-stones to engage children by using important concepts in math and science. Through problem solving and teamwork, the students work together to create a working robot. Robo Siksha Kendra is the India STEM Foundation’s robotics program that has captivated more than 500,000 students and created 15,000 teachers. In 2018, India STEM Foundation partnered with Lego to create India’s first Lego League. Over 2000 students participated in the robotic event. The students were tasked with researching and designing a solution to a real-world scientific problem or question.
  • Alongside its robotic program, the Foundation also supports the Atal Tinkering Lab, which uses the same hands-on methodology to create an environment for students to create and innovate. The Atal Innovation Mission was created by the Government of India to encourage and foster curiosity in children. Its mission is to “cultivate one million children in India as Neoteric Innovators.”

STEM education is not only fostering an interest in science, technology, engineering and math, but a future for children and India. India’s next generation of innovators is on the rise and ready to meet India’s growing need for STEM careers.

Emily Beaver
Photo: Flickr