STREE: Empowering Rural Women for Economic Growth

Tarun Baijnath
Tarun Baijnath
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With speed and agility at its core, the Social and Transformative Rural Economic Empowerment (STREE) project has reached over 1.40 lakh women beneficiaries and mobilized 47,000+ into POs in less than two years. Many of these POs are poised to achieve an annual turnover of around INR 1 crore. Additionally, over 60,000 beneficiaries have experienced significant income increases, ranging from 20%- 50%.

1.40+ lakh rural women empowered, and still counting!

Launched in January 2022, Project STREE is a powerful initiative dedicated to economically empower women farmers and artisans.

Currently, more than 8 million self-help groups (SHGs) encompass more than 82 million rural women in India, significantly contributing to rural livelihoods. However, there is a critical gap — only a fraction of these SHGs engage in income-generating activities, hindered by multiple barriers. The Social and Transformative Rural Economic Empowerment (STREE) project, launched by the HDFC Bank under the Parivartan initiative, is addressing some of these challenges by transforming SHGs into dynamic, income-generating producer organisations (POs) that empower women farmers and artisans. The STREE programme, implemented by Grant Thornton Bharat across 24 districts in 6 states (Assam, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Punjab and West Bengal), aims to:

  • Increase the real income of direct beneficiaries by 40%
  • Benefit more than 500,000 women farmers and artisans across 120 clusters 
  • Leverage new investments, including government schemes and private sector partnerships
  • Foster collaborations at the national, state and local levels

Scale and speed: The differentiators 

What sets STREE apart is its unprecedented scale and speed. Within two years of launch, we have reached out to more than 1.40 lakh women beneficiaries and successfully mobilised more than 51k rural women into 115 producer organisations. In addition, we have operationalised 100 input shops with a cumulative turnover of more than INR ~11 Cr. These numbers are a testament to the project’s remarkable pace and reach. STREE is powered by cluster planning and a market-led approach and is centred around a three-pronged income enhancement strategy — elevating existing income, diversifying income sources, and converging with government schemes. Clusters of SHGs create self-sustaining ecosystems, offering enterprise development, skillset training, and financial and digital inclusion. The market-led approach ensures sustainability, linking producer organisations with larger markets and value chain players.

A vision for a new India: Driving progress, inspiring change

While the immediate target of the STREE project is to impact half a million beneficiaries, its potential reverberates across the SHG ecosystem, empowering more than 80-90 million women farmers and artisans by building stronger institutions, fostering convergence, and enhancing the creditworthiness of borrowers. 

Some of the unique features of this project are digital literacy, transparency and accountability. The share capital collected from members is done digitally — through the PO’s bank account, indicating no cash transactions are permitted, resulting in more confidence and trust among PO members as well as more professional enterprise management. 

Another highlight is the eGraam Bharat portal. Through this platform, farmers can buy input materials, artisans can sell their products and avail necessary professional services effectively and transparently in 15 regional languages. In addition, eGraam Bharat is digitising PO operations by implementing purchase/procurement and inventory management systems, tracking sales, managing finance and accounts, and sharing insights. Within six months, almost 11k women artisans across six states have been outreached with 399 product listings on the portal.

So far, the STREE project has formed 568+ productive partnerships with BDS providers across six states. Key partnerships include input providers (Bayer, FMC, UPL, and IFFCO); buyers (Keventer, Mother Dairy, Pepsi Co); and start-ups (Cropway, Kheti Mitra). These collaborations provide a spectrum of benefits to POs, from the availability of agri-inputs to crop advisory services, buyback of crops, GIS mapping, capacity building, and farmer training on advanced cultivation practices, credit linkages, optimising procurement, and enabling market connectivity

While the project has been making a significant impact at the district and state levels in terms of outcomes, increase in incomes, building strong institutions, enabling convergence, and ensuring the creditworthiness of the borrowers, the teams have been receiving tremendous support from respective state governments and their departments, such as the Department of Agriculture, Horticulture, Rural Development, and Planning, in terms of timely and subsidised supply of agri-inputs, training on agricultural best practices and latest farming techniques, and helping beneficiaries avail government schemes. The project has received extensive backing from government departments, and financial institutions are also not far behind. NBFCs and Banks such as Samunnati Finance, Avanti Finance, State Bank of India, NABKISAN, and Union Bank have partnered with POs to offer credit and financial support for input services, forward linkages as well as operation of common facilities.

  • The project’s most considerable success lies in bringing about a change in the social fabric that a woman working in the field is as good a farmer as her male counterpart. This lack of recognition and identity for women farmers has led us to launch the Main Bhi Kisaan campaign, which aims to help women farmers get their due respect in society. Moreover, there has been a considerable rise in the number of women in Board of Directors (BODs) exhibiting a strong mindset, a passion for supporting women in their communities, having a voice in society, and a decision-making role in their families.
  • STREE is a tribute to the ‘Parivartan’ it brings to communities. Over the past two years, we have seen hundreds of homemakers transform into first-gen entrepreneurs and groups of women coming together to run all-women POs. Resilience is the common thread connecting these women who never cease to astonish us with their incredible strength. By empowering these women, STREE is transforming their livelihoods and contributing to India’s inclusive economic growth.