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Usha Silai School Program Creating An Impact Beyond Economic: IIT-Delhi Impact Assessment Report

Usha Silai School Program Creating An Impact Beyond Economic: IIT-Delhi Impact Assessment Report

For 12 years now, USHA has been weaving stories of empowerment and transformation through 33,000 Silai Schools. By simply providing sewing and stitching skills through its many programmes and partnerships across India, Usha has created livelihood options for women in need. The Usha Silai School program has undergone a constant and dynamic evolution, adapting to the changing needs of communities and the ever-evolving landscape of skill development. Since its inception, the program has demonstrated a remarkable capacity for innovation and adaptability to situations and circumstances. From adding mask-making to the curriculum during COVID-19, to including life skills in the training module, the Usha Silai program is dedicated to the upliftment of rural women beyond simply teaching sewing skills.

To assess the impact of this program, in January 2023, IIT Delhi, in collaboration with Usha, its NGO partners, and the beneficiaries, began an independent study. This meant going into the field and understanding how the project has impacted the individual beneficiaries and the community at large.

Mary Rupa Tete, Vice President of Usha Social Services explained,

We wanted to get an external perspective from a credible third party to understand where the program stands, how effective it has been and what is it that we need to do to take the program to the next level.

The assessment study started with a pilot research to gather data. The team then kept rectifying their questionnaires, survey methods and interview plans, sometimes even improvising based on the situation.

Detailing the methodology, Priyanka Besalla, a Research Team Member from IIT Delhi said,

We used a mixed methods approach encompassing surveys, telephonic interviews and field visits - some group discussions and some focus group discussions. We visited 10 states, covering 40 schools.

12,658 women filled out the questionnaires, informed Professor Jyoti Kumar from the Department of Design at IIT Delhi.

Usha Silai Schools' ground partners, locally situated non-governmental organisations (NGOs) were also a part of the study. The Usha Silai School program has flourished and expanded its impact through collaborative efforts with dedicated NGO partners. These invaluable partnerships play a pivotal role in amplifying the program's reach and effectiveness.

Talking about the unique features of the Usha Silai School program, Dr Greeshma Sharma, a member of the research team from IIT Delhi said,

The provision of providing women with a sewing machine has created an impact. When these women return from the training, they carry not only a certificate or the Usha Silai school recognition letter but also a machine with them, with which they can earn more money.

While the training programs have helped several women become independent and self-sufficient, it's not the training alone that gives women the opportunity to grow. It is also what the IIT Delhi study refers to as the ‘productive asset transfer' that acts as a game changer in the women's journey to success.

Ms Besalla added,

It isn't like Usha just trains the women and let them be after that. Following training, women are given booklets and a register to maintain their progress, a brand identity that is a Usha board and a sewing machine so that women can return to their villages and start their Silai Schools. These women can stitch clothes for others and also earn a livelihood by teaching fellow girls and women.

Explaining the importance of a brand identity or a Usha board and how it empowers a woman, Professor Kumar said,

For us, it's just a sign board. But for a rural ecosystem and women living there, it's a sign of confidence. That she will not spoil my clothes, which is pretty interesting. And also, there's a lot of pride in ‘I'm Usha trained'. There's a good demand of Usha trained women.

The study also assessed the inclusiveness of the Usha Silai School program which draws diverse women from across economic and social strata, and life circumstances. It is a measure of the programme's inclusivity that the IIT Study describes as “creating an impact that is beyond economic”. The study goes on to call the Usha Silai School Programme “a good example of inclusivity” with the representation of women from various regions, religions, castes, and tribes. The study also talks about how in selecting beneficiaries, priority is given to economically disadvantaged women, rape survivors, transgender, manual scavengers, women with disabilities, widowed and separated women, HIV positive women, and single parents.

Along with the diversity in the life circumstances of the beneficiaries, what surprised the research team was the empathy these women had toward one another.

Talking about building community, Professor Kumar said,

The program has a very different approach to empowerment. It welcomes anyone willing to learn stitching and says, come, we'll have fun. Then suddenly women realise that they have a community to whom they can talk about everything.

Narrating a story of women breaking barriers, Professor Kumar shared,

I heard a tale of a Brahmin woman who refused to accept food and water from a Dalit woman during the training. Women from the marginalised community are selected for a nine-day training program. These women have very little hope otherwise. When they see that other women are also struggling like them, the caste barrier breaks. They end up feeding each other with their hands.

Just like Professor Jyoti Kumar and Priyanka Besalla, Vivek Ranjan and Greeshma Sharma had their own stories to share. Stories that stayed with them. Vivek Ranjan, another member of the research team shared a story of a woman who underwent sewing training in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh during the COVID-19 lockdown. He said,

If we talk about villages in India, the trend usually is that rural women don't go out of their houses to work. This woman used to work in Gujarat but she came for the training. Following this, she set up a small centre where she would stitch clothes and teach other women. She was looked up as a role model, a woman who is working on her terms and becoming financially independent. Gradually, women started to rebel against the idea of being confined into the four walls.

However, some regional variations and cultures and traditions influence the sense of what a woman should be doing. Elaborating on this, Prof Kumar said,

In Rajasthan and Haryana, women had to struggle to find time out and get permission for the nine-day training. Whereas in Jharkhand, men have moved to Mumbai and Delhi for jobs, and some of them have remarried. And these women are left to fend for themselves. Usha Silai School becomes a great hope for them.

When the women of the Usha Silai Schools step out of their homes and villages, it not only uplifts their families and communities, they also leave a mark in the world of fashion. Proof of that is the USHA Silai label which was launched to connect the beneficiaries with the markets. The label helped many women showcase their skills at the Lakme Fashion Week, where they also got the opportunity to work with India's top fashion designers.

It is this constant evolution that is expanding the capacity for transformation and bringing depth and dimension to what they learn, leading to some unforgettable women and their stories.

Professor Kumar shared one such tale of a woman from Rajasthan, who used to work as a labourer in the farm fields. She had an interest in sewing and stitching but there was no avenue. However, her determination led her to train and carve a path for herself. She gained the confidence to try new things in life.

Sharing the success story, Professor Kumar added,

She went on to buy the same piece of land where would work as a labourer. She has built a two-story house. When I visited her, she had about 20 women working with her. Some of her stitched products were exported to the U.S. and she even participated in the Lakme Fashion Week.

Perhaps the most significant impact of the Usha Silai School has been its domino effect – the programme is designed in a way where the sewing training provided by USHA creates Classical Silai School teachers, who then spread out to provide training to many other women. The best students trained by Classical Silai School teachers are further skilled by USHA to become Satellite School Teachers and take the training to even more women.

The number of women trained in this manner is exponentially higher than if they were being trained by just USHA, the local NGOs and the Classical Silai School teachers.

The IIT Delhi assessment report is calling this domino effect “an inspiration for other development programme designs.”

The IIT Delhi report also shows, in purely economic terms, a substantial return on investment. 59.41 per cent of the Usha Silai School teachers surveyed reported a monthly income of Rs 5,000. 32.82 per cent said they earn between Rs. 5,000-Rs 10,000 per month. 4.65 per cent were earning between Rs 10,000- Rs 15,000 per month. 1.01 per cent between Rs 15,000- Rs 20,000 per month and 2.11 per cent said their monthly income is over Rs 20,000.

Mr Ranjan added,

We didn't put a figure to the financial return on investment. We simply calculated its minimum possibility, upper possibility and average possibility. The average came to about 88, which means the ratio of the return on every rupee spent by Usha is 88:1.

This means that by the end of 2022, for every Rs. 100 invested in the training of women, the Usha Silai School generated an average of Rs. 8,300.

The domino effect has resulted in capacity building for over 18 lakh (18,12,563) women, where each teacher has trained a specific number of learners per year. The actual impact of the program goes far beyond the impact represented by these numbers.

The IIT Delhi report also shows another key impact - by skilling and empowering women, and promoting community development, the Usha Silai School programme is directly addressing four Sustainable Development Goals:

  • Goal 1: No poverty
  • Goal 4: Quality education
  • Goal 5: Gender equality
  • Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth.

The impact of the Usha Silai School program include:

  • Increased participation in decision making for the family
  • An increase in self-respect
  • The need for better education for the children
  • An improved emphasis on girl child education
  • Strengthened economic and social status
  • Women were more confident in undertaking entrepreneurial ventures

Such has been the impact of the SIlai School program that it has led to lower instances of domestic violence and increased engagement of Usha Silai School teachers in social and political matters as well. The women felt comfortable travelling alone to various locations to provide sewing training because of their increased confidence.

The USHA Silai School program has been exemplary and unparalleled in terms of impact on the lives of lakhs of women across India. The program has included diverse marginalised sections of society and helped them live a life of dignity and respect. Not only has the program helped women shatter the glass ceiling but has broken social barriers too.

Talking about the growth of women, based on his interaction with the beneficiaries, Professor Kumar said,

Initially women had certain apprehensions about going out, becoming independent and meeting all kinds of people in their life now. But down the line, not only their say in the family has increased, but they feel more valued and respected. It is not just because of the economic reason but because there's a discovery of within oneself that - I'm of use and that has brought a little humility.

Ms Besalla concurred,

This program has understood the needs of women and the right way to teach them skills so that they can earn money and give all of society the message that they too can do anything.

The stories of impact are more than just stories, they are milestones achieved by the indomitable women of the Usha Silai Schools. This initiative's legacy of empowerment and financial independence continues, a testament to the spirit of transformation.

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Adopt a Silai School

Adopt a Silai School

Do you want to be a part of the huge change that Usha Silai School is bringing about in the lives of millions of rural women? With just a simple click of a button, you can now contribute towards the opening of an Usha Silai School or support various other aspects of the school.

About the Initiative

About the Initiative

Kushalta Ke Kadam, an initiative by USHA Silai School and NDTV has entered its eighth season. The aim is to empower more women across rural India by teaching them sewing skills and helping them open new doors of opportunities for themselves. The initiative encourages rural women to become financially independent and entrepreneurs by taking up sewing and training others in their respective communities.


Since 2011, the USHA Silai School initiative has trained more than 12 lakh rural women through over 33,000 Silai schools, spanning over 20,751 villages across India.


The women earn Rs. 4,000 – 5,000 per month on an average, with the highest recorded monthly earning being Rs. 84,000 in a month. This earning works as a catalyst towards building their self-confidence, reducing gender inequities, and raising their stature within their families and in society at large.


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In Pics

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching
Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Rebari girls grow up learning traditional embroidery, which along with their new found sewing skills developed at Usha Silai Schools, is helping them earn a living.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Usha Silai School has empowered many rural women to support their family and send their children to school.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

The Usha Silai School, established in a small nondescript village that goes by the name of Kottai, is helping empower people from varied communities.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

The all-inclusive Usha Silai School Programme covers the entire nation from hamlets tucked between hills to villages cast by the sea.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Vegetables farmers from the Mizoram hills earn very little given the topography of the area. Usha Silai Schools have played an important part in this region by skilling women to financially contribute towards their households.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Usha Silai School learner Lucy has trained seven other women in her community, helping them to become financially independent.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Women like Kaviben from the nomadic Rebari community are finally laying down their roots as they begin to gain financial independence and thereby stability through Usha Silai School.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Usha Silai School, located in the Gujarat's Bhuj village, is enabling rural women to earn as much as Rs. 2,500-4,000 each month.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Usha Silai School, in association with a Gujarat based NGO called Kala Raksha, is trying to bring about a Silai revolution in Bhuj.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

Besides training other women from their community, many Usha Silai School learners have become entrepreneurs in their own right.

Kushalta ke Kadam: Aiming for Independence Through Stitching

With sewing becoming easily accessible and lucrative, the silai schools are also helping revive traditional motifs and designs.