The Navsari, Gujarat-based Desai Foundation Trust
(DFT), an NGO which has been dedicated to empowering women and children through community programming to elevate health, livelihood, and menstrual equity in rural India for 25 years, welcomed former United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on 7 Feb 2023.
Secretary Clinton has made multiple visits to India and is well-known for her longtime dedication to uplifting the lives of women and girls and supporting inclusive economic development in India. The Secretary’s visit to India included a visit to Ila Bhatt’s SEWA 50th Anniversary celebration, a meeting of fellow Clinton Global Initiative Commitment Makers, and a visit to Desai Foundation’s partner, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)–Gandhinagar to speak to the students, and a visit to the Dandi salt pans.
Secretary Clinton is in India to help advance Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Commitments to Action that are providing employment opportunities and critical health care services to girls and women, while also providing critical support for climate resilience in the region. These Commitments were made by members of the CGI community at the CGI 2022 Meeting, which resulted in 144 new Commitments to Action addressing climate resilience, global health equity, inclusive economic growth, the global refugee crisis, and other critical global challenges.
Secretary Clinton’s tour began in Palaj village in the Gandhinagar District of Gujarat. She first met the Desai Foundation’s Heroes for Humanity Heroes. Forty Heroes from 8 States shared stories of how the initiative impacted their lives and how they impacted the lives of millions. The Desai Foundation’s Heroes for Humanity (HFH) initiative grew out of a response to the needs of rural communities during the Covid-19 pandemic. Residents of the rural communities where DFT offers programming, primarily women, were recruited, trained, and employed as frontline Heroes to engage with their communities in crisis—initially around the pandemic and now around health, livelihood, and menstrual equity.
The Desai Foundation’s Heroes for Humanity (HFH) made a Commitment to Action at this year’s The Clinton Global Initiative in New York City in 2022—and was featured on stage.
“Heroes for Humanity has been an incredibly impactful program on two fronts. First, in the impact, the Heroes make on their local communities, and second on Heroes themselves who are becoming leaders in their communities, beacons of information, and an army for good in a time of need! This resilient program we hope can serve as a model for other organizations to look within the communities they serve for the solutions to uplift them.” said Megha Desai, President of the Desai Foundation.
After hearing their stories, Secretary Clinton addressed the Heroes directly. “I am so proud that I have had the chance to meet all of you and hear some of your stories. It is so impressive that the Desai foundation understood the importance of finding local people like all of you to do this important work. I am so impressed by the model of this program, and so delighted to hear about all the things you are doing as Heroes for Humanity. And hope that you are not only learning so much, and growing personally, but understanding what an impact you are all having on your families and your communities. So thank you very much.”
The Secretary also visited the Desai Foundation’s flagship Asani Sanitary Napkin Program by observing one of the rural Menstrual Health & Hygiene awareness sessions and engaging with the Asani Rural Saleswomen.
The Desai Foundation’s most comprehensive Asani program tackles the four major issues facing rural menstruators in India: awareness, access, jobs, and the stifling stigmas that ostracize women during their periods. The Asani program also produces retail-quality pads that are 85% biodegradable through their three production units in Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Uttar Pradesh. There has been a recent focus on this issue around the world. The Desai Foundation’s award-winning program has been heralded as best-in-class. It solves the problem by providing jobs, tackling them in a multi-generational way, and putting the needs and practical circumstances of rural communities first.
“We’ve developed this program over a decade, iterating along the way. We aim to roll out this program nationally and make a major dent in solving this issue for India. We strongly believe that by eradicating the stigmas and educating the next generation of bleeders, we can shift the number of girls in school, and women in the workplace, and turn, impact the GDP of the nation,” said Yati Desai, Head of Asani at the Desai Foundation Trust.
“I love the way this program connects to both mothers and the next generation to create change and break the cycle of stigmas.” said Secretary Clinton while visiting an Asani awareness session.
Secretary Clinton’s visit is a testimony to Desai Foundation Trust’s innovative approach to socio-economic development in rural villages with few opportunities.
The organization’s work is rooted in its mission to cultivate dignity for those they serve beyond the services they provide. “To have someone who has dedicated their life to advancing the opportunities of women and girls, as Secretary Clinton has, is a real validation of our work and our holistic approach to tackling health, livelihood, and menstrual equity in the 2,500 villages we serve across India,” said Mittal Gohil, Executive Director, Desai Foundation Trust.
The Desai Foundation was also proud to announce a collaboration with SEWA with the launch of the SEWA Climate Fund supported by the Clinton Foundation. The Desai Foundation is committed to implementing its ReSkilling programming for the women impacted by climate change to ensure they can pursue new jobs and provide for their families. “Every organization that works in rural India has seen their constituents feel the direct and immediate impact of climate change. We are proud to partner with such an incredible organization like SEWA and collaborate to help provide courses in skills, banking, and entrepreneurship in four states in rural India,” said Megha Desai.
With the upcoming G20 Summit in India later this year, all eyes will be on the nation and its work to uplift the most vulnerable affected by climate change socio-economic hardship, and through the lens of women’s rights. Desai Foundation’s work has been fighting to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals: #3–Good Health & Well-Being; #5–Gender Equality; #8–Decent Work & Economic Growth; #10–Reduced Inequalities for 25 years.
Heroes for Humanity is funded in part by S.P. Hinduja Banque Privée S.A. The bank’s CEO, Karam Hinduja, was in attendance at the site visit, along with Megha Desai, Desai Foundation president Mittal Gohil, Desai Foundation Trust executive director, and DF Board Members Yash Shah (USA, CEO Jeavio), Kiran Desai (Mumbai), Dipika Desai (Mumbai), and Vikram Parekh (Navsari).
IIT Gandhinagar, which partners with Desai Foundation in many of its outreach programs in surrounding communities, also hosted Secretary Clinton for a townhall conversation with its students and community members on its campus, immediately after the village visit. In the townhall conversation, Secretary Clinton shared insights from her own journey and spoke to students about leadership, inclusivity, and tackling global challenges such as climate change.