Living with Dignity, Contributing to Nation Building: Odisha’s Mission Shakti Is a Text Book Case of Women’s Empowerment Engineered through Strong Leadership

Bhubaneswar: The 21st century is a century of women’s empowerment. States that are empowering their women are reaping the benefits of sustained growth and overall development. Today empowered women are providing visible leadership that was never seen before. Keeping pace with time, Odisha, under the leadership of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, saw the dawn of the new millennium based on women’s empowerment. Odisha’s rendezvous with development in the last two decades went vis-a-vis with a number of State sponsored initiatives for upliftment of women and bringing in a level playing field for them with economic, political and social empowerment. One of the key initiatives that the Naveen Patnaik Government took onto itself during the initial days of his Chief Ministership was the establishment of Mission Shakti program that eventually has become a revolution and an iconic example of Women Empowerment in the country. Likewise, the successful implementation of the Mamata Yojana in the State motivated other States and the Center to replicate the model in their respective jurisdictions.

Though Mission Shakti had a humble beginning in 2001, under the Women and Child Development Department, today it has created for itself an independent identity. Its journey from a nascent initiative to an independent Department of the Government of Odisha shows the potential of the Mission in transforming the women. Today, more than 80 lakh Women Self-Help Group members are engaged under the flagship Mission Shakti program of Odisha – a rare feat that is unbelievable for many others. It has also witnessed massive growth in its scope of activities. Mission Shakti members today are undertaking works and activities to the tune of about Rs 5000 crore. This feat could not have been possible without the supervision and administration by some able hands. Every good intended scheme or project needs a good administrator for its proper implementation so that the common man gets the real benefits. For more than five years now, Mission Shakti has been in the hands of one of the finest administrators of Odisha – Sujata R Karthikeyan, a 2000 batch IAS officer. Ever since she took over the mantle of the Mission, there has been no looking back for the initiative. Due to her constant endeavor, it could become a separate Department of the Government of Odisha. Her sole aim is to expand the Mission Shakti movement to the next level by bringing in one crore women of the State under its fold. The emergence of women leaders has become a centrifugal force in the society today. For the first time, we are seeing female leaders emerging from across the State to cross-weave their potential and bring in change. She is an empathic leader who is open to new challenges and relates to the SHGs and openly interacts with them to comprehend the various issues faced by them. Her deep insightfulness in the working of the Mission Shakti groups has paid rich dividends.

Launched on March 8 2001, Mission Shakti has been very close to the heart of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. It has witnessed a massive social revolution on the ground across the state of Odisha under the stellar leadership and able administration of the upright officer Sujata R Karthikeyan.

Ever since her involvement with the Mission Shakti initiative, Sujata has been bringing in new developments and activities into the Department and opening up new opportunities for the Women Self Help Groups under its fold. A lot has happened over the course of the past five years. From being an umbrella organization of small WSHGs manufacturing and selling food products and handicrafts, the Mission Shakti initiative today encompasses six lakh strong SHG movement that has become the biggest supplier of services and products to the Government of Odisha. Sujata has been instrumental in the Government of Odisha committing to procure products and services worth Rs 5000 crore from the Mission Shakti SHGs in the next few years as directed by Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik. Today, we can see Women Self Help Group members everywhere – be it running the Aahaar Canteens or managing the sewage treatment plants in the urban areas. They have also taken up many activities in the agricultural field by incorporating modern and organic techniques.

The transformation of the Mission Shakti program into a colossal movement in the last few years has its impact on the society as well. The development of leadership among the women folk through Mission Shakti can be clearly seen in the political empowerment in Odisha. Along with the statutory encouragement given to women through reservations in Panchayatraj and other governance systems, Mission Shakti has created a large number of grassroots leaders who are contributing to the development of the society. A bright example in this context is the story of Member of Parliament Pramila Bisoi. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik selected her to lead from the Aska Parliamentary constituency in the 2019 general elections thereby creating an example for the whole nation. Coming from the SHG background, she has become an icon of women empowerment propelled by Mission Shakti. There is no doubt that in the coming days, women from the self help group movement are on the way to lead in the political arena.

Speaking on empowerment of women through Mission Shakti, Sujata R Karthikeyan says Mission Shakti has created an identity and recognition for the women in the family and society. Mission Shakti is the story of new Odisha, which is aspirational, inclusive and modern.

The most important aspect of the Mission Shakti Self Help Groups came into limelight in 2020 when they took the initiative to help out everybody during the COVID-19 pandemic. From preparing and distributing masks and sanitizers to providing cooked food to the needy, they stood steady and saved many lives. The women members of Mission Shakti contributed in the fight against the pandemic and became the lifeline in rural and urban Odisha during the lockdowns. During the pandemic, about 7000 Self Help Groups were engaged as implementing partners under the Urban Wage Employment Initiative of Odisha Government. More than 400 SHGs manufactured over 4 million masks and distributed them to the people in 2020 and 2021. During the peak of the pandemic, the WSHG members prepared and served cooked food to about 1.5 crore people and distributed dry ration materials to 80 lakh families in the State.

The transformation of the Mission Shakti from an initiative to a revolution could not have been possible without the able leadership of officers like Sujata Karthikeyan. The 80 lakh women members of the SHGs have been able to generate Rs 5000 crore of saving and Rs 2000 crore worth of bank exposures are really mobilizing the rural and urban economy of Odisha. The creation of the independent department in Odisha accelerated the rise of the grassroots entrepreneurs and has been contributing to the State’s GDP.

The success of Mission Shakti is an outcome of the dedicated management by Sujata. She worked closely with all the stakeholders such as WSHGs, Anganwadi workers, ASHA and health workers and inspired them, empowered them with her compassion and unparalleled commitment to the cause. In Odisha, Mission Shakti under its tutelage has over 6 lakh SHGs with over 80 lakh empowered members. Sujata R Karthikeyan played a defining role in providing a new identity to the women of Odisha. She has been instrumental in realizing the vision of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik by effecting the change on the ground thus turning Mission Shakti, a pet project of Naveen into a big social revolution in Odisha. In 2021, Odisha CM declared that Mission Shakti will grow into a revolution of 1 crore women. This mission will continue to inspire more women in the coming days and take the message of empowered Odisha to every home in the State.

While, Sujata Karthikeyan can be credited for Mission Shakti’s transformation, her efforts to launch and effectively implement the Mamata Yojana in Odisha way back in 2011 are also praiseworthy. Thanks to her leadership, the Mamata Yojana has become one of the best schemes for the women in the country.

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