Reema Nanavaty

Director, SEWA (Self-Employed Women's Association)

Reema Nanavaty: has been working with the Self-Employed women workers from informal sector since 1984 when she joined the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and stayed on to be elected as its General Secretary in 1999. She expanded membership to new heights making SEWA the single largest union of informal sector workers. Her key focus has been to provide full-employment & self-reliance to the 1.7 million members of SEWA. 30 years of her selfless service was honored by Padma Sri (the fourth highest civilian award in the Republic of India) by Government of India for her distinguished contribution in the area of Social Services in 2013.

Reema negotiated the first ever IFAD loan to rebuild lives and livelihoods of 60000 earthquake affected rural women and is running post conflict economic reconstruction for 40000 members affected by 2002 riots. She is leading the rehabilitation programs in Afghanistan and in Srilanka; providing vocational training in agro and rural livelihood security.

Reema oversees 4813 self-help groups (SHG), 160 co-operatives and 15 economic federations totaling 1.7 million members, pan India including 16 states, and also in 7 South-Asian countries, focusing on women’s economic empowerment by building women owned enterprises – Cooperatives, Collectives, Companies, Federations; building women led supply chain in Energy, Agribusiness, Food Processing, Waste recycling, Textile and garmenting.

Reema laid the foundations of SEWA Trade Facilitation Centre (STFC) making women’s voice and contribution central to world trade decisions. Currently she is replicating the Trade Facilitation Centre model in all the SAARC countries, building social enterprises of Home-based women workers.

SEWA has helped change the lives of thousands of Sri Lankan women, by helping Sri Lankan women register their own Co-operative – Women’s Self-Employed Development Center (WSDC) in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, which has been recognized as social enterprise and providing work and income security to women in range of LKR 3500 to 22000 a month. She has also helped these women register their own brand “Udayam” for selling their food-processing and garment products.

On the same lines, Reema has also helped over 7000 war-affected women in Afghanistan to organize and register their own organization – Sabah Baug-e-Khazana in 2010, - a training center providing vocational trainings in 4 different trades viz garment manufacturing, Food processing, Embroidery and Eco-regeneration.

She also initiated the food and nutrition security program, covering more than 2.5 million households through its rural urban distribution network, named RUDI, where women farmers and labour trade their agro-produce with each other.
Reema is spearheading the Hariyali–Green Energy and Livelihoods Initiative to provide 2,00,000 mostly farm women access renewable energy tools of cookstoves and solar lights, solar water pumping units for agriculture and salt-farming.

She believes in empowering the poor women from informal sector by keeping them abreast with modern tools of ICT. In this context Reema heads the ICT cell of SEWA developing custom designed mobile-apps for the farm women and establishing linkages with online e-retailing platform to provide a broad global market access to the members of SEWA.

Reema is currently member of the Advisory Council on Gender of the World Bank Group. She was also invited as a member of International Labor Organization’s High Level Global Commission on Future of Work. She was the only commissioner representing the informal sector workers, self employed workers and the rural workers union in the entire commission. She has also been invited as a member of the UN High-level Dialogue`s Technical Working Group on Energy Action to Advance Other SDGs.