SPEAKER: Ms Neelima Mishra| Founder, Bhagini Nivedita Gramin Vigyan Niketan

Date & Venue: 9th June 2017 at Gokhale Institute


Neelima Mishra, a social worker from the state of Maharashtra is a post graduate in psychology from University of Pune. She set up the Bhagini Nivedita Gramin Vigyan Niketan Trust in 2005 in her home village of Bahadarpur in Jalgaon which primarily helps women in rural areas through micro financing. Over the years, her trust has helped set up many women’s SHGs and provided aid to farmers. Her being an agent of change has been recognized world over and she got the Ramon Magsaysay award in 2011. Recently, in 2013 she was awarded the Padma Shri for her social work.

Neelima Mishra delivered a speech about ‘Scaling up Social Enterprise’ recently at the Bodhi Tree in Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, as part of a lecture series organised by Pune International Centre’s Social Innovation Forum

Also present were Prakash Apte, head of Syngeta India, who chaired the session, Pradeep Lokhande, founder of Gyan Key Library, who acted as moderator and Prashant Girbane, Honorary Director, PIC, Mugdha Lele, Social Innovations manager, Venture Center.


She introduced us to the concept of scaling up from the aspect of not just quantity but also quality. About motivation being the crucial factor in the process of scaling up.  There can be contributions to problem solving from different aspects – there are sponsors, then people who’re involved in field work, people who actively work towards making a difference etc. She highlighted the importance of starting out irrespective of the fact whether you have money or not; its important to have compassion and be committed towards your cause, money will follow. She also emphasized on not losing tempo as you progress with your startup, its important to maintain the energy as you grow even when money comes in.

She spoke about how the organization has planned out their program to alleviate rural people over a period of 27 years in 3 phases of 9 years each. They recognized that though education could be a vital tool in problem solving – it doesn’t solve the problem right now..and if problems right now aren’t solved, its very difficult to plan for future modifications. The rural people had problems to which money was a practical solution most of the time, they were even willing to return money with interest over a period of time..the major obstacle being the fact that they did not get loans from banks due to lack of credit. The Bhagini Nivedita Bank started Self Help Groups which would provide money to families’ condition to a set of rules. The bank used to borrow from money lenders initially. Since, the people were very prompt in returning the money, this made the platform viable and sustainable. A very valid point she raised while designing a social enterprise is that we should design solutions for people taking into account what the people (for whom the solutions are designed for) want. They often have indigeneous knowledge which makes for more practical solutions to their daily problems.

Speaking about the Self Help Groups (SGH), Mishra said, “We don’t give the women any money, we ask them what they can do and what they need to do. They were the ones who suggested sewing quilts and clothes and asked for computer and embroidery classes. They want to learn more, they want to grow.” The SHG she set up gets orders for quilts made by the women from Australia, England and USA. Around 100 women became computer literate. And they have a successful textile business, making around 6,000 kurtas per month, all from scrap material.

She gave some insight on the poor conditions of farmers in the country. As far as the plight of farmers is concerned, Mishra believes that there is no immediate solution.

“The public thinks that farmers have received a benefit, so the problem is resolved. But if one need is fulfilled, hundreds spring up. Loans should be given taking into the account the particular needs and abilities of each farmer. When it doesn’t rain for one year, a farmer is set back 3 years.”

She spoke about the contribution of Caring Friends foundation from Pune and Mumbai in helping institutes around the country in solving rural problems. The importance of incentives in getting rural communities to accept technologies/solutions was talked about, for eg, Gappa Sandas(chat toilets which serve dual purpose) so that women use toilets atleast with the objective of getting the privacy to share their day to day woes. Another example was how the highly prevalent problem of anaemia in rural women was solved by giving them a diet chart to follow, on showing results these farmers were given loans to improve their farming.

The lecture was concluded on the note that needs are generated in a domino effect like phenomena where fulfilling each need generates a dozen more. It doesn’t do to get satisfied by starting social work or contributing in a hassle free, minimal manner. Ms Mishra feels that zero work has been done because there are still many more basic necessities to be fulfilled, awards aren’t a parameter, they don’t make you big so they shouldn’t affect the intensity with which you work.

About Author – Aishwarya Nair, BIRAC Social Innovation Immersion  Programme Fellow at Venture Center, Pune