We engage in a conversation with Prabodha Moharana, the State Programme Manager for Project Nirmanshree in Odisha, to gain insights into his perspective on the impactful work undertaken at Dhenkanal and Jajpur.

Tell us about your role in Project Nirmanshree.

As the State Programme Manager, my initial responsibilities included overseeing the team, identifying clusters, and ensuring effective programme implementation in Odisha. It is my duty to assess the growth of the social enterprises we support, ensuring they receive proper guidance and evaluating the impact of our RPL (Recognition of Prior Learning) training. Additionally, I collaborate with government agencies and other promotional entities to facilitate convergence between programmes and agencies.

What motivated you to join Project Nirmanshree and Habitat for Humanity India?

This project is particularly challenging as there has been minimal focus on women in the construction sector. On a personal level, I am committed to addressing this gap and striving to integrate women in the construction sector into formal training programmes. My aim is to ensure they fully benefit from the initiatives offered by government, non-government, and para-government agencies.

Do you have any memorable experiences to share about your time working on the field?

Upon initiating mobilisation and conducting needs assessment studies at the ground level, we encountered reluctance from women to share their information. Mobility was also a significant challenge for them, preventing them from moving to other locations. Moreover, there was a prevailing disbelief among the women within the construction sector regarding the availability of formal training opportunities. To address these barriers, we conducted awareness programmes, created videos, posters, and brochures. Gradually, as a result of our efforts, women started approaching us, overcoming their initial hesitation, and willingly enrolled themselves to receive training based on our appeal. This marked a significant and impactful development in our project.

What are some of the challenges you have faced while working for Project Nirmanshree?

The primary challenge we faced was engaging with the target groups, predominantly comprised of labour groups and female construction workers. Supporting them required multiple interactions, and due to their daytime work schedules, we had to find ways to schedule our meetings with them. Additionally, the geographical distance of these communities presented a logistical challenge. Moreover, our project coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, which imposed restrictions on movement and hindered regular interactions with the women and the communities. This situation significantly impacted the progress of our project, but we kept marching forward despite all the challenges.

Have your views on women empowerment changed after you started working with Project Nirmanshree?

Certainly, my perspective has evolved. Initially, I held the belief that women were primarily suited for less physically demanding jobs. However, as we progressed through this project, we observed women actively engaged in more strenuous tasks within the construction sector, such as moving bricks and mixing sand — activities that demand physical labour. This experience has completely altered my previous perception, as I now recognise the capability of women to excel in physically demanding roles, particularly within the construction sector.

Would you like to keep working for women empowerment within the social sector?

As of now, we have successfully trained around 3,007 women in Orissa and Maharashtra. Our efforts have led to the promotion of 50 social enterprises in both the states. On a personal level, I would like to collaborate and engage with various entities, including government agencies and other community-based organisations, to advocate for the replication and scaling up of the successful initiatives implemented in this project to benefit other regions as well.

Do you have any recommendations going ahead?

In Odisha, we have facilitated the establishment of 25 social enterprises. However, these enterprises do require further support and guidance to ensure their sustained growth and expansion. It is essential to secure financial benefits by establishing linkages with other agencies. This includes crucial support for market linkages, encompassing digital marketing, advertising, and other connections both forward and backward in the supply chain. Additionally, there is a requirement for heightened awareness and knowledge on digitisation. There should also be collaboration and convergence with parallel agencies to enhance programme expansion. Moving forward, these two major initiatives should be prioritised and advanced.

How does women empowerment help communities build stronger communities?

Even a decade ago, women refrained from relying on public transportation and were hesitant to engage in public discussions or attend meetings. In present times, however, women have become more assertive, actively seeking to have their voices heard. They are now advocating for their rights. Furthermore, women are actively pursuing additional income opportunities to secure both financial and social benefits for their families. They play an equal role in contributing to the development of their families. Although there are still some milestones to achieve, the overall situation for women has significantly improved, surpassing the conditions of the past. This illustrates the capacity of women’s empowerment to foster more resilient and robust communities.