Jyoti Mhapsekar is lifting women waste-pickers out of the vicious cycle of poverty by organizing them into cooperatives and access better economic opportunities. In this process, Jyoti builds additional skills for these women so they can enter the formal job sector and reap other benefits while gaining self-respect.
Starting from 1998 with 100 members, Jyoti first organised the women waste-pickers into self-help groups so they could collectively bid for waste management contracts for waste-sorting and collection. This changed the dynamics between the waste-pickers who earlier worked in silos and fought for territorial rights by bringing them together and increasing their incomes. Jyoti also leveraged the self-help groups to introduce financial, health and literacy schemes sponsored by the government that improved their quality of life.
With an aim to help waste-pickers get out of their present condition, Jyoti started building additional skills through training programmes in 2000. Her organisation, Stree Mukti Sanghatana (SMS) trained more than 1000 women waste-pickers in 2001 in composting and helped them bid and receive contracts for zero waste management projects in housing societies. Since, poverty is connected to livelihoods and caste, making it difficult to break the system until and unless you enter the system, Jyoti targeted professional maintenance service opportunities. This brought economic independence and professional interactions with societies that helped the women gain self-respect and confidence.
Jyoti ventured into biogas plants in 2003 in partnership with Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). She built 10 biogas plants and manages the maintenance for Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), BMC, Tata Power to name a few. The maintenance is provided by the women waste-pickers who are trained in biogas operations. One of their key projects is the TISS biogas plant where the women collect, segregate and convert wet-waste into biogas and manure for the campus’ canteen kitchens and gardens respectively. From the Svarna Jayanti Shehari Rozgari Yojana, SMS claimed land for waste storage and officially engaged with BMC to compost waste.
In 2006, Jyoti formally registered cooperatives and federations for waste-pickers bringing access to formal livelihoods to 3000 members. She helped women waste-pickers build their own strong network and developed different kinds of business models that flexibly adapt to locational needs so they function independently. The business models include collecting dry and non-medical waste for sale and setting up scrap shops for individual operations. Jyoti also introduced education and health programs for the waste-pickers’ children near the Deonar dumping ground and started a school based program talking about recycling.
Jyoti is presently contributing to the Mumbai Development Plan to include composting and biogas plants for waste management. She started a formal training centre in Navi Mumbai in early 2014 to train women rag-pickers in managing biogas plants and composting and hopes to train and introduce more women waste-pickers to the formal work sector.
Note: This was updated in February, 2014. Read on for the ELECTION profile