It started with one woman. From humble beginnings to inspiring community leader, founder Madhu Vaishnav began IPHD in 2014 with the goal of community development through female empowerment. 

Married at the age of 23, as a part of her marriage contract, Madhu was forbidden from working outside of the home.  Even though she had a masters degree in Indian History she was unable to seek a job. Two healthy sons later, Madhu was a young mother and housewife with a desire to do more.  As her sons began to grow, she became more involved in their education. She even began taking classes to learn English. In an effort to enroll her son in a prestigious English medium academy, she met with the school director and was miraculously offered a position as a teacher. Although Madhu was still an intermediate English speaker, she convinced her family to allow her to accept the offer, and committed herself to teaching during the day and learning English in the evenings.

Although Madhu was a successful and beloved teacher, after four years of working in the school she shifted to work in the nonprofit sector as a social worker. For five years she mainly worked in the slum areas outside Jodhpur as a program coordinator with an American NGO. Her work spanned many areas and she was able to assist in supporting female sex workers, HIV/AIDS awareness, microfinance, skills training, and sex worker education.

When attending a wedding in Bhikamkor, the rural village of her husband’s family, Madhu was exposed to the disadvantaged status of the village women.  She was so inspired by the women’s ability to support their families with little means. From her encounters with the village women, Madhu decided to educate herself more on sustainable development and enrolled in a certificate course at the University of California Berkeley. 

With only $100, the first humanitarian workshops in the village were established. Unfortunately, the women were unable to use this new information because they had no income. However, Madhu saw that every woman in the village owned a sewing machine as part of their marriage dowry.  She saw this as an opportunity to begin a skills training course as part of a fashion social enterprise. 

This came to be known as the Saheli Woman Project, which comes from the Hindi word for ‘female friend’.  This project began to grow and more brands began to partner with the women producers. As Saheli grew, Madhu realized that the young girls in the village needed support, and started the girls education project. 

The philosophy of IPHD revolves around sustainability.  Every aspect of the organization is designed consciously, with the goal of preserved growth.  The main revenue source of IPHD comes from intern fees, not donations. Through this consistent stream of college age volunteers, IPHD is able to utilize students’ various skill sets in a sustainable way, so that the relatively short stay of volunteers does not negatively impact the village people. IPHD trains Bhikamkor locals to act as managers, teachers, and education advocates, individuals that will have a lasting presence in the community. 

Her hope for IPHD is to use Saheli Woman as a tool to empower women as a means of community development. In the future she hopes to expand Saheli Women into nearby villages, and enroll every young girl in the village in school.   

“No girls should be deprived from their education just because of small barriers.” 

-Madhu Vaishnav

Pictured Madhu (center left) with ladies from the Saheli Center

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