The story goes back to a literacy drive organised in 1997. SMILE outlet at Vishrambaugwada There were about 52,000 illiterate people in the city, out of which 80 per cent were women. 4,000 volunteers educated people across the city, and the drive was a resounding success. The volunteers taught slum dwellers how to read and write, even under the lamplight.
The success of the literacy drive emphasized the need for, and the benefits of, a comprehensive empowerment programme. The brainchild of former Mayor Vandana Chavan, the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) liked it and decided to adopt it. SMILE had embarked on a massive literacy drive covering over 35000 women. Functional literacy was more important than just tap the creative abilities in rural women. In this drive over 2000 neighborhood Self Help Groups, wih 50 women in each group, were formed with the initiative of Pune Municipal Corporation. Rural women have lot of talents in them and there was a need to provide an opportunity to bring out their talents and provide them with some opportunity”.
SMILE [Savitri Marketing Institution for Ladies Empowerment], an umbrella for women to come together and sell homemade wares, is a marketing system developed by Sfurti Mahila Mandal and the Urban Community Development Department of the Pune Municipal Corporation to help underpriviledged women and the physically or mentally challenged. Initially the system was restricted to women below the poverty line (BPL), but the quality was not always up to mark. To ensure the quality, the products were sent back with suggestions for improvement or rejected almost 60 per cent of the times. And so the unique concept of “twinning” came about. So a project called ‘twinning’ was started, in which one economically underprivileged woman was paired with someone who was comfortably off. While one had the time and dedication, the other lent support in terms of taste, colour schemes and good finish. This avoided the consumer to from compromising on quality. It’s a philosophy that has worked well and the outlets at Vishrambaug Wada, Lokmanya Nagar and the newly opened one near Katraj Snake Park, rake in substantial returns every day.
Managed by the women themselves, SMILE has been able to do so well because of the network built by them during the literacy drive. SMILE outlet at Lokmanya Nagar, the shops stock various products like crocheted and handmade paper articles, different kinds of wall-hangings, baby sets and food products like papad and pickles. The success of the stores has not only made the women self-sufficient, but has also shown them that the sky is the limit. Thanks to the efforts of Urban Community Development (UCD) department of the Pune Municipal Corporation and Sfurti Manila Mandal, the Savitri Marketing Institution for Ladies empowerment (SMILE) there is a ‘SMILE’ on the faces of thousands of women.
The movement which begun two years ago has benefited thousands of the women in Pune region, not only by providing them with employment opportunities but empowering them in many other areas. Today there are many success stories of unemployed women turning into successful entrepreneurs. To empower women, the neighborhood self-help groups were given authority and responsibility to function on their own. The formation of neighborhood self-help groups has helped them to channelize several other welfare programmes of State and Central Government for the welfare of women. The women would jointly meet and take initiative, be it about manufacturing or Reproductive Child Health education, or health awareness or any other subject. However manufacturing any product does not help and there was a need to provide a market for the goods manufactured or the service potential of these women and that is how SMILE was born. To help the ‘not so fortunate’, SMILE is trying to teach them some craft or occupation by which they can get some measure of economic freedom and inturn improve the quality of their lives. With the overwhelming response, Pune Municipal Corporation and Sfurti Manila Mandal are planning to set up three more centres in Pune.