Women’s History Month – In Conversation with Rupa Bohra Managing Director at TNS India Foundation

Rupa Bohra Managing Director at TNS India Foundation
Rupa Bohra Managing Director at TNS India Foundation

TNS India Foundation is a non-profit development organization that operates in India with the goal of promoting national economic development. Their vision is for India to become a country with a highly skilled workforce and inclusive, thriving communities. TNS India Foundation was previously a brand affiliate of TechnoServe Inc. and operates as a section 25 organization. Their focus is on performance-driven initiatives that will help achieve their overarching goal of economic development in India.

Could you please tell us about TNS Foundation?

We choose to define ourselves as partners in economic transformation. It’s my biggest aggravation to see economic inequality especially viewing through the gender lens. That is a big area to work on. We work with primarily women beneficiaries to help them cultivate skills that will help build economic resilience. We ask ourselves these questions- when we look at a woman entrepreneur in a rural setting, how do we see an income increase for her? How do we increase agency for her- in family matters, financial matters, and setting up as a member of the FPO? How can we do that? That is what we aim to achieve at TNS India.

Along with that, we also work with women entrepreneurs in urban spaces. This includes small merchant women- like tailors, who are looking to build businesses. And thirdly, as our nation is moving towards a service economy- we work on helping women build skills to help them seek employment in the formal sector.

You mentioned FPOs, what is TNS India’s work with FPOs like?

We work on building economic resilience for small-holding farmers- men and women. As we are all well aware of, land ownership of farmers is less in rural areas. And even lesser for women. So, we are working towards creating spaces for women there as well.

What inspired you to work with FPOs?

I wouldn’t call in an inspiration to work with FPOs, as much as it was an inspiration to work with women. It was also from the hereditary standpoint, we run the largest girls' college in Andhra. FPOs in particular, because while we see a lot of women participating in urban areas, there are still fewer women in rural areas. Patriarchy is still strong in rural India. That is why we choose to work with institutions like FPOs that are long-term to help women associated with them build their economic resilience.

Who would you say are your Women Role models?

I wouldn’t say I have a woman role model. At every stage of my career, I find myself having different role models. My great-grandfather was a great visionary. He always stressed that education is very important. It is the ultimate equalizer. The ideas with which I grew up laid the foundation for a lot of my present work.  Supporting women, and commitment to the cause from my grandfather.

I worked for fifteen years in the banking industry. I had many mentors and guides- one of whom is Kaku Nakhate, the current Chairman of Bank of America in India. I witnessed her brilliance, commitment, uncompromising attitude towards quality, and attention to detail. She was a woman in a man’s world and from her, I learnt about businesses, and client relationships.

I did a lot of research before I got into the social sector. And one of the women who I came across and was highly inspired by is Ela Bhatt, founder of SEWA. She has helped create women leaders across geographies, building economic resilience through layers. Success for women in India will come only if there is a systemic change. We need to build institutions that bring change, like Ela Bhatt. That is what India needs.

What are some personal challenges you came across as a woman? How did you overcome it?

Gender biases exist in tech, banking or social sectors. And I’ve come across my share of challenges. What I firmly believe is that the value system with which you are brought up, work with like sincerity, and ability to face challenges have played a role in me overcoming this. Women, have to face gender biases in all industries. As women, we have an inherent hunger to prove ourselves. And this hunger, I have witnessed is not just to prove themselves to men but to themselves, to an entire lineage and become role models for the next generation. I have not seen a place free of gender biases. But ultimately, your commitment and your ability to deliver more and more are what make you stand out.

What changes do you want to see by 2024?

At TNS India, we are working towards building a Centre of excellence in the rural spaces for women entrepreneurs- agripreneurs, agri enterprises. We want to create a model that other NGOs can emulate as well.  We don’t just want to impart a skill but give them leadership training so that they can go forward with the skill. I want to see our women coming on platforms like Shark Tank India, perhaps, giving interviews on platforms like yours. I see that happening for TNS India by next year.  

Could you tell us about success stories written by TNS India?

We’ve got many success stories. A woman belonging to the Nashik area is one of our stories. Many women have small businesses in the area which got cut down during Covid-19. And it was the same for Kamla, tough to run anything. But she didn’t shut shop as many women did then. She reached out to us and asked us to connect all over India. That courage to reach out is what we look for. The drive to provide for their families is what makes women like her stand out.  We are now working on building bioresources, and local businesses, we want businesses with a strong urban connection.  We want to help women create value-added products.

Where in India is TNS Foundation currently working?

We work in pan India. This includes Maharashtra, Pondicherry, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, and Karnataka. And we work in different sectors – women entrepreneurs, agri-work, and skilling. But our main goal is to help beneficiaries build economic resilience. We are partners in the economic transformation to create long-term change in the lives of our beneficiaries.

How can a farmer or an FPO join TNS India?

We are a not-for-profit organization. So, that means corporates fund us. We go to locations where there are no FPOs or FPOs with low participation. We either create FPOs or get men and women to participate in them.  We work keeping in mind the input side and the business standpoint.

Could you leave us with a final message for our readers?

There are two messages I would like to leave you with. Firstly, let’s celebrate the achievement and commitment of women in our lives. Our mothers most of whom are resilient homemakers, sisters who may be doing extremely well in their career- lets enjoy and celebrate their achievements.

And secondly- for all men and women- believe in the power of one. Identify one woman you want to support. Whether it is providing her with exposure, education. Any way in which you would want to support her. One of the best ways to empower women is by contributing to the power of one.

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