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Climate Saathis (partners) for resilient livelihoods of informal sector women workers in urban India

Building knowledge partnerships for resilience action among the poor women to protect their livelihoods and assets from Climate Risks

Photo of Bijal Brahmbhatt

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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional Beneficiary Feedback in this field

We have two different types of user experiences- the Climate Saathi and the informal sector women workers as both are our clients and we aim to reach out both these groups in different ways. It is important to understand that while the Climate Saathi would be earning a direct income from the initiative, the other women would benefit through savings and reduced losses. Our user map focuses on the Climate Saathi, while also trying to incorporate the informal workers perspective.

Explain your project idea in two sentences.

Create a network of 1200 Climate Saathis, to develop and promote climate resilient solutions, to save informal sector livelihoods, while also earning in the process by being part of the market chain.

What is your organization name? Explain your organization in one sentence.

Mahila Housing Sewa Trust empowers women to upgrade their habitats for better productivity/ incomes

Is this project idea new for you or your organization? If no, how much have you already executed on?

The idea is not completely new as we have been working on building capacities of these Saathis on climate resilience for the last 3 years and the women are ready to take charge. We now aim to convert this into an enterprise to enable women to earn while they learn and build resilient communities.

What is the problem you aim to solve with this idea? How would you define this problem as urgent and a priority in your target community?

Indian cities are already facing severe heat waves and rainfall extremes. These stresses impact the informal sector workers even more as they do not have access to knowledge and/ or technical solutions. For them saving their assets and raw materials and maintaining their health is a high priority.

What is the timeline for your project idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

Our project is looking at a time line of 3 years. The key steps include: 1) Creating a knowledge partnership between technical experts and Climate Saathis- For co-creation/validation of resilient solutions 2) Supporting the women to create a core enterprise in each city- Building business capacities 3) Piloting the "Snowball Effect" market chain development through the 1200 Climate Saathis- Setting marketing systems and processes including an online platform to maintain the huge database

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of responsibility).

MHT will be the lead team implementing the idea on the ground. Our technical partners will provide trainings on validation and co-creation of technologies; communication partners will support marketing strategies/ products; and systems partners will support environment creation with communities.

What do you need the most support with in this project idea?

  • Business Development/Partnerships

What is your primary goal over the next 6 weeks of Refinement?

  • Get exposure to design thinking and IDEO

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) results for this project?

The results of our current work is measured through: a) Increased Resilience of the Women to Climate Change Stresses. While this will remain the core focus, we would also like to measure: b) Direct income of the Climate Saathis through resilient enterprises; and c) Financial sustainability of the city level enterprise.

How has your project proposal changed due to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase?

We were earlier focusing only on two levels of incentive system as part of our model- for the lead entrepreneur and the Climate Saathis. However, interaction with the users has lead us to think about exploring the snowball effect market chain. Another major learning has been that while the poor want solutions to be cost effective they are also conscious of aesthetics and long term effectiveness.

(Optional) What are some of your still unanswered questions or concerns about this idea?

The initial idea was to create a market chain only for the 1200 Climate Saathis. This was easily doable as we have earlier experience of our energy audit programm of how awareness building communication and marketing strategies can be combined for better adoption of products. However creating a snowball effect while seems very attractive and effective would need us to invest in backend technology partnerships. We have still not sought how we will do this in detail.

Explain your idea

Climate related disasters- floods, cyclones, often gather more attention than the less apparent climate stressors, - heat, inundation, water shortage and vector borne diseases, which impact the poor more chronically. Most poor, particularly women in informal sector, face constant loss of livelihood, health and assets due to these stressors. Our assessment of women in 50 slums of South Asia has shown that home based workers or street vendors often lose 20 to 30% of their productivity due to heat waves; many also lose their wages due to water scarcity and/or illness in the family. Caught in a “poverty trap,” the poor are bound to become poorer due to climate change. These issues, hardly ever capture national attention as they don’t make a photo-picture. It is but important that the risks and vulnerabilities of these women are also analysed and pursued for finding solutions to their problems. Our idea is to create a network of 1200 Climate Saathis, as protagonist, to take up these issues within their own communities and at city level. We will do this by building their capacities on climate risks and vulnerability assessment, finding solutions and taking resilience action. Achieving this, has two barriers: a) Climate Change is a complex science and unbundling it requires multiple stakeholders and knowledge groups to come together; and b) It is futuristic and uncertain- for the poor women there are much pressing problems of meeting their daily needs of today. We thus aim to create a multi-stakeholder knowledge sharing and deliberation process, wherein women will work together with scientists, academics, government and local entrepreneurs for "co-creation" of solutions which not only help them adapt to current climate risks and resource vulnerabilities but also open new livelihood avenues for them. While this concept has been recognised in theory, it is yet to be demonstrated on the ground. The challenge, we address here is how one “engineers” such a process. This requires intensive mediation, moderation, adaptive management tools for cross learning between the technical experts and communities and creation of safe spaces for dialogue which our team facilitates. For the wider audience, this means developing and demonstrating a theory of change with "social processes" as the focal point against "technology products". We would actually demonstrate how "Knowledge Partnerships" can work for poor women. Ultimately “learning” always occurs “by doing” and hence we have already started to work. We have created innovative communication tools which helps women absorb and apply scientific knowledge and be able to work as partners rather than beneficiaries with experts. This brings in a strong “solution finding” focus in all our work, which ultimately leads to change. We now focus on creating local enterprises around the solution, to help these women traverse their current poverty thresholds while continuing to work for creating awareness on climate change.

Who Benefits?

The informal sector workers, particularly women, are one of the most vulnerable to climate change. Our model is being developed around their resilience needs being paramount. We also want them to be the first direct beneficiaries of the resilience dividend that we are able to get either through having more efficient resource management or through eco-friendly livelihood options. Our idea is to create a team of 1200 Climate Saathis for providing climate resilience building services and products to their own communities. We aim to create processes so that these women will earn while creating awareness of the issue of climate change, its risks and possible action, to 25000 women slum dwellers in 5 cities of India- Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Bhubhaneshwar, Jaipur, and Ranchi. These 25000 women will have demonstrated a change in their behaviours and investment practices to have adopted a more resilient way of life which would reduce their current loss of livelihood and health due to climate change.

How is your idea unique?

Pro-poor resilience requires partnerships across levels and sectors. The uniqueness of our model lies in the fact that rather than creating platforms for multi-stakeholder engagement we promote multi-stakeholder processes, with the women whose resilience is at stake at the “core”. We enable and empower the Climate Saathis to identify their risks and solve their problems. By adopting this approach we have managed to keep the “solution finding” approach and “poverty focus” at our core. At the same time our team of partners- public health, geo-hydrology, civil engineers, architects, urban planners, environmentalists, sociologist, economist, and communication experts- brings together a multi-disciplinary approach. Interacting with a diverse team, not only helps look at the problem in an integrated manner but also identify cross cutting solutions across sectors. Further converting the solutions into local enterprises is what makes the idea unique and sustainable in the long run.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about you

I am the Director of Mahila Housing Trust (MHT) a not-for-profit organisation working for last 2 decades to empower women leaders from slums in India to organize themselves and partner with city governments for better habitats and pro-poor urban planning. Our head office is based in Ahmedabad (India) but through our team of grassroot mobilisers and other partners we have been working in more than 12 cities of India and recently also started to explore cross-transfer of our bottom-up resilience model in Kathmandu (Nepal) and Dhaka (Bangladesh). Our core work is to promote community-based organisations at slum and city level; train the women leaders on urban governance and support them to leverage government services for themselves. Together, we have enabled more than 500,000 people in 400 plus slum communities to get access to water, sanitation, energy and/or housing services. Since 2014, we have also incorporated a climate change adaptation and resilience perspective in our work with a view to make the investments for the poor more sustainable and to look for development solutions which are not only eco-friendly and cost effective but also provide a scope for income generation for the communities. Towards this, we have piloted a unique socio-technical partnership model of 1200 women leaders, and 20 experts from various fields like water, vectors, public health, architecture, civil engineering, urban planning, risk management and communications to implement a Women-led Urban Resilience Partnership project in 7 cities of South Asia. We are currently working towards standardizing the operating procedures of our model to create a prototype for community-led resilient development, validate the transferability of the approach across geographies and to scale our outreach to one million people by 2020. The key role of each of the partners for this project will be: A) Community leaders- to mobilize their own communities, design their own solutions and take charge of their lives; B) Municipal Councillors and City Governments- by providing the necessary space for community to raise their voices; C) Indian Institute of Public Health, Free University of Berlin and Local Health Departments- to transfer scientific knowledge on heat, water and vector stress to communities and enable participatory research on communities own surveillance data; D) Center for Environment Education and Onion Development Pvt Ltd- to create innovative communication tools for knowledge transfer and behaviour change; E) Georgia Tech University- to enable a systems thinking and environment vs growth negotiation approach to urban planning choices; and F) MHT- build capacities of community leaders and act as a bridge organisation between all the above to create tools for cross learning and sharing of knowledge and to facilitate the same in a way that all processes have a multi-stakeholder perspective and to create multiple layers of stakeholder engagement.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.
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Team (6)

Theresa's profile

Role added on team:

"A Geo-hydrology researcher undertaking a participatory research at Jaipur and works with local Climate Saathis to build their capacities of integrated water management"

Bijal's profile
Dharmistha's profile
Dharmistha Chauhan

Role added on team:

"Is the Convenor of the Partnership and leads the programme at MHT"

Srishti's profile
Srishti Singh

Role added on team:

"Helps builds community understanding on Climate Risks and Vulnerabilities"

Veena's profile

Role added on team:

"A public health expert works with Climate Saathis in Ahmedabad for understanding water as a city level resource and its implications on health."

Rohit's profile

Role added on team:

"Leads the Integrated Voice Response System (IVRS) platform for enabling mass communication using mobile phones"


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Bijal,

If you have any issues uploading information or editing your submission post, please do send me an email. My email address is

Madiha Ahmed - I am wondering if you have any feedback on this project proposal.

Photo of Madiha Ahmed

Kate and Bijal , love the idea.

I'm wondering if these women will be able to grasp the concepts ? If they would have that time and permission? In India even today women have restrictions. Bijal, I am curious to know what kind of response you have received from the families of these women?

Photo of Bijal Brahmbhatt

Yes Madiha, women still have some restrictions on mobility, although things have improved a lot now. But we have been working on organising women since last two decades and over time we have created a network of grass root women workers who come from the very communities we work with, can relate to them and have devised innovative ways of navigating the challenges:). The fact that the women leaders actually manage to make a change in the habitat conditions of the community and liasion with city officials has more often than not been met with a positive response from their families. But this is not to say the road is without challenges, we do face a lot of barriers when we work towards negotiating women's resource rights (especially their right to the legal titles) within the families. What helps most is the power of organisation- the fact that we dont only mobilse women but organise them at multiple levels has been one of the key enabling factors in our work.

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