CII Foundation Woman Exemplar Award 2020

29 Sep 2020

To celebrate the untiring spirit of women who have battled all odds to emerge as winners in their life and leaders for other underprivileged women, the Confederation of Indian Industry launched the CII Woman Exemplar Award in 2005, which was repositioned as the CII Foundation Woman Exemplar Award in 2011. 

Each year, 15 women are shortlisted from nominations received from across the country, and three winners are recipients of the Award in the categories of Health, Education and Micro-Enterprise. 

In its 15th year, CII Foundation is proud to be associated with women of such grit and courage and presents the winners of the CII Foundation Woman Exemplar Award for 2020.

Rekha Bhandare: As the only daughter of a devadasi mother, Rekha was dedicated to a goddess at the age of ten years, and condemned to sexual violence, social stigma, and discrimination. Having been rescued after years of struggle, she emerged from the crushing practice and worked tirelessly for over 25 years to successfully abolish the practice in Belgaum, Karnataka. Championing the cause of education and child protection, she has impacted more than 55,000 women and children through her work. She receives the award in the education category.

Sumitra Gagrai: Born into the indigenous Ho tribe, Sumitra fought poverty and illness to emerge as a health change agent. Working in the interiors of Jharkhand, she and her team have impacted 36,000 tribal women, reducing maternal and neonatal deaths. Sumitra joined Ekjut, a pioneering rural health program, at the age of 17 when she was struggling with her own health challenges. She has gone on to become a ground-up health champion. By building linkages between maternal and neonatal health, nutrition, gender-based violence, and mental health, Sumitra is creating a culture of health awareness and care in West Singhbhum, a district in Jharkhand with very poor health indicators. She receives the award in the Health Category. 

Chandrakali Markam: Born into a low-income family and married into one at the tender age of 11, she had to give up her formal education after class five to shoulder the responsibility of a house, and work in the fields. She battled extreme poverty to not only pull her family out of crushing poverty through small SHG savings but grew a federation of SHGs to impact the lives of 6000 Adivasi women through the SHG federation. This experience of economic empowerment drove her to grow a federation of 507 SHGs in Dindori district, spread across 53 villages in Samnapur block. Chandrakali also spearheaded the formation of a poultry cooperative in her block in 2006. It currently has 360 producer members from 23 villages. Most of the producers are landless Adivasis. In the remote interiors of a region that has remained untouched by the eco-system and culture of entrepreneurship, Chandrakali is moving women from landless families to think of businesses such as mushroom cultivation and promote village ventures. She receives the award in the Micro Enterprise Category

Over the decades, the Woman Exemplar Program has created a network of grassroots women leaders who are driving real change. These women, with resilience, vision and leadership, have not only transformed their lives but have created a significant impact in the communities they work with through the 4 R’s: 

Resistance, Resilience, Relationships and Resurgence of new leaders

The Program not only identifies and recognises women but also mentors and trains them. It also provides access to a pan-India network of 95 Exemplars who can further help expand the network to create outwardly expanding circles of concern and influence.

“Just like a fragrance trapped in a bottle; if there is anyone to open the bottle and set the fragrance free, then I would give that credit to CII Foundation.” 

– Munni Begam, Woman Exemplar 2018, Education Category

To learn more about the program and get involved, please visit

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