Recognising and Empowering Grassroots-level Changemakers

26 Aug 2021

India’s vast population of grassroots-level women face innumerable challenges. Economic hardship, social discrimination and lack of opportunities are present at almost every step of their lives. Yet, several women rise above their crippling circumstances to chart a new course for themselves and emerge as changemakers, driving social change.

To recognize and celebrate such women, the Confederation of Indian Industry launched the CII Woman Exemplar Award in 2005, repositioned as the CII Foundation Woman Exemplar Award in 2011. The women are called Exemplars since they serve as examples for other women, inspiring them with their strength in beating the odds to transform into empowered women.

Each year, the CII Foundation receives hundreds of nominations from across the country. For the 2021 Woman Exemplar Award, supported by CLP India, CII Foundation received 254 nominations. Of these, 15 were chosen as finalists after a rigorous selection process.

From the 15 finalists, three winners are selected for the CII Foundation Woman Exemplar Award in the categories of Health, Education and Micro-enterprise by an eminent jury drawn from the industry, media, and the social sector. Each winner receives a trophy, a citation, and a cash award of Rs three lakh.

The CII Foundation is proud to be associated with women of such grit and courage and presents the CII Foundation Woman Exemplar Award winners for 2021.

Reeta Kaushik from Kushinagar District, Uttar Pradesh

Winner: Education Category

Despite wanting to study, Reeta Kaushik could not because of poverty, even as her brothers went to school. Determined to change the situation, she moved from being the chaperone to her school-going younger brothers to being a student herself. As a Dalit in Uttar Pradesh, she faced and fought caste-based discrimination throughout her school and work life. Reeta was the first girl from her village to go to school. A staunch believer of Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar’s vision that only education can lead to the true emancipation of Dalits, Reeta was driven to take up endeavours to create educational opportunities in Musahar and Dalit communities. Working with these communities to develop in them the desire to educate their children, Reeta has helped over 25,000 children through direct linkages and bridge courses.

Dhapu Devi from Ajmer district, Rajasthan

Winner: Health Category

Dhapu Devi received no formal schooling, but this determined woman was passionate about working for malnourished children and anaemic women after a nutritious mixture saved the life of her child. Inspired by the potential of such nutritious mixtures to address malnutrition, she set up a production unit to manufacture Super 5, or Amritchuran. Learning on the job and training for months, she leads the production unit and caters to the healthcare needs of women and children. Dhapu supplies Super 5 to 40 villages in Ajmer district through a network of women entrepreneurs. The intake of this miracle mixture has helped over 24,000 women and children beat malnutrition and anaemia. Currently producing Super 5 at double capacity, Dhapu aims to spread the net of health and nutrition to other states.

Minu Mandrawaliya from Ajmer District, Rajasthan

Winner: Micro-enterprise category

Minu was afflicted by polio as a child, and the world reminded her of it at every given opportunity. But the young child did not focus on her disability or let it become a hindrance. Passionate about learning, she focussed on what she could do and learnt how to stitch bags. Within a year, she became a master trainer. Since then, she has spread the net of training wider in the Ajmer district. Minu’s training programmes not only teach a skill but also develop a woman’s personality and self-worth. Covering the length and breadth of Ajmer with the help of her crutches, Minu’s never-back-down attitude has helped her train over 13000 women, and she serves as an inspiration for them.

Today, there is a pan-India network of almost 100 Exemplars driving change with their vision and leadership. The CII Foundation recognises these women and mentors and trains them to help them scale up their work for the greater good.

The Woman Exemplar Program builds the capacity of the cohort of 15 women through coaching and mentoring with social development and CSR experts. The cohort of 15 Exemplars undergo:

• Leadership training after a detailed mapping of their strengths and weaknesses. They are trained to create strong organisations by mapping resources and understanding the role of Government at various levels, among other things

• Community resilience training to build strong community connections and build community support networks to face the long-term impact of any disaster

• Health and hygiene information training to prevent the spread of disease and infection

• Specialised sector inputs pertaining to their sector (Health/Education/Livelihood) to prepare them for any challenges they may face in their work.

The CII Foundation Woman Exemplar Program aims to drive social transformation through these grassroots women leaders and accelerate India’s inclusive development. To learn more about the program and get involved, please visit

The article first appeared in the August 2021 issue of the CII Communique. Click here to read.

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