Hillary Clinton called Ela ‘personal hero’, SEWA ahead of time
Former First Lady of the US, Hillary Clinton, counted Ela Bhatt, the founder of SEWA, as “one of her personal heroes”. Clinton and Bhatt knew each other since 1995 when the former visited the SEWA headquarters in Ahmedabad. Clinton was impressed by the organization’s 1.4 lakh members and their work to empower women by offering microloans.
In 2012, Clinton, then US secretary of state, wrote in a social media post: “Back in 1995, I met a woman named Ela Bhatt in India who was already 20 years into a revolutionary experiment. In 1972, she started an organisation to give women small loans that could help them find fulfilment in their work and contribute to their family’s well-being. It was called the Self-Employed Women’s Association, or SEWA.”
“SEWA’s 1.4 lakh members included some of the poorest women in India with the least access to education. Some had lived in purdah until their husbands died, became disabled, or left… SEWA offered them small loans to enable them to earn their income, taught them how to read, and gave them lessons in running small shops and businesses,” Clinton wrote, adding: “Ela and SEWA have always been ahead of their time.”
“On that first visit, I’ll never forget the sight of thousands of women in every colour of sari, sharing how SEWA had changed their lives by giving them freedom and opportunity,” said Clinton in her post, adding, “One of my personal heroes is Ela Bhatt, who has provided microloans to women in India for 46 years. Her work embodies the principle that every person should have the chance to achieve their dreams and make the most of their God-given potential.”
The two stayed in touch over the years, and Clinton visited SEWA’s retail shop in Mumbai in 2009. “I had a chance to visit Ela and the women of SEWA in the same place I first visited 23 years ago. Now they’re two million members strong, and there are two or three generations of SEWA women, all of whom are working to improve their own lives and uplift their families, communities, and country,” Clinton wrote.