`Let them fly…’: How UMEED has helped Kashmir women to turn dreams into reality

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Srinagar:  Struggling against the tide of financial hardship, Zahida had given up on her dreams to complete her higher education.  “Our monthly income was 5000, my father was a carpenter. After my B. Tech, I gave up and stopped my education as we couldn’t afford it,” she said.

However, the introduction of the UMEED scheme proved to be a turning point in Zahida’s life. “A social mobilization round got started in our area in which I came to know about the scheme. I felt like God had listened to my heartbreak appeal,” she said.

Joining a self-help group under the scheme, the 29-year-old seized the opportunity to secure a loan of Rs 800,000 and embarked on a journey towards financial independence. Collaborating with her father, she established a furniture factory, realizing both her entrepreneurial ambitions and her educational aspirations.

“Because of the scheme, I have received a lot of benefits. I started a factory of furniture with my father. Not only that, I also became able to complete my MTech, which is a big achievement for me,” Zahida said.

Beyond her achievements, Zahida’s enterprise has had a ripple effect on her community. By providing employment opportunities for numerous laborers in her factory, Zahida has contributed to a significant increase in her family’s monthly income, from Rs 5000 to Rs 50,000.

“Some have started their boutique, and some have pursued their interests. I am very grateful for this scheme and urge the ladies to benefit from it to become financially independent,” she said.

Zahida is not an isolated case. UMEED has been successful in uplifting rural communities in Jammu and Kashmir by providing them with the support and resources they require to enhance their lives. The scheme’s focus on women and underprivileged groups strives to establish a more inclusive and sustainable economic environment in rural areas. The inclusion of self-help groups has been critical to the program’s success since it encourages communities to take charge of their development and make a long-term impact.

The eligibility criteria for the UMEED scheme are simple with the primary focus being on women and residents of rural households in Jammu and Kashmir.

Mission Director of JKRLM, Indu Kanwal Chib told the Kashmir Monitor that by targeting those who are most in need of support, the program can effectively reach those women who can benefit the most from its services. “Through skill development training, access to credit facilities, and market linkages, the UMEED scheme is helping rural communities in Kashmir to break the cycle of poverty and improve their standard of life,” she said.

According to official data accessed by the Kashmir Monitor the scheme has been implemented effectively in Jammu & Kashmir with a wide reach across all 20 districts and 285 CD blocks.

Data reveals that so far, 7.37 lakh rural women have been federated into over 89000 Self Help Groups (SHGs) and the rural women associated with JKRLM have been disbursed Rs 421 crores in terms of Revolving Fund and Community Investment Fund, which remains as a corpus fund within the hierarchy of Community Based Organization (CBOs) for easy access to any SHG women member.

According to the data from 2013-2024, 63828 rural women have been federated into 7328 SHGs in Anantnag, 23787 into 2770 SHGs in Bandipora, 69049 into 8605 SHGs in Baramulla, 50667 into 8605 SHGs in Budgam, 29712 into 4212 SHGs in Doda, 21284 into 2531 SHGs in Ganderbal, 21284 into 2531 SHGs in Jammu, 44957 into 5329 SHGs in Kathua, 18332 into 2639 SHGs in Kishtwar, 33823 into 3834 SHGs in Kulgam, 65923 into 8017 SHGs in Kupwara, 27170 into 3854 SHGs in Poonch, 30910 into 3486 SHGs in Pulwama, 47515 into 6277 SHGs in Rajauri, 22122 into 3010 SHGs in Ramban, 25470 into 3016 SHGs in Reasi, 31745 into 3529 SHGs in Samba, 17721 into 2221 SHGs in Shopian, 4410 into 507 in Srinagar.  

“Digitization efforts have also been successful with 3.67 lakh members tracked under the “Aajeevika JK” portal and 551 Digi-pay sakhis equipped with AEPS devices. Additionally, under financial inclusion 47167 SHGs have been credited linked with the banks under multiple doses, and an amount of Rs. 1801.50 Crores stands disbursed to these SHGs,” said Indu.

She also said that skill development plays a vital role with over 5200 Self Help Group women trained in 16 skill trades in collaboration with the Skill Development department. “Market linkage has been strengthened through initiatives like the “UMEED Women’s Haat” and the establishment of sale outlets at the Airports under the AVSAR Scheme. Additionally, District Rural Haats and Village Rural Haats have been established to provide more opportunities for marketing SHG produce. Overall, the scheme has had a significant impact on the livelihoods of rural communities in Kashmir by providing them with access to capital, digitization, financial inclusion, skill development, and market linkages, ultimately contributing to their socio-economic empowerment,” she said.

According to officials, to maintain the JKRLM’s long-term viability, numerous initiatives have been implemented, including SHG capacity building, encouraging the creation of producer groups and federations, ensuring access to financial services, and promoting natural resource management practices.

“The sustainability of the Rural Livelihood Mission in Kashmir is ensured through a combination of measures which are Capacity building where training and capacity building programs are in place to empower local communities to take ownership of the scheme and participate in its implementation effectively. Monitoring processes are conducted to assess the impact of the scheme and identify areas for improvement, ensuring that resources are allocated efficiently and effectively, Partnerships and Collaborations where JKRLM collaborates with different line departments, and other stakeholders to leverage resources, expertise, and networks for the implementation of its programs,” said Indu.

Indu also said that the mission aims to significantly enhance the scope and impact of the Start-up Village Entrepreneurship Program( SVEP,) Micro-Enterprise Development (MED), and cluster interventions, alongside non-farm interventions. “The strategy involves extending support to over 50,000 enterprises through these initiatives, marking a substantial increase in outreach and assistance for budding entrepreneurs and businesses. Additionally, efforts will be directed towards strengthening the professionalism of the scheme, ensuring a more robust and effective framework for nurturing entrepreneurship and fostering economic growth on a broader scale,” she said.