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Mirai Chatterjee

For the past 40 years Mirai has been at the forefront of improving the health and financial security of millions of women working in India’s informal sector. Mirai leads the Social Security Team of the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), a national union of 2.5 million members in India. SEWA helps informal women workers obtain work and income security, financial services, organize child care, primary health care, housing with water and sanitation and insurance, among many other activities and support services. She joined the organization in 1984 after completing her Johns Hopkins University field research with the organization. Since then, she has been instrumental in focusing the attention of both Indian and global policymakers on the health of poor people, particularly women. Her work with international agencies and the Indian government has highlighted the importance of issues such as gender inequity, education, and sanitation in public health.

Mirai serves as Chairperson of the global informal workers and policy-makers network, WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment Globalising and Organising), and on the Boards of several organizations, including the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. She was advisor to the National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector and is in the Advisory Group on Community Action of the National Rural Health Mission. She was also a Commissioner in the World Health Organization’s Commission on the Social Determinants of Health. In addition, she was a member of the High-Level Expert Group on Universal Health Coverage set up by the Planning Commission of India in 2010. She is a former member of the National Advisory Council (NAC), appointed by the Prime Minister of India in 2010. She was conferred the Global Achievement award by the School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University. Mirai holds a bachelor in History and Science from Harvard University and a Master's in Health Sciences from Johns Hopkins University.

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Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA)
Hybrid Social Enterprise
Gender Inequality; Entrepreneurship
Areas of Impact
South Asia, India

Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA)

SEWA provides comprehensive support to poor, self-employed women. Its efforts over four decades to increase the bargaining power, economic opportunities, health security, legal representation and organizational abilities of Indian women have brought dramatic improvements to thousands and influenced similar initiatives around the globe.

Based in the Indian state of Gujarat, SEWA’s 1.3 million members include 700,000 women within the state, representing +100 informal trades, and an additional 600,000 members in 8 other states. It is the largest women’s union in India, offering its members an array of financial, health, childcare, insurance, legal, vocational and education services. Its members have created 103 cooperatives, over 3,000 producers groups, forged market links and enhanced bargaining positions.

These successful efforts increased members' employment income by 600% from 1994 to 1998. SEWA Bank, with 400,000 savers, has issued loans to thousands of members. To provide for members' healthcare, it helped start a health cooperative and developed an insurance programme that provides coverage for hospitalization, accidents and loss of life. A SEWA-affiliated team of 500 midwives and health workers serves the healthcare needs of 300,000 individuals, and the insurance programme has developed into the VimoSEWA cooperative, India’s first such national-level organization.

SEWA also uses video, telephone, computer and satellite communications to provide information technology to the working class. To address legal issues such as housing, wage disputes and other exploitative issues, it offers its members legal aid services. Currently, SEWA leaders dedicate their time to influence national and international policies that offer support to informal and self-employed workers globally.


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