The CII Foundation Woman Exemplar Program recognizes exemplary women working at the grassroots.The program, since its inception in 2005, promotes women’s empowerment at the community level by discovering, recognizing and supporting those who have, against all odds, excelled and contributed significantly to the development process in India.
100+ Woman Exemplars impacting the lives of 2 million people
Become a part of a network of women working to transform India
The Woman Exemplar Award is conferred on women working at the grassroots
who have contributed significantly in the fields of:
Education, Health, Micro Enterprise
The Award is called EXEMPLAR because the winning change makers demonstrate vision, resilience and role model leadership, setting an example for others, and igniting the spirit and the belief among them that they too can be empowered. The exemplars are self-motivated individuals, who transform their own lives and that of their societies.
Since its inception, 100+ Woman Exemplars have been identified
Network of 100+ exemplary women change makers
Reaching out to over 15 L people
Pan India Outreach
Woman Exemplars 2023
Education Pushpa Shukla
Born in a remote tribal village in Chhattisgarh, Pushpa’s father's non-supportive attitude towards girls' education and systemic challenges prevented her from becoming a doctor but did not deter her from the path of education. Pushpa's unwavering commitment to providing equal opportunities to every tribal child did not falter. Instead, she rose to the challenge and created online tools and resources that benefited more than 10,000 students, 200 school headmasters, and over 1,600 assistant teachers. Her work in improving the foundational literacy levels of children and has brought about a change in the Basic Education System of the state, benefiting close to 7.5 lakh beneficiaries directly and indirectly.
Location: Aizawl, Mizoram
Battling severe depression, suicidal thoughts, and anxiety after being diagnosed with HIV, Zoh found a new life with counselling and ART therapy. Widowed at a tender age with an infant and a malignant disease, Zoh was ostracized from the society because of revealing her HIV status. Finding solace in therapy, Zoh recuperated and took it on herself to help women like her. A counsellor, community mobilizer and an influencer, Zoh has transformed the lives of over 19000 HIV+ patients in the region. Her tireless work has brought medical
care, counselling, and a newfound sense of dignity to thousands of people living with HIV (PLHIV) in the region.
Livelihoods Archana Gokul Mane
Location: Osmanabad, Maharashtra
Born into poverty in rural Maharashtra, Archana was forced to beg for money cementing her resolve to support her family and children. Starting off with stitching clothes and bartering them for groceries she got deeply affected by the farmer suicides in the region. Resilient and determined, she overcame poverty and hardship to become a trailblazer in empowering women and promoting sustainable farming practices. Training over 1.14L women farmers and securing over ₹37 lakhs as an interest-free loan, forming a production company that ensures fair prices for their organic produce; Archana has turned around the destiny of scores of women farmers like her.
Location: Tonk District, Rajasthan
Making inroads against gender biased taboos, and defying and challenging dominant narratives for hapless women, Bhawani fought poverty, mental abuse and gender discrimination, managing to complete her schooling and becoming the only woman with a Masters’ degree in her village. Rewriting the fate of thousands of young girls from the Nat Community forced into prostitution, Bhawani is ensuring education for all. Dedicating herself to eliminating sexual exploitation and trafficking, facilitating access to quality education and skill building exercises, she has benefitted over 24000 beneficiaries directly.
Location: Kurukshetra, Haryana
Despite being considered "bad luck” in her family, Meena refused to accept the limitations placed upon her and fought against a bad marriage to complete her Masters' degree. From improving the social status of women and girls to empowering them to participate in decisions that affect their lives, Meena has been making a difference, one person at a time. She believes that sensitizing the youth on gender equality can shape the future of India and is working relentlessly to create systemic change directly impacting over 11000 beneficiaries.
Location: Bahraich, Uttar Pradesh
Fighting oppressive poverty and cyclic episodes of severe domestic violence, Rekha bravely stepped out of an abusive marriage when it became life-threatening. Having no support whatsoever and with a young child to feed, Rekha’s education helped them sustain. Rekha eventually transformed into a formidable force to fight against child Labour and exploitation in the region, while advocating for the rights of children to receive education. She has rescued nearly 6000 children in Bahraich from the clutches of hazardous labour across different states, securing their childhood, ensuring education and livelihoods for all. She has also created a pipeline of over 400 aware bus conductors helping her prevent migration.
Location: Kolhapur, Maharashtra
Coming from a family forged by tragedies enduring a shocking amount of hardship, misfortune, death and dysfunction, an adolescent Swati witnessed her own mother getting beaten to death, faced years of abuse only to step into an abusive marriage. Swati endured it all silently while working as a social mobilizer. Relating to similar stories of all the women around her, Swati took to imparting leadership training to over 12000+ women on their leadership rights, schemes, and policies. She leads the advocacy agendas and creates a fearless second rung of women leaders ensuring social justice for all.
Location: Jalandhar, Punjab
Born into a low-income family, Jaspreet's life began in the shadow of struggle and poverty. With a father crippled by his addiction to alcohol, her childhood was spent witnessing episodes of endless violence and the constant threat of not having a shelter for various nights in a row. Realizing early on that only education can help her out, she grabbed the first opportunity that came her way and took to combining health and sports for the development of young girls fighting gender stereotypes at an early level. Championing sexual and reproductive health education since 2013, she has since impacted the lives of over 11,000 young girls in underprivileged areas of Punjab plagued by gender biases and stereotypes.
P Anna Vilasini
Location: Secunderabad, Telangana
Born on the night of Amavasya (moonless night), Anna was believed to be the bad omen for the family, pushing her into a life of abuse and discrimination. Her mother abandoned her, and left behind with an alcoholic father and a tormenting grandmother. Stepping into an extremely abusive marriage tormented her further, only to make her resolve stronger to prevent children from getting abused. In a span of 5 years, her community initiatives have reached 3.5 Lakh children, 1.8Lakh women and around 50000 men while also creating a second rung of leaders taking her work further.
Location: Kolkata, West Bengal
Born in the most notorious slums of East India, Razia grew up witnessing violence, prevalence of multiple gangs in the area and desperate means to make ends meet on a regular basis. Stepping into a marriage by choice, Razia’s life took a steep turn to be filled with constant ridicule, verbal abuse and endless episodes of domestic abuse. While grappling with this vicious cycle, Razia invested in her own medical training and took to improving the health of the community around her. Leading the health initiative, over the past seven years, she has benefitted 29577 children and over 1.1Lakh adults ensuring basic health and quick first aid for all.
Location: Barabanki, Uttar Pradesh
Born into a poverty-stricken house with days without any food, Sapna realized early on that education was the only way to climb out of the poverty they were plagued with. Married at 16 into an orthodox household, life threw more challenges at her with added responsibilities, episodes of violence and no freedom to step out of the house. Following all that she was forced to, she paved her way as a community health leader and eventually ensured medical facilities to pregnant and lactating women directly benefitting over 22000 beneficiaries. She also champions the family planning project motivating both men and women in the area to use contraception without shame.
Location: Burhanpur, Madhya Pradesh
Sunita overcame poverty and isolation to complete her education. Born in the remote tribal village of Melaghat, surrounded by thick forests and inadequate road connectivity, Sunita managed to complete education with diminishing resources. Disturbed by the frequent child deaths in her community and motivated by the nurses working on malnutrition, Sunita took to community health work. Addressing institutional delivery, immunisation, anaemia, and malnutrition among children Sunita has directly impacted over 10000 beneficiaries in the area, ensuring 100% institutional deliveries, and malnutrition cases going down to as low as 20% in the tribal area.
Location: Puri, Odisha
Challenging the status quo of a dominating father, charting her own path despite observing abuse and oppression in her family. Facing constant rebuke by the community for not getting married, Bishnu held on to the opportunity of working with Dalit women to come out of the shackles of her father’s control. Started off by working for the rights of the fishing community and pivoted towards livelihood creation observing the devastation brought by the ‘Phani’ and ‘Phailin’ cyclones in Odisha. Through SHG formation and alternate livelihood training, Bishnu transformed the lives of over 37000 fisherwomen who are now using the producer group model to better market their products.
Location: Bikaner, Rajasthan
With an infectious smile and unbreakable spirit, Laxmi lifted herself from being a survivor of domestic violence to a revivor of traditional handicrafts in rural Rajasthan. Even when she was embroiled in a legal battle with her husband for seeking her child’s custody, Laxmi kept looking for opportunities to support her family. Laxmi initiated the artisan clusters to support the traditional handicrafts of the women at the India-Pak border in Bikaner Rajasthan. Acquired digital skills & formulating clusters, she has directly supported the work of over 6000 women artisans who are now the breadwinners of their families.
Location: Lahaul and Spiti, Himachal Pradesh
Born in a small village hidden in the remote Himalayas, Poonam with her indomitable spirit fought the harsh geography and unforgiving winters. Despite being married off at a tender age and enduring emotional abuse from her in-laws, she persisted with unyielding resolve. Building on the skill of knitting acquired traditionally, Poonam used her entrepreneurial endeavours to create a market for the products, expanding the production to 5000 women in her community. Through her unrelenting efforts, Poonam has unlocked the power of entrepreneurship to monetise the skills of women from the Himalayas who have been in the shackles of poverty and isolation for years.
Location: Patna, Bihar
Coming from an orthodox rural area in Bihar, Rita grew up in a house with strict gender roles and societal expectations. Despite facing extreme violence at home to being constantly reminded of her place as a woman she refused to give up on her dreams. Rita seized the opportunity to attend a stitching class in her village where she discovered her passion for art and craft. Starting off as a trainer in her own village, she excelled in the “Training of Trainers” model and went on to train over 5000 women on handicrafts and revived the dying Sujni art in Bihar.
Location: Aurangabad, Maharashtra
Facing acute poverty since childhood and being forced into a marriage of violence and inequality Sonali’s life was filled with challenges. With days going by without any food for her children, Sonali promised herself a life of self-sufficiency. Struggling to complete her education, she joined an SHG as a bookkeeper, from thereon she started promoting women's empowerment through vocational training, financial education and encouraging savings among rural women, especially widows. Sonali has impacted the lives of over 3000 women directly including widows who are often left behind in traditional patriarchal societies.
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