A new direction

Jaya, 22, explains the nuances of controlling a sewing machine to a trainee while she also monitors the progress of another trainee learning the art of stitching in a curve. Jaya has been working for three years at Intimate Fashions, a 100 per cent export-oriented unit at Guduvanchery, on the outskirts of Chennai. Her job is to train the 10 recruits under her charge. Intimate Fashions specialises in making lingerie for two high-street labels, Victoria's Secret and Pink. All the products have to be manufactured to exacting standards. There can be no margin for error. Which is why all of Jaya's wards have to perform well.

For Jaya herself, and many like her at the company, it has been a giant leap—from poverty and obscurity in rural Tamil Nadu to playing an important role in running the wheels of production for the global economy. Life changed for Jaya and others when the Tamil Nadu government began a poverty alleviation project in 2005 called Puthu Vaazhvu (a new life).

It all began in 2005, with a funding of Rs 717 crore from the World Bank to the Tamil Nadu government. "It was meant to be another poverty alleviation project. The difference, however, is that we spent a lot of time in getting the project design right," says N Muruganandam, who was associated with the project during its inception and is presently joint secretary for ports in New Delhi.

The core component of Puthu Vaazhvu is the Village Poverty Reduction Committee (VPRC), a unique concept that involved a fundamental design change from other poverty alleviation projects. "Most poverty reduction projects are flawed from the start, because the targeting is not done properly. In this project, we sought to address this anomaly," says P Amudha, the current project director.

Fixing the anomaly required a simple step: making the village identify the poor and form a committee. The project design ensured adequate representation from scheduled castes, widows and even the differently abled. "The mistake usually made is in fixing the eligibility based on a number, such as income or poverty line. Now people above the line are not necessarily well-off compared to those below. We wanted to ensure that the maximum possible beneficiaries are roped into the project and the best way was to make the village identify the poor, for they know their surroundings best," says Amudha.

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