CHENNAI, India – March 19 was no ordinary day at the Chennai manufacturing plant. Besides ensuring that Ford’s range of products were rolling off the line smoothly and on schedule, Ford India executives Tom Chackalackal, Balasundaram Radhakrishnan and Arthur Devadawson had the additional responsibility of presiding over a special ceremony. The ceremony recognized the 230 women who successfully completed a tailoring training program, which is part of Ford’s Better World commitment. This ceremony celebrated the accomplishments of the trainees from the third batch of the program.
Since 2012, Ford has been working with the Society for Poor People Development (SPPD), an NGO, to empower women in the villages surrounding the Ford Chennai facility. The program hopes to equip the women with a skill meant to enhance their employability. As the saying goes, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”
“It has always been our attempt at Ford to create a Better World through meaningful programs that truly benefit the community,” said Tom Chackalackal, executive director, Manufacturing, Ford India, while addressing the enthusiastic group. “It is encouraging to see how many of you are using the training imparted to work towards a better quality of life, and we urge you to keep honing the skills acquired with regular practice. Our vision is to use this program to form a successful tailoring co-operative, so let’s work together to make that happen.”
The impact of the initiative has been apparent from the start, with more than 70 percent of the women from the first two batches finding employment, either as entrepreneurs or as employees in tailoring units.
“I got married early and did not work after marriage. Once I had children, I couldn’t step out of the house; seeking employment was not an option at all,” said Sangeetha, one of the students who benefitted from the program. “However, doing this course has been very useful. It has helped me learn something new and I know that I can stay at home and undertake small tailoring orders, which will help my family.”
Encouraging the women, Balasundaram Radhakrishnan, vice president, Powertrain Operations, Ford India, said, “Typically, people tend to associate the word ‘student’ with youngsters. But each of you gathered here is an example of how age is no bar to learning.”
More than anything, the women attending the course are emerging as beacons of change. Sridevi, another student from the program, expressed her excitement about being a part of this program. “I have two sons, and now that they are a little older, I have been able to attend the classes. My husband is very supportive and I’m confident that I will be able to take up a few orders on my own. I have recommended this course to my peers and I’m also a part of the committee now,” she said excitedly.
To highlight the change that is being enabled and to introduce the program to a wider set of Ford employees, Ford India organized an exhibition and sale of the products made by these skilled women at the Chennai plant on March 20. The exhibition received a tremendous response from the employees and significantly boosted the confidence of these women.
“Ford has been a ray of hope in the lives of all the women who have joined the course,” said Sujatha, program coordinator, SPPD. “A lot of the employees have stopped by, expressed interest and bought products made by the trainees. The very look of joy and excitement on each of the women’s faces reflects how much this means to them.”
While significant effort has been invested by Ford volunteers and the SPPD teams in the program, the Go Further approach exhibited by these women by turning a piece of cloth into a lifestyle change is truly inspiring—definitely a strong testament to sustainable change and collaborative development, the very pillars of this initiative.