One long-standing interest of India’s Development Alternatives Group has been TARA. This initiative ensures that livelihood support services are provided to marginalised people including vocational training. Success also requires a few basic things such as a small solar energy reading light so that people can study in the evenings.
There are good reasons for focusing on basic education specifically for women. Development Alternatives’ founder Ashok Khosla has highlighted the practical positive consequences of tackling illiteracy, including female illiteracy, in rural India. When education is available it will generally be taken with reading is a critical step towards a quality job. One such an initiative, an Indian all-women paper recycling business producing hand-made paper had 25 women workers between 23-35 years old starting in 1988. In 2009, 23 of those women still worked there. The women were empowered and the outcome was welcome for them and the wider community.
And there are even wider impacts. Between 1988 and 2009 the paper-producers had two additional children. On average, twenty-three additional births would have been expected of rural Indian women with the same demographic. Noting that this was not a forced choice for the ‘TARA’ women and their families, this has major implications for the future pressure on resources arising from that reduction in births. To illustrate one aspect, Ashok estimates the combined package of education and enterprise creation would have cost between $4 and $10 per ton of carbon (CO2eq) emissions saved. These costs substantially undercut traditional thinking about abatement costs including CCS (Carbon Capture and Sequestration for fossil fuel electricity), energy efficiency and afforestation.
TARA and the wider Development Alternatives Group supports far more than female empowerment, but this small insight makes a powerful point for strengthening economies by building True Value costs and benefits for primary education, vocational training and women’s income into business models.