International Women’s Day 2024 Theme Shines a Spotlight on Dr. Kalpana Sankar’s Pioneering Efforts in Gender and Financial Inclusion


Dr. Kalpana Sankar receiving Lifetime Achievement Award in Financial Inclusion

New Delhi (India), March 8:  In a world where gender inclusion remains a critical frontier, Dr. Kalpana Sankar, one of the pioneers in the realm of financial inclusion and social development (Inspire Inclusion is the theme for this year’s Women’s Day), has been transforming lives for women in rural India since 2002. Her contributions as the Managing Trustee of Hand in Hand India have changed 4,104,458 lives and provided financial inclusion to 4,147,359 households by creating 112,335 women enterprises. In Tamil Nadu, she has impacted the lives of 1.5 million women.

Recently, Dr. Kalpana Sankar received the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award in Financial Inclusion. The honour recognizes her pivotal role in steering transformative socio-economic changes in the lives of women residing in the rural heartland of North and South India. She has also been conferred with the Nari Shakti Puraskar from the Hon’ble President of India and the Global Award for Women Empowerment from UN Women and Kingdom of Bahrain.

In 1988, a nuclear physicist, deeply moved by the challenges faced by women and children, embarked on a mission to follow her passion for serving society. Soon after, she founded two legacy organizations, Hand in Hand India, and Belstar Microfinance. Over the past two decades, these entities have left an indelible mark, training over 406,345 women in digital literacy and creating 8.25 million jobs, empowering rural women to find a place in the organized sector. Operating across 18 Indian states and 7 countries globally, these organizations have become beacons of socio-economic change.

Women continue to face disparities in various sectors. As per the 2023 global assessment by Deloitte, women account for 18% of C-suite positions globally. Without a more concerted effort, global growth in the share of women financial leaders may not even reach 25% by 2031, highlighting the urgency of recognizing trailblazers like Dr. Kalpana Sankar. Hand in Hand India stands committed to addressing the key global challenge of poverty with its unique job creation model to create sustainable livelihoods for the rural poor, especially women.

According to the World Bank, there is a $1.6 trillion financing gap for women entrepreneurs in low- and middle-income countries. Working to bridge this gap, aligning with its goal of generating 10 million jobs by 2025, Hand in Hand India has previously linked micro and marginal women entrepreneurs with development training with institutions such as IIT-Madras. This program, facilitated by experienced industry practitioners, fosters business growth and profitability for women entrepreneurs. “For a women entrepreneur, family support is crucial to succeed in her business. Thanks to the training at IIT-Madras, I have a thorough understanding on finance, accounting, and taxation. Beyond this, I cherish the community of women entrepreneurs that I have found through the training session. We are empowered to empower each other through Hand in Hand India,” said Satya, a beneficiary from Kancheepuram, who has set up her catering and events business.

Expressing her gratitude for the recent recognition, Dr. Kalpana Sankar said, “I am truly humbled to receive this award for contribution to financial inclusion that has been previously endowed on eminent leaders. As I complete three decades in this sector, what echoes loudest is the empowerment of women by women, and this sets off a chain reaction. It stands as a testament to the women we serve through Belstar and Hand in Hand – as they continually break barriers to go up the socioeconomic ladder.

As we navigate the landscape of gender inclusion and women’s empowerment, Dr. Kalpana Sankar’s achievements serve as a beacon, inspiring inclusion and underscoring the urgency of creating a more equitable and inclusive future.

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