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Membership, Monitoring & Data Management at SEWA

Posted by Unmesh Sheth on May 15, 2015 8:30:23 AM

Self Employed Women Association (SEWA) is an organization of poor, self-employed women workers with around 1.75 million members located all throughout India and SAARC countries. 

In January 2011, sitting in a room full of women leaders representing different trades, we were talking about varieties of challenges and appropriate technologies for each. Everyone had some major challenge: salt worker diesel cost, agriculture grain bank, solar lanterns and smokeless chulha. All these issues are unique and important in their own way, the major pain point, however turned out to be an expensive information system developed by an outsider, which was gaining dust. This was a bigg eye opener for me, as this information is supposed to be the backbone of all operations to help them make effective decisions. Though we solved an immediate technical problem, it was my subsequent visit in early 2012 that gave me a clear understanding of how fundamental it is to develop the right kind of data management system to solve membership enrollment, renewal and payment.

Ektta grew out of common understanding from young, professional technology volunteers from Silicon Valley who understood that if they want to solve some of the major challenges in the social sector sitting 8300 miles away, they should invest their energy in building a platform to solve data collection and data management issues in the context of developing countries. 

There are many social enterprises focusing on solving data challenges using mobile based field data collection. However, Ektta has taken a very different approach. SoPact (social enterprise) and Ektta (non-profit) were already actively working on a powerful mobile platform that leverages cloud/mobile technologies. However, this mobile solution, for large data collection for the size of SEWA was simply impractical. Ektta’s challenge was to enable organization such as SEWA where it is difficult to shred papers and go to mobile, just because of limited resource, job of training large field, sheer number of data, and disparate geographical locations. To fully understand platform goals, let’s closely examine, operational, program and technology deployment challenges.


Operational Challenge

During the last decade a large growth has come from India’s most underdeveloped areas such as Bihar, Assam, Uttar Pradesh, part of Kashmir etc. Where possible, SEWA encourages distributed organizations to make independent decisions for their local trade issues while collaborating with parent organizations when necessary, for example for grass root training.

Most mission-driven organizations including SEWA have non-tech-savvy staff with limited experience in building robust data management systems. This often creates a dependency with local IT solution provider companies who are used to be working in a different kind of engagement process, where requirements are defined by clients before even initiating an engagement. Frequently they end up recommending proprietary technology making it very difficult to maintain and making cost of ownership significantly high.

SEWA made an extensive investment in membership enrollment back in 2008. However, client/server based architecture simply hampers any evolving requirements, distribution and data collection accuracy, time and cost. Though it is easier for data entry operators to enter data near communities they serve, efficiency & integrity of data collection goes down due to restrictions from distributed client/server model. Also, SEWA has many independent sister organizations focused on various domains such as education, healthcare, banking, sustainable energy, retail, etc. Like most organizations, each independent unit have have their own IT investment with some amount of coordination. At the top level, SEWA would greatly benefit from a centralized system equivalent of ERP or CRM that closely resembles their operations.


Enrollment, Profile, Renewal & Payment

SEWA collects very small membership due from their members every year. SEWA in turn motivate, mobilize and strengthen the existing trade practices. Depending on location, they are in turn eligible for many services that SEWA may be providing. Enrollment process allows SEWA to collect profile, trade, and geographic information. The key challenges solved in this phase are membership management for offline/distributed users throughout difficult geographic locations, books management a paper based approach to manage data collection and reporting an analysis of complex hierarchical structure such as SEWA.


Program Data Collection

SEWA has many organizational roles and continues to evolve to meet the need for economic and social women empowerment. Market and membership research are critical, but the current manual approach of data collection is very lengthy. 



The SEWA Manager’s School is a capacity building institution within SEWA with the goal of facilitating economic self-sustainability through building a cadre of grassroots managers. With over 15,000 master trainers, they continuously offer hundreds of training throughout the year at headquarter training centers and districts offices. Managing their member training can be better streamlined through contact management based system which can manage training class, reservation, attendance etc. 


Grassroots trading inventory & payment tracking

RUDI, is a marketing company for the rural producer groups provides direct market access to small and marginal farmers. It’s mission is to link up the small farmers to the end customers. Managing inventory and matching with demand is an important function. A hub could manage member specific inventory through mobile integration. In addition, a separate demand module can be developed to improve supply chain management for RUDI. 


Members communication

A platform can be used to remind women leaders for an important event such as local meetings, trainings and mobilizations through Email, SMS and Voice Based technology.


Building offline Strategy

SEWA has centers which do not have a reliable data collection. Though, we understand offline data collection as an application use, our further understanding of SEWA’s need requires more thoughtful and careful approach. We also need to build new infrastructure services in our core CRM Core. 

Ektta was engaged for over 3 years to understand past system challenges, triaging them, and understand their real requirements. The process of collecting a requirements has been iterative, slow and consensus driven. Building requirements for an organization that represents unorganized sector has never been that easy and traditional approach of requirement collection would never have worked. 

After extensive discussions, we decided that it is best to improve data visibility and proximity simply by improving their manual and arduous process of sending paper data collection through a large hierarchy of paper distribution. SEWA sends paper distribution through State, District, Taluka and Villages. As you can imagine it creates long turnaround time for data collection and injects inaccuracy, making it difficult for senior managers to run their programs effectively.

However, most important innovations came from working close to field staff and data entry operators. As a result our key design objectives were:

1) To build an architecture that allows SEWA’s IT staff extend future evolving data collection, integrate them with various members information system and rapidly analyse information in a fast growing organization Improve data collection process to reduce data entry errors, re-entry, and design for reducing data entry time.

2) Design forms for field workers with lower education and different language with minimum training requirements.

Though we encouraged most locations to improve data connection reliability and speed as cloud based data collection avoids all the data integration issues, offline application will be developed for the area where internet connectivity is not reliable.

3) Improve paper, books and slip management process through a better electronic and paper process improvement.

4) Data reporting and analytics which can roll-up various reports by geographical hierarchy and powerful filter/sorting.

5) Data visualization and data collection platform that provides to power to less experienced IT team, allowing them to create a flexible analysis as their needs evolve over a time.



Our collective work has shown that there is an immense opportunity to improve capacity in the social sector while aligning to the Sustainable Development Goals. Our focus is to provide a practical capacity building program combined with technology solutions for:

  1. Managing their resources, projects and member training and placement through various standard coding common in their domain.
  2. Provide tools for social impact measurement in their organizations, programs and members. Though cloud and mobile based technology can play enormous role in solving many of use cases as most of the existing solutions fall short when comes to supporting need and use cases for bottom of pyramid (BOP) organizations.
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Topics: monitoring & evaluation

Unmesh Sheth

Written by Unmesh Sheth

Unmesh is the founder of the SoPact. SoPact is a personal vision that grew from 30 years of experience in technology, management, and the social sector.