Ela Ramesh Bhatt
Founder & Chairperson, SEWA
Ela Ramesh Bhatt (born on 7 September 1933 in the city of Ahmedabad in India) is the founder of the Self-Employed Women's Association of India (SEWA). A lawyer by training, Bhatt is a respected leader of the international labour, cooperative, women, and micro-finance movements who has won several national and international awards.
Ela Bhatt's childhood was spent in the city of Surat. Her father, Sumantrai Bhatt, had a successful law practice. Her mother, Vanalila Vyas, was active in the women's movement. Bhatt attended the Sarvajanik Girls High School in Surat from 1940 to 1948. She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the M.T.B. College in Surat in 1952. Following graduation Ela entered the Sir L. A. Shah Law College in Ahmedabad. In 1954 she received her degree in law and a Gold Medal for her work on Hindu Law. She then taught English for a short time at SNDT Women's University, better known as SNDT, in Mumbai. But in 1955 she joined the legal department of the Textile Labour Association (TLA) in Ahmedabad.
TLA and SEWA
In 1956, Ela Bhatt married Ramesh Bhatt (now deceased). After working for sometime with the Gujarat government, Ela was asked by the TLA to head its women's wing in 1968. In this connection she went to Israel where she studied at the Afro-Asian Institute of Labor and Cooperatives in Tel Aviv for three months, receiving the International Diploma of Labor and Cooperatives in 1971. She was very much influenced by the fact that thousands of female textile workers worked elsewhere to supplement the family income, but there were state laws protecting only those who were solely industrial workers and not these self-employed women. So with the co-operation of Arvind Buch, the then president of TLA, Ela Bhatt undertook to organize these self-employed women into a union under the auspices of the Women's Wing of the TLA. Then in 1972 the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA) was established with Buch as president and she herself as the general-secretary.
Other Work & Awards
She was one of the founders of Women's World Banking in 1979 with Esther Ocloo and Michaela Walsh, and served as its chair from 1980 to 1998. She currently serves as the Chair of the SEWA Cooperative Bank, of HomeNet, of the International Alliance of Street Vendors, and of WIEGO. She is also a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation.
She was granted an honorary Doctorate degree in Humane Letters by Harvard University in June 2001. Ela Bhatt was also awarded the civilian honour of Padma Shri by the Government of India in 1985, and the Padma Bhushan in 1986. She was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership in 1977 and the Right Livelihood Award in 1984.
She has been chosen for the Niwano Peace Prize for 2010 for her contribution to the uplift of poor women in India.
On 18 July 2007 in Johannesburg, South Africa, Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel, and Desmond Tutu convened a group of world leaders to contribute their wisdom, independent leadership and integrity to tackle some of the world's toughest problems. Nelson Mandela announced the formation of this new group, The Elders, in a speech he delivered on the occasion of his 89th birthday.
Archbishop Tutu will serve as the Chair of The Elders. The founding members of this group also include Graça Machel, Kofi Annan, Ela Bhatt, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Jimmy Carter, Li Zhaoxing, Mary Robinson and Muhammad Yunus.
“This group can speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and behind the scenes on whatever actions need to be taken,” Mandela commented. “Together we will work to support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict, and inspire hope where there is despair.”
The Elders will be independently funded by a group of Founders, including Sir Richard Branson, Peter Gabriel, Ray Chambers; Michael Chambers; Bridgeway Foundation; Pam Omidyar, Humanity United; Amy Robbins; Shashi Ruia, Dick Tarlow; and The United Nations Foundation.