Ela Bhatt: "Organizing Working Poor Women: The Sewa Experience"

Dr. Ela Bhatt, recipient of the University of Chicago's 2007 William Benton Medal for Distinguished Public Service, presented a public lecture on November 27th in the Weymouth Kirkland Courtroom. Ela R. Bhatt is widely recognized as one of the world’s most remarkable pioneers and entrepreneurial forces in grassroots development. Known as the “gentle revolutionary” she has dedicated her life to improving the lives of India’s poorest and most oppressed women workers, with Gandhian thinking as her source of guidance. In 1972, Dr. Bhatt founded the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) – a trade union which now has more than 1,000,000 members. Founder Chair of the Cooperative Bank of SEWA, she is also founder and chair of Sa-Dhan (the All India Association of Micro Finance Institutions in India) and founder-chair of the Indian School of Micro-finance for Women. Dr. Bhatt was a Member of the Indian Parliament from 1986 to 1989, and subsequently a Member of the Indian Planning Commission. She founded and served as chair for Women’s World Banking, the International Alliance of Home-based Workers (HomeNet), and Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing, Organizing (WIEGO). She also served as a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation for a decade. Dr. Bhatt has received several awards, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award, the Right Livelihood Award, the George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award, and the Légion d’honneur from France. She has also received honorary doctorates from Harvard, Yale, the University of Natal and other academic institutions. In 2007, Dr. Bhatt was named a member of The Elders, an international group of leaders whose goals include catalyzing peaceful resolutions to long-standing conflicts, articulating new approaches to global issues that are causing or may cause immense human suffering, and sharing wisdom by helping to connect voices all over the world. The Benton Medal The William Benton Medal for Distinguished Public Service is given to individuals who have rendered distinguished public service in the field of education. This field includes “not only teachers but also . . . everyone who contributes in a systematic way to shaping minds and disseminating knowledge.” Previous Benton Medal recipients include John Callaway, Katharine Graham, and Senator Paul Simon.