On my recent trip to India, I had the privilege of visiting Maitri, a social enterprise based in Guwahati, Assam District. Maitri’s vision is an inclusive society where every human being leads a dignified life without discrimination or fear, and with equal access to opportunities and choices for enhancing personal wellbeing. Maitri realizes this vision by training underprivileged persons - mostly women and youth - enhancing their employability, and placing them in secure jobs.
In the Indian context, millions of middle and upper income households employ at least one person to help with managing day-to-day housework, caring for their children, or caring for elderly family members. Hiring these individuals, however, is a difficult task as the environment is completely informal and virtually all domestic workers, or sahayikas (the Sanskrit term for "helper" which Maitri uses to identify its trained domestic caregivers) are recruited through word of mouth. This dynamic often creates a difficult situation for both sahayika and employer. For example, if a sahayika experiences abuse in her employer’s household, there is no process for amending her situation. Likewise on the employer side, if the sahayika turns out to be untrustworthy and steals from the home, there is little course of action for recovering what was lost.
Gitali Thakur, the CEO of Maitri responded to this issue by developing the Maitri business model, which focuses on building better jobs with better oversight for domestic help. During my visit to Maitri in Guwahati, I came to understand the business model through the following 3 components.
1) Recruit & Train
Maitri first employs a critical selection process by identifying women living in poverty in the outskirts of Guwahati and encouraging them to apply for the program. Once enrolled, these women go through a rigorous month-long training that incorporates practical cooking, cleaning, and caregiving skills, as well as interpersonal and other miscellaneous skills that Gitali and her team have found to be critical for success. During one session, I observed the trainers cover personal budgeting, cooking equipment safety, and a role-play exercise on how to communicate with an employer in the event one will be late to the job. The soon to be sahayikas laughed with abandon during the session, clearly enjoying their time with the group.
2) Interview & Match
While the employers themselves do not go through a month-long training program, they are required to visit Maitri’s office for an in-person interview before becoming eligible for the program. The interview is meant to get a better sense of the household’s needs and character in order to find the best-fit sahayika. Of equal importance, the interview ensures that employers understand sahayikas are people who must be treated with respect and dignity during each day of their service. Challenging society’s attitude toward laborers, in this case domestic workers, is fundamental to Maitri’s work.
Once sahayikas are trained, Maitri matches them with compatible employer households.
3) Oversight & Response
Once matched, each sahayika begins working in an employer’s household and earns a living salary. Over time, if the employer or sahayika have complaints to make, they call Maitri’s customer care department and explain the problem at hand. Maitri staff then intervene as appropriate. Conflict resolution usually involves conversations with either sahayika or employer to identify the problem clearly and provide coaching on how to fix it. Occasionally, the best course of action is to transfer a sahayika to new households. In the most extreme case to date, an employer physically beat the sahayika working for him. Maitri is helping the sahayika navigate the legal system to achieve the best possible recourse. In addition, Gitali is demanding an apology from the household employer. “He will more easily pay her money for the offense, but he will not want to apologize to her,” says Gitali. “But he must.” This response also is a testament to the fact that Maitri is not only working for economic justice but also for social justice.
To grow the business and increase its impact, Gitali is expanding to other cities in India. 3rd Creek Foundation is helping Maitri through a grant made to Upaya Social Ventures, a non-profit that invests in and provides management-consulting services to Indian companies demonstrating impact potential through meaningful job creation targeting the ultra poor. We are thrilled to align with both Maitri and Upaya on this mission.
Gwen Straley is the Executive Director of 3rd Creek Foundation where she oversees the foundation's grant-making processes and ensures fiscal and regulatory compliance. An emerging markets professional, Gwen has worked for a diverse range of organizations in some of the most complex environments in the world. Prior to moving to Seattle, Gwen managed a large-scale nutrition program in Mogadishu, Somalia. She has also consulted for government, foundations, NGOs, and small businesses in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America. Gwen holds an MBA from the Thunderbird School of Global Management and a Bachelor of Arts from Hampshire College with a concentration in Sustainable Development. She is a travel, outdoors, and coffee enthusiast.