Ela Ben Bhatt
(SEWA), Noted Gandhian, Activist Cooperative Organizer
Ela Bhatt is 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.
In 1972, Ela Ramesh Bhatt, activist and Gandhian founded the Self-Employed Women's Association of India, (SEWA), a trade union for women workers in India’s huge informal sector, who make up 94% ofthe female labour force and yet have never enjoyed the same rights and security as those in formal employment. Today SEWA has more than 1.2 million members across nine Indian states.
A lawyer by training, Bhatt is a part of the international labour, cooperative, women, and micro-finance movements and has won several national and international awards, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award (1977), Right Livelihood Award (1984) and the Padma Bhushan (1986).
She was one of the founders of Women's World Banking and previously served as Chair of the International Alliance of Homebased Workers, of the International Alliance of Street Vendors and of WIEGO. She also served as a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation.
She has also been a member of The Elders since the group was founded in 2007. Profoundly influenced by Gandhian thinking, she advocates local, grassroots solutions for those who are poor, oppressed or suffering the effects of violent conflict.
Most recently, she authored the book, We Are Poor but So Many: The Story of Self-Employed Women in India.