Sapna’s Economic Empowerment Portfolio
Why do we care so much about Economic Empowerment?
A lot of organizations offer services like hot soup at a soup kitchen. You’re cold, you’re hungry, you get a bowl of soup—and you feel better! But what happens next time you are hungry? At Sapna NYC, we believe that our clients need to get the skills and services they need to gain independence and move forward with their lives. Especially because they are women—and women in South Asian communities, like in other communities—have to overcome cultural expectations that they need to be taken care of by other people.
At Sapna NYC we have a major commitment to developing economic empowerment programs that help women get the skills they need to move ahead on their own.
ESOL. English as a second language is usually the first step – without English, women can’t get decent paying jobs. And the jobs they can get are often exploitative, offering wages nobody can live on. Knowing English changes all that (see ESOL below).
Lending Circles. Lending Circles are a new program at Sapna NYC. Lending circles allow low income, unbanked women to improve their credit scores. (see Lending Circles below)
Job training and development is another. At Sapna NYC, we link women to training opportunities through our relationships with partner organizations. We offer a job training program ourselves—our Tiffin Project (see Tiffin below). And we are developing an amazing Workers’ Cooperative, the Ideal Childcare Coop (see Ideal Childcare Coop below).
Financial education and literacy is the third part of our Economic Empowerment portfolio. Without it, immigrant women have a hard time applying for a credit card, opening and keeping bank accounts, building credit, and knowing their financial rights. Our EE Workshop Series addresses all this.
Assets for Independence Program
In Fall 2013, Sapna NYC was approved for a Federal Assets for Independence award in the amount of $33,000. The Assets for Independence (AFI) program provides multi-year grants to nonprofit organizations and government agencies that empower low-income families to become economically selfsufficient for the long-term. As a grantee, Sapna will provide financial education training on money management issues and assist participants with saving earned income in special matched savings accounts called Individual Development Accounts (IDAs). Participants use the IDAs to accumulate funds towards the investment goals of acquiring a first home, post-secondary education, or starting up or expanding a small business. The program is administered by the Federal Office of Community Services, within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Sapna NYC was one of just 45 organizations awarded an AFI grant nationwide in 2013.
Participants in Sapna’s ASHA program have been assisted in opening Individual Development Accounts and save an average of $10 each week, which is twice the average amount saved in IDAs nationally. Participants are provided with financial literacy training and for most, this account represents the first they have ever had. The framework of the ASHA program is based on a triad of vital asset building, and women receive support and training to build not only financial, but psychological and social assets in order to lift themselves out of depression and economic isolation. ASHA participants invest their savings in workers’ cooperatives, college education, English courses, and occupational licensing.
The conditions of AFI grants require each organization to independently raise a match to the federally awarded funds before the funds can be released for use. Therefore, while Sapna NYC has been approved for $33,000 in matching funds to be applied to savings in participant IDA accounts, the organization must first raise it’s own match to unlock the federal funds. Through the “Match a Dream” campaign, Sapna aims to raise $10,000 in order to unlock $10,000 in AFI funds for 2014. The Match a Dream campaign – from “sapna,” meaning “dream” in may South Asian languages – is being successfully promoted through board member events, large fundraisers, and individual giving appeals. Sapna has three years (2014 is year one) to match and distribute the full award amount of $33,000. While funds from events and individual donors will foreseeably satisfy the annual match, Sapna is highly interested in the community partnership to be gained through support from a financial institution. Everyday, Sapna empowers South Asian women to engage with the social and economic spheres in new ways. Partnership with a socially conscious financial institution is a natural next-step for the organization as it grows.
Ideal Childcare Worker Cooperative
As one of the fastest growing ethnic communities in New York City, South Asian immigrant women face barriers to economic stability and financial independence. These barriers stem from challenges such as limited language skills, prolonged unemployment, unemployment, wage theft and employment discrimination, and a lack of access to academic or job training programs.
Through a technical assistance grant from the NYC City Council, Sapna NYC was trained by Center for Family Life, a leading cooperative developer in the United States. Worker Coops address one of the core areas of our mission: economic empowerment of immigrant South Asian women who face major barriers to entering the workforce.
Sapna NYC provides a unique co-op program for South Asian immigrant women in New York City. After launching the first South Asian workers’ cooperative in the United States, ASHA Group, a food business, we are now incubating IDEAL CHILDCARE, a nanny care coop. The program addresses unemployment while empowering women as entrepreneurs and coop members. Women receive official trainings and certifications related to the baby nurse profession or food industry. Our members will benefit from the coop work environment that emphasizes consensus building, group cohesion, and leadership development.
Worker cooperative businesses provide stable jobs at living wages in the child care industry.
Women in the community often provide informal childcare. Yet often they are paid below minimum wage and may be exploited by their employers. As a member of a cooperative, members are protected from exploitation. They are able to create client contracts and acceptable work conditions, thereby bypassing the problems often faced by domestic workers who operate independently.
The childcare workers’ cooperative has 10 members who have been attending an ESOL class specially designed for childcare providers and cooperative members. Our curriculum has been developed with assistance from the Center for Family Life and the former Chair of the English Department of Bronx Community Colleges, who specializes in ESOL learning practices.
Both worker cooperatives are developing the leadership capacity of each member involved. Members are responsible to each other for the success of their business and are encouraged to share their skills with one another. As members learn how to manage different aspects of their business we see a transformation in their motivation to step up and take on more responsibilities and own their role as a leader on their team.
With the support of CAPACD and Chhaya CDC, Sapna NYC implemented a Lending Circle program in 2015. Lending Circles help low income individuals who have little access to credit, build a credit history and improve their credit scores. In July, participant Jerri improved her credit score from 0 to 741, after participating in the Lending Circle.