Economic Empowerment

//Economic Empowerment
Economic Empowerment2018-02-27T21:50:50-04:00

Sapna’s Economic Empowerment Portfolio

Why do we care so much about Economic Empowerment?

ee2A 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.


English as a second language is probably the most important service we offer. And it’s hard to get it paid for. Back in 2009, we were short on funds and thought about cutting back on our ESL classes. But at a community forum our members made their feelings clear.


I am a regular student of the ESOL Class . The class helped us a lot by arranging this class for us. Speaking or understanding English is really difficult—even though we are literate. Day to day life in America is very difficult if you don’t know the English language. We can’t visit the doctor because we can’t explain our health problems. We can’t understand our kids’ progress at school. It is even difficult to do our shopping. I would like to make a request: ‘Please help us newly arrived immigrants by continuing this ESOL class –even if you have to compromise with other activities’.

I would like to conclude here by expressing my thanks that I was able to share my thoughts with you all. Thank you.



Ideal Childcare Worker Cooperative

idc1As 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.

  • Bring together resources and skills they already possess, such as infant and mother care skills, fluency in South Asian languages, cultural familiarity, and access to a network of South Asian families;
  • Earn a living wage in an egalitarian work environment;
  • Acquire new skills in business development, research, marketing, customer relationships, office management and book keeping;
  • Continually learn and improve professional and industry-specific skills through regular trainings.
Ideal Childcare members during their cooperative’s Red Cross CPR/First Aid/AED training.

Ideal Childcare members during their cooperative’s Red Cross CPR/First Aid/AED training.

Lending Circles

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.


Tiffin Project

tiffin3Sapna NYC’s mission is to transform the lives of South Asian women through interventions that improve health and expand economic opportunities. This year, we are requesting funding to support a new, highly innovative program: the Tiffin Project. Like ASHA, Tiffin addresses health needs while empowering low income women to build assets, acquire skills, and participate in the job market.

“Tiffin” refers to the system of lunch delivery that is found in many South Asian cities. Meals prepared by housewives are delivered at mid-day to family members in offices and factories by an army of delivery men –“Tiffin Wala”– on bicycles, rickshaws and motorbikes. Through this custom, wives and mothers may be assured that their loved ones receive a healthy nourishing midday meal—a meal that has the taste of home.

Tiffin Catering Project. In the summer of 2016, we are opening Tiffin Catering. Working in the commercial kitchens with our partner Hotbread Kitchen our job trainees prepare delicious meals and snacks for meetings, retreats, cocktail parties, and more, under the watchful eye of Michelin starred Chef Surbhi Sahni.

And more: Chef Surbhi will bring the team to your home so you can host the best dinner party you’ve ever had! A five course menu, including wine, appetizers, main course, and Surbhi’s famed fusion deserts, will prepared and served in your home.

For menus, prices, and other information, contact us at 718-828-9772 or

Partnership with India Home. The Tiffin Project is collaborating with longtime partner India Home. IH serves South Asian seniors in elder-care recreation programs throughout NYC. Isolated at home, with limited social networks and few resources, many South Asian elders suffer from a number of severe health conditions including depression, obesity, and diabetes.

img_0011Through the Tiffin Project, Sapna NYC prepares healthy, low fat meals, cooked by women trainees, to seniors in IH centers. Meals will be cooked in the industrial kitchen of our partner Hot Bread Kitchen in Harlem. Twice a week (scaling up eventually to four days per week) we will deliver a six item lunch menu of healthy, vegetarian food cooked homestyle. A nutritional analysis of each meal will be provided.

In addition to providing healthy meals to poorly nourished Indian elders, the Tiffin Project will also address a core component of Sapna NYC’s mission: economic empowerment of low income South Asian women.

Women in our community face major barriers, including lack of job seeking skills, job experience, and English language skills. Tiffin will provide work experience and job training for unemployed women who lack access to the formal workforce.

Tiffin Trainees will receive a special ESL class, financial literacy training, resume writing, and life skills training. Each trainee will open a savings account and begin saving. Each trainee will have an opportunity to work in the Hot Bread Kitchen for up to 12 hours per week, at a salary of $12/hour. It is expected that the life skills, ESOL, and commercial cooking experience will provide a bridge to entering the formal job market.