India is changing rapidly. Economic growth over the past two decades have seen its middle class explode, its elite amass immense wealth, its universities churn out world-beating graduates and industries – from car making to IT – establishing themselves at the top of the pile in the age of globalisation. However, alongside the economic liberalisation and boom, there has been, less positively, the rapid growth of inequality.  Vast swathes of Indians are not participating in the changing India – they are either its subjects, swept into exploitative relationships, or simply forgotten by it. It is in the shadow of the latter that my second visit to Bangalore is best understood.

I went to visit the Women’s Transformative Leadership Project (WLTP) on an evaluation visit. This Global Concerns Trust project was funded by the Scottish Government. Led by the women themselves, the Global Concerns India Director Brinda Adige, provides the capacity and the tools to transform women’s lives in both rural and urban settings. This comes through harnessing legislation: the Right to Information Act and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Despite the laws, the democratic infrastructure and the wealth of the nation, many women are not able to exercise their rights as citizens and fulfil their potential.

The WTLP aimed to get women to understand the tools available to them to improve their own, and their community’s situation; for instance, ensuring promised roads are completed or that pensions are provided to the old and disabled, or that businesses are built.

The methodology was simple. Help women help themselves through rights-based activism that leads to increased confidence, increased economic clout, and increased political sway, which would benefit their families and communities. The approach is, however, challenging and not always successful.

In an era where micro-finance is widely pursued by NGOs, persuading collectives to take a rights-based approach to their development is tough.  Micro-finance provides immediate economic relief, but does not address the underlying power imbalances that make rural women’s lives challenging.

Also, developing momentum in the group is a struggle.  Often the women found that the solution to their problems involves facing up to established power.  Finding the courage to confront patriarchal lines of power involves the slow and painstaking business of legal-education, confidence-building and creating sufficient numbers so there is a sense of ‘protection by numbers’.

Despite the challenges and the small scale of the project, there were many success stories.  Women collectives that participated in the WTLP were changing their relationship with politicians, their families and themselves.  Testimony to the success of the project is that the Karnataka Government is interested in using the approach as part of its ambition of improving the effectiveness of Panchayats across the state.

I really enjoyed my visit to the thriving city of Bangalore – often represented as the shiny, economic boom side of India – this visit also gave much to be optimistic about the enormous challenge of inequality in India.  Global Concerns India are developing innovative and sustainable pathways for the most important development agent – women – to secure their political and economic rights and in turn improve the situation of their families and their communities.