The Keralan Women's Network Minting Entrepreneurs

Kudumbashree, a government program in Kerala, has 4.3m+ members across the state. It's helping create jobs and new businesses in a state where the female unemployment rate was nearly 5x that of males in 2011.

Mary-Rose Abraham

April 19, 2019

The Keralan Women's Network Minting Entrepreneurs

Sindhu Balan was haunted by a story in her local paper. Six months after their wedding, a man abandoned his wife and took her gold jewelry; he had another family in the Middle East. “If they had done some careful checking...they would have found out about his character and this would have never happened,” Balan said.

Background checking can be difficult, but Balan thought of the 150 women’s groups, who met weekly in her village of Porkulam in central Kerala, and their vast family networks. Similar groups existed across the state, and they could be used to vet marriage profiles. In 2016, Balan launched Kudumbashree Matrimonial. Men are charged ₹1,000 ($14), and women can join for free. The site has 16,000 profiles and has arranged 140 weddings so far. Its users span Kerala and other Indian states. There are even users from Canada, Germany, New Zealand, and the United States. “Basically, we have profiles from wherever there are Malayalis,” Balan said.  

Today, Balan’s independent business has expanded to five offices in Kerala with 16 staff members, all of whom are women from the Kudumbashree ("prosperity of the family") network, a Kerala state government initiative founded in 1997 with the goal of eradicating poverty.

S. Harikishore, the executive director of Kudumbashree, explained that since poverty is now nearly eliminated in Kerala, the program is focusing on women’s empowerment in a more globalized world. Kudumbashree Bazaar, for example, sells 450 products online, such as soap, honey, and chocolate, which can be shipped anywhere. Amazon India recently opened a portal on its site for Kudumbashree products.