Women empowerment has always been a key aspect while updating plans and policies for the growth and development of any nation. In India, NGOs have remarkably contributed to facilitating the process of empowerment among women. In this issue, we take pride in featuring an exceptional female leader who has worked tirelessly over the course of the last 10 years to develop programs that would meet the challenge of domestic violence and sex trafficking in India, by serving women in India by working for their education and empowerment and ensuring that they are given the choice to live a life free from abuse, violence and exploitation.
Meet Elca Grobler, the Founder of My Choices Foundation, an MBA graduate from South Africa, who feels compassionate about justice and giving back to the community by empowering women. After completing 15 years in the Financial Services sector, she decided to utilize her skills and experience to empower developing communities, joining Opportunity International Australia—a world leader in micro-finance in the developing world. She spent 3 years with the organization and shifted to India in the year 2011. There she met many women across India to understand their situations and needs. With every passing-by story and experience, she realized that she was stepping towards the greater good, hence she laid the foundation of My Choices Foundation. The first initiative taken by the foundation was
Operation Peacemaker. This initiative focuses its efforts on counseling, and resolving violence through mediation (counselling) and including every member of the family, including the perpetrator, in the process of establishing peace. Since its inception, My Choices Foundation has grown and established Operation Red Alert, addressing sex trafficking and the exploitation of women and girls in India. It commissioned an 18-month research paper (that won the ESOMAR Best Paper of the Year Award 2015-16), doing landscape analysis and studying the behavioral aspects on both the supply and demand side of sex trafficking.
My Choice Foundation
My Choices Foundation is a non-profit organization based in India that aims to witness a transformation of the nation into a safe, peaceful, and flourishing place for women and girls, by empowering them with the awareness, education, and support they need to become their change agents. It addresses two of the most pervasive and intractable human rights abuses, domestic violence and anti-sex trafficking, through their two initiatives – Operation PeaceMaker and Operation Red Alert.
Operation PeaceMaker aims to stop domestic violence while promoting gender equality through sustainable grassroots programs that empower girls and women while addressing the issue of domestic violence by providing free counseling, legal and safe home services through their 5 counseling centres and 11 regional partners across India. Customized awareness programs are also conducted based on the demographics to be addressed.
Operation Red Alert created the Safe Village Program that aims at sensitizing at-risk community members about human trafficking risk factors, creating awareness about ways to prevent sex trafficking, sustaining the awareness, and empowering the community through Rakshaks, Nodal Teachers, and Gram Mitra concepts. Focused on rural India, this program includes innovative tools such as comic books and a national helpline. It is tailor-made with special messaging for each of the stakeholders to speak to their particular situation and provide powerfully relevant information and motivation to be safe. Moreover, The Safe Village Program uses an innovative technology called the Village Mapping Tool that helps identify villages that are at high risk for being on the radar of traffickers.
Moreover, My Choices Foundation is an 80% women-led organization and has a 100% women-led board. Equalizing any industry and making it more balanced, as it believes in empowering women and offering them the chances that they deserve.
Desire to Speak for the Oppressed
Elca’s deep desire to speak for those that are most oppressed and for those that cannot speak for themselves was fueled by her experiences working in micro-finance. This desire for social justice, specifically for women and girls, acted as a seed that had grown in her heart for many years which eventually paved the path for the foundation. My Choices Foundation helps all women, children, and families get a life free from abuse and exploitation. It firmly believes that people will only attend counseling or awareness sessions if they trust the organization. “The leadership that they employ ensures that a culture of trust is instilled in the rest of the team and through this, they build their faith with the clients that they meet,” Elca adds.
Yet, the work done at My choices Foundation is difficult as the work deals with immense pain & suffering. “In the process hearts are repeatedly broken with grief that sits deep in the souls,” Elca states. But investing one’s energy in such work also makes one attain courage and the amazing thing about courage is that it is contagious. Elca believes that courage can change families and communities and villages and cities. For example, the courage of a 14-year old that phones the helpline, stating that her parent is forcing her into a child marriage, and can we please help her. It is this type of courage, resilience and beauty of these girls that inspires Elca and her team to get up every morning to stand up for them, especially when they can’t do it for themselves. “To transform themselves, but also those around themselves,” she continues.
Elca Grobler and her team have been given the privilege to step into thousands of families’ lives and help them slowly repair the broken pieces, and replace violence with peace. She states that most women do not have a choice to live a life without abuse and exploitation. They have to go back to their homes for the sake of the children and that displays true courage. The spirit of the human soul that does not give up can be reflected in the schoolgirl’s absolute commitment and courage to look after one another and not make the same mistake that their mothers made. “In most cases, this is not the mistake of the mothers, since they were born in this situation,” she states. “But to think about a girl who dreams of a better life and is willing to learn and sit by candlelight only to have a better future and be educated.”
My choices foundation has successfully completed 10 years and is currently operating in 10 states. Further, she desires to deepen and expand the work of their two national helplines dealing with domestic violence and prevention of sex trafficking respectively.
Furthermore, she and her team envision giving women and children the choice to live lives free from abuse, violence, and exploitation. Their work has been impacting many lives thus, they are determined to grow in the next 10 years and ensure to make India free of inhuman activities. “Overcoming abuse doesn’t just happen, it takes positive steps every day. Let today be the day you start to move forward,” she concludes.
“We have to be willing to do uncomfortable things, to do inconvenient things—that’s when the world changes,” Bryan Stevenson
Awards & Accolades:
- 2015, eNGO Jury Special Mention for Women Empowerment. Awarded for online campaigning against gender-based violence.
- 2016, Social Media for Empowerment Award Grand Jury Award for Women Empowerment. Awarded for the #Respect2Protect campaign.
- 2016, ESOMAR Paper of the Year Award for excellence in Market Research. Awarded for the Red Alert Research Paper exploring the determinants of male behavior perpetuating sex trafficking.
- 2017, 50 Most Impactful Social Innovators Award
- 2017, AGSM Alumni Award for Social Impact and Public Policy
- 2017, Notes to My Father, the world’s 1st VR documentary on sex-trafficking created in partnership with Oculus and Facebook made its world premier as an Official Selection at SXSW Film Festival.
- 2017 Grassroots Justice Prize for The #WalkTogether Prize for Courage
- 2018, Operation PeaceMaker chosen one of the top 5 ideas globally in the BridgeBuilder Challenge, organised by GHR Foundation
- 2018, Global title of one of the 100 Sparks of Hope, The Elders
- 2018, Elca Grobler was recognised as of the 100 most impactful CSR Leaders, by World CSR and World sustainability congress and World federation of CSR Professionals
- 2019, Elca Grobler was recognised as of the 100 most impactful CSR Leaders, by World CSR and World sustainability congress and World federation of CSR Professionals
- 2019, Winner of the Eastern Bhoomika 2019 Hyderabad edition for excellence in social work.
- 2020, Elca Grobler was recognised as one of the 101 Impactful Global CSR Leaders, by World CSR and World sustainability congress and World federation of CSR Professionals
- 2021, My Choices Foundation was awarded the 2021 Global Choice Award Certificate of Excellence for the Most Trusted NGO for Women Rights and Education
- 2021, Elca Grobler was awarded the International Achievers’ Award in Recognition of Outstanding Professional Achievement & Contribution in Nation Building by Indian Achievers’ Forum & CSR Tim
Please visit My Choices Foundation’s website for more information: https://mychoicesfoundation.org/