Nalini Naegamwala’s initiative is empowering women from Mumbai’s slums

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A scrawny woman greets me at the door, as I walk in to Nalini and Yasmin’s Bandra outpost, with a haltering, barely discernible “Hello!”. The greeting sounds timid and a little uncertain, but her face, in contrast, is lit with a bright, confident smile. Her name’s Heena Sheikh, and she is a body massage therapist at Nalini and Yasmin with nine years of experience under her belt. Sheikh has a speech and hearing disability, but as she walks me through the intricacies of the treatment I’m about to experience, while asking me detailed questions about stiff muscles and sore points, it’s made clear that her speech impediment doesn’t hinder her work. Plucked from the two-decade-old NGO, Akanksha Foundation, and trained at Nalini and Yasmin, she’s one of Nalini Naegamwala’s favourite success stories.

Ruhi Anirudh Jadhav is another one. Jadhav, a resident of the Kherwadi slums in Bandra, Mumbai, was sent to Naegamwala by the NGO Yuva Parivartan, where she trained in hairstyling and beauty treatments at the Nalini Hair Academy. From there, she went on to open up a tiny salon in her neighbourhood and caught the eye of the ICIC Growing Up CEO Summit, a partnership between the Initiative of Competitive Inner City and Merrill Lynch, and was felicitated with the Growing Up CEO award. “She was also presented as a case study at Harvard. Can you imagine that!” Naegamwala effused.

The good deed

For many of us, the fight towards women empowerment is often limited to rants on social media, but Naegamwala is out there doing some real good. Her latest endeavour, in partnership with FICCI FLO and Salaam Bombay, is to set up a mobile training school in a bus, offering hair, beauty and spa courses for women from various slum areas. “Many of these girls are not allowed to travel far to learn these skills. Since the bus will be near their slums, they will now have the opportunity to do these courses and become job worthy.” She explains, “The BMC has a time limit on how long the bus can be parked in one place. I think it is about two hours. So, after the two hours, the bus goes to a different slum location and trains the girls there.”

Naegamwala has had a long and successful philanthropic relationship with FICCI. For decades (she’s been in the business for about half a century now), she’s been training women from the lesser privileged sections of society at the Nalini Hair Academy. To make the courses more financially accessible, 25 per cent of the course fee is paid by the student, 25 per cent is Naegamwala’s personal contribution and 50 per cent is footed by FICCI.

A cup of tea with Naegamwala is punctuated by her gushing about the many women, in addition to the two above, who’ve gone on to open their own salons, become star stylists in their own right, emancipated themselves, educated their families and opened the doors to a life beyond slums. And her new project promises to keep that up.

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