December 8, 2022

SEWA / IT for Change – Knowledge Partnership

Summary of Action to Date

The knowledge partnership between the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and IT for Change (ITfC) began with the goal to co-create a platform cooperative/data cooperative that would serve the women members of Megha Mandli, an agricultural cooperative registered under SEWA. This was executed as a part of the “Rewiring India’s Digitalising Economy for Women’s Rights and Well-being: an Action-oriented Knowledge Intervention” project, supported by the European Commission and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES). To that end, the following developments have taken place: 

  1. Deliberation on the nature of the knowledge partnership through interviews, workshops and field work. 
  2. Design and execution of a needs-assessment baseline survey of 150 women SEWA members from Kheda and Tapi.
  3. Generation of a baseline report that captured demographic information, access to technology, agricultural goals, needs and gaps, access to agricultural markets and a course of action moving forward. 
  4. A series of meetings and a half-day workshop with participation from respective SEWA and ITfC team members in  order to deliberate on the future directions of the Participatory Action Research (PAR). Beyond the SEWA-ITfC partnership, ITfC aims to forge necessary collaborations with the other partners working with SEWA for the purpose of co-designing the e-Kheti platform. 
  5. An internal ITfC meeting to crystalize the particulars of the research and advocacy activities and to finalise key events of the upcoming quarter. 

Research Plan

As knowledge partners with SEWA, ITfC will primarily contribute to the co-design of the e-Kheti through empirical, quantitative and qualitative research. Specifically, the three research questions (RQ) that ITfC will attempt to produce evidence for are:

RQ #1 – How should platform services be mediated in a way that builds trust? 

RQ #2 – What principles should guide the data governance practices of a platform cooperative?

RQ #3 – What public institutional support is needed for co-operative models in the Global South?

RQ #1 – How should platform services be mediated in a way that builds trust?

In order to answer this question, we will create techno-institutional design blueprints for context-sensitive ethical intermediation, by providing a use case for trust across 3 platform services offered by SEWA’s e-Kheti platform:  

  1. Input support services: Techno-design blueprints will include (and not be limited to) producing digitally-aided access to seed selection information, crop information, access to farming services such as machines, tools, fertilizers, etc. Existing services (such as SEWA’s tools and equipment library and KSK centres) will be incorporated into the design blueprint, along with avenues to adapt and institutionalise other input services offered by SEWA into their data cooperative. 
  1. Financial Inclusion: Techno-design blueprints will explore how the cooperative platform can enable and enhance access to public financial services and financial services offered by Megha Mandli and SEWA Federation.
    • Expanding existing and additional means of collective financing: Incorporating and digitally enhancing current informal/peer-to-peer, non-predatory forms of collective financing available to the community into the design blueprint, either facilitated by SEWA or members within the SEWA cooperative. 
    • Formal financial services: Strategies to improve access to digital and non-digital financial services through ethical data-sharing models.
    • Livelihood strengthening strategies: Assessing the level of access to state-led livelihoods schemes and exploring the role of the platform in facilitating the same. 
  1. Market linkages: The techno-design blueprint will provide strategies for gender sensitive market linkage models, including building evidence / case studies of aggregator-led models for e-commerce. 

RQ #2 – What principles should guide the data governance practices of a platform cooperative?

In answering this question, we will focus on the following: 

  • Ensuring individual and collective data sovereignty for all individual members of the SEWA Cooperative Federation, as well as securing and emphasizing the sovereignty of the cooperative.
  • Elaborating on ethical, non-competitive, non-extractive practices of information collection.
  • Establishing ethical, non-competitive, non-extractive practices of information storage and information processing. 
  • Establishing norms that will guide data reuse strategies, with the goal to use analytics that will “transfer value to the edges” and benefit small and marginal subsistence women farmers part of SEWA Cooperative Federation.
  • Holding the principle of harm minimisation as central to the data governance directives emerging from the use case models and ensuring data practices reinforce principles of data equity and social justice. 

RQ #3 – What public institutional support is needed for co-operative models in the Global South?

  1. Role of the public sector in supporting data cooperatives: Research on necessary legal and other institutional mechanisms for scalable, worker/producer-owned data cooperatives to be established and be protected from Big Tech platforms and their extractive practices. 
  2. Financing models for platform cooperatives/data cooperatives: Expanding on avenues of collective financing for co-ownership in data cooperatives, along with establishing various models of collective ownership of assets, mediated by Megha Mandli and SEWA. 
  3. Capacity building for co-operative members: Elucidating on the tendencies for techno-institutional design to incorporate existing asymmetries and the need for responsive design at both at the level of the platform, as well as through the empowerment of its users. On that end, capacity building strategies for members of the collective not only include enhancing knowledge of technology use, but also for the purpose of empowering users through knowledge of the platform and its governance models. 

Proposed Methodology for All Research Questions

A mix of primary and secondary research methodologies will be used. Primary research is likely to include key informant interviews with SEWA as well as with partners currently working with SEWA on the e-Kheti initiative and stakeholders outside of SEWA as identified by ITfC during the research planning phase. Secondary research will primarily focus on evidence building through case studies relating to platform co-operative models in the Global South. Outputs from the above research will include research papers, policy briefs, case studies and/or recommendation notes. IT for Change will also use these inputs for advocacy in areas of data governance and platform co-operatives.  

Support Needed from SEWA

  • Facilitating access to partners of SEWA who are currently working on some of these initiatives, through meetings or other connections
  • Participation in co-design meetings that are relevant to the project
  • Facilitating field visits for meetings / discussions with members of SEWA and Megha Mandli
  • Design blueprints as available for e-Kheti

Next Steps (as of Dec 2022)

  • Assessment and agreement of the above plan by SEWA’s team (with any potential modifications determined necessary)
  • Development of a mini-research plan for each of the research questions (will include establishing the baseline, identifying stakeholders to be interviewed, plan for field work if any, details of secondary research, calendar of milestones and deliverables) – to be completed by ITfC and SEWA 
  • Developing an overall calendar for the PAR and respective outputs – to be completed by ITfC and SEWA 


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