Empowering Rural Women Entrepreneurs - The Awe-Inspiring Journey of Ruma Devi

How an Uneducated Rajasthani Village Woman Became a Trailblazing Fashion Designer and Changemaker

Nari Shakti Puraskar (2018) presented by the President of India Sh.Ramnath Kovind

Ruma Devi's hard work, determination, and vision were acknowledged and honoured by “NariShakti Award 2018” presented to her by the President of India on International Women’s Day on 8th March 2019.

How an Uneducated Rajasthani Village Woman Became a Trailblazing Fashion Designer and Changemaker

Women make up nearly half of India’s population, but a significant gender divide persists when it comes to economic and social agency, especially for rural women. Ruma Devi’s awe-inspiring story serves as a shining light demonstrating how empowering rural women entrepreneurs can transform communities. Her incredible journey from school dropout to acclaimed fashion designer spotlights the potential waiting to be unleashed.

Humble Beginnings Marked by Struggle

Ruma Devi was born in 1988 in the village of Rawatsar in Rajasthan’s Barmer district, part of the sprawling Thar desert. The harsh and traditional rural milieu offered limited opportunities for young girls’ education or development. Ruma had to drop out of school after 8th grade to focus on household chores, including fetching water daily from wells miles away.

Married at the tender age of 17, Ruma moved into a financially unstable family after marriage. As an uneducated young bride, the odds were stacked against Ruma. However, she resolved to contribute financially to uplift her family. The only skill she possessed was embroidery, having learned from her grandmother during childhood. With fierce determination, Ruma found a way to leverage this single skill to launch herself onto an unimaginable journey.

Starting a Revolution with One Stitch

In 2006, the 18-year-old Ruma convinced 10 other village women to pool their resources and form a self-help embroidery collective. Each woman contributed Rs. 100/- to purchase their first sewing machine. The group started making small embroidered items like bags and cushions, managing to find local buyers.

Positive cash flows from early sales gave Ruma the confidence to expand production. She relentlessly reached out to NGOs working in the area to place larger orders. Her diligence paid off in 2008 when local NGO GVCS placed a bulk order for embroidered pieces. This watershed moment provided the fledgling collective their first big break, as women began to earn incomes of Rs. 600/- per month.

By reinvesting proceeds, Ruma continued training more women, growing the collective’s reach. In 2010, recognizing her singular effort, GVCS appointed Ruma as their President. Now she formalized her vision to economically empower rural women by leveraging their untapped skills.

Battling Dogma and Forging New Ground

However, as a young woman now seeking to proactively uplift and train other village women, Ruma faced heavy criticism. Rural Rajasthani society was still gripped by patriarchal and misogynistic attitudes. Pushing back against established gender norms, Ruma had to counter accusations of corrupting village women.

Unfazed, Ruma channeled her focus into expanding the GVCS collective’s operations. She personally visited village after village, braving long journeys across dusty desert terrain. Ruma gradually overcame initial hesitancies among women by showcasing their earning potential. She led extensive training programs covering embroidery, stitching, weaving and other crafts.

By 2016, through sheer perseverance, Ruma had mobilized and trained over 22,000 women across 75 villages. Her all-women artisan clusters were producing exquisite traditional handicrafts at scale. This monumental impact on women’s financial and social empowerment earned Ruma accolades from the President of India.

Preserving Cultural Legacy Through Entrepreneurship

A keen sense of heritage preservation motivated Ruma’s efforts. She actively rejuvenated traditional art forms like Barmer applique, patchwork, sindhi, soof and other intricate embroidery styles that were slowly dying out. By innovatively incorporating them into modern fashionwear, Ruma created a unique niche.

Once the collective achieved scale, she boldly approached designers to get a break into Rajasthan’s fledgling fashion industry. After years of convincing, her first major breakthrough came when Ruma got an opportunity to showcase “Handmade in Rajasthan” on the ramp of the 2016 Rajasthan Heritage Week, even in the presence of the Chief Minister.

Gradually gaining credibility, Ruma began retailing through her own brand. She diversified beyond apparel into jewelry, home furnishings, sanitary napkins and more, creating sustainable livelihoods for women across diverse crafts. By leveraging bulk orders, Ruma enabled rural women to earn dignity through their artistic talents.

Becoming the Face of Women's Empowerment in India

Starting from a small village collective, Ruma led a revolution that empowered over 30,000 women artisans from marginalized rural communities. In the process, she broke every glass ceiling and earned a seat at the table with leading fashion designers.

Ruma carved a national platform to highlight her artisans’ skills, ensuring their craftsmanship received the respect and rewards it deserved. She drew global attention to the immense potential of rural women. In 2018, her phenomenal achievements were honored by the President of India with the prestigious Nari Shakti Award.

Ruma’s indelible impact made her the face of women's entrepreneurship. She delivered inspiring talks at the Harvard India Conference and the Indian School of Business to motivate the next generation of women changemakers. On the wildly popular TV show Kaun Banega Crorepati, host Amitabh Bachchan introduced Ruma as a trailblazing “Karmaveer” to thunderous applause.

Way Forward: Scaling the Revolution

Now a globally celebrated fashion designer and social entrepreneur, Ruma Devi continues to relentlessly scale up prosperity for marginalized artisans. By launching her own e-commerce platform, she is connecting rural women to national and international markets.

Ruma is also advocating for fair trade practices in the handicrafts sector to ensure artisans receive their due share of profits. She aims to organize 1 million women entrepreneurs into collectives across India by 2030. Recognizing the value of education, Ruma plans to open skill training institutes for school dropouts.

Through GVCS, Ruma is expanding grassroots interventions beyond livelihood into health, nutrition and digital literacy. Her multifaceted initiatives are enabling women to emerge as leaders and changemakers. Ruma Devi’s vision is to unleash an unstoppable movement for women’s empowerment across India.

Awards and Recognition

  • Nari Shakti Puraskar (2018) - Highest civilian honor for women in India, presented by the then President of India, Shri Ramnath Kovind

  • Shared stage with Amitabh Bachchan and Sonakshi Sinha on Kaun Banega Crorepati show (2019)

  • Invited by Harvard University as a panelist in its 17th India Conference (2020)

  • Featured in Khaleej Times, Dubai

  • Featured on Indian Idol television show (2021)

  • Won the 'TFI Designer of the Year 2019' award at the Textiles Fairs India Fashion Design Awards 2019 at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi

  • Featured on the cover of India Today magazine in its anniversary edition (2018)

  • Goodwill Ambassador and Chief Designer of Tribes India

  • State Brand Ambassador for Rajeevika, the Rajasthan Grameen Aajeevika Vikas Parishad (RGAVP), which is under the aegis of the Department of Rural Development and manages the Women's self-help group's (SHG) affairs

  • Honorary doctorate in Art & Textile by Mahatma Jyoti Rao Phule University

  • Shilpa Abhimani Award by the Government of Sri Lanka for the promotion of handicrafts

  • Recognition by Women on Wings Netherlands (2016)


Ruma Devi’s incredible journey from an uneducated child bride to a globally admired fashion entrepreneur spotlights the vast potential of rural women’s empowerment in transforming India. Her perseverance and skill development programs have uplifted thousands of marginalized women. By overcoming immense barriers, Ruma inspired women everywhere to dream bigger. She exemplifies how one woman’s resolve can ignite large-scale social and economic change.

Key Takeaways

  • Ruma Devi transformed both her own life and those of thousands of rural women.

  • She overcame steep odds through perseverance and commitment to her craft and through her conviction to financially uplift women.

  • She leveraged her sole skill of embroidery to drive social change across villages.

  • Ruma’s initiatives have preserved Barmer’s endangered handicraft heritage designs and crafts and boosted incomes.

  • She exemplifies how rural women can achieve great heights when given opportunities.

  • Her success highlights how rural women can drive economic and social change when empowered.

  • She exemplifies how entrepreneurship can uplift women and communities in India.

  • Ruma’s entrepreneurial success made her a beacon for women’s empowerment.

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