This IAS Officer Is Empowering Women in Rural Maharashtra, One Initiative at A Time

Every aspirant of Indian Administrative Services (IAS) hopes to do something that will improve the lives of common man in India. The prestigious position of an IAS officer, attainable only after strenuous examinations, also demands absolute dedication from the individual. As Indian women are often discouraged from higher echelons of powers, male-female ratio in IAS positions is a meagre 20:1. But this does not mean that women in IAS remain on the sidelines; a few of them have made a mark, with hard work and commitment for society.  

R Vimala

One such women happens to be a speaker at the Makers India Conference (to be held in Bengaluru on March 13 and 14). Vimala Ramesh, who has been empowering women in rural India in her power as a civil servant - is an example for women who dream of joining the services to create an impact on society.

Multi-lingual Officer

Born into a Tamil-origin family, and brought up in Jalgaon district in Maharashtra, Vimala was the odd-one-out among her siblings who all chose to pursue science and mathematics. In fact, Vimala has said that she was an “average student” who was more interested in extra-curricular activities at school. Her passion was in Arts subjects, and once in college, she excelled in academics and went on to do M.Phil in History.

As a UGC scholar, Vimala started her career as a lecturer at the Department of History in University of Pune in 1992.  However, realizing that her heart was not in it, but in making an impact on the society, she decided to pursue Union Public Service Commission (UPSC). 

Vimala’s dream was to be an IAS officer, as it would empower her to do remarkable things for the country. But since she could not get through the final stage of UPSC examination, Vimala decided to try and get through Maharashtra Public Service Commission (MPSC). But there was a major hurdle for the Tamilian girl who had studied Marathi only till 7th grade; she had only three months to learn Marathi grammar and composition.  

With strong support from her family, husband, and in-laws, all who helped her with childcare for her toddler son, Vimala passed MPSC examination in flying colours – with 85% marks in Marathi! Today, she is not just well-versed in Hindi, English, Marathi, and Tamil, but also a published poet in Hindi.

Multiple Roles

In the past 27 years, Vimala has served in a multitude of positions - including as joint managing director of Small Scale Industries Development Corporation, deputy commissioner for Entertainment Duty and Rehabilitation of Project-Affected Persons, and joint manager director of Dadasaheb Phalke Film city.  She has also played a pivotal role in the implementation of MGNREGA/EGS in the state, as the deputy secretary to then government of Maharashtra.

Over the years, Vimala was promoted as an IAS officer for her exemplary work; she currently serves as the the Chief Executive Officer of the Maharashtra State Rural Livelihoods Mission (MSRLM) in the Government of Maharashtra.

Vimala’s repertoire also bears testimony to her commitment to the cause of women empowerment. She has been working to empower women in rural Maharashtra since 2016. In her role as CEO of MSRLM, Vimala has ushered in change in the lives of women through self-help groups (SHGs) and community-based organisations. The SHGs provide microfinance services and conduct awareness programmes on health, nutrition, sanitation, education, participatory governance, and sustainable livelihoods.

A whooping 4.5 lakh SHGs have been formed in 34 rural districts of Maharashtra under Vimala’s leadership. She has also liaised with banks and raised Rs 6,600 crore for the SHGs, besides creating a cadre of over 65,000 community resource persons in villages to facilitate women empowerment.

In a country where agriculture forms the backbone of the economy, it is imperative to focus on uplifting the members of the farming community. Vimala has made giant strides in this regard by helping five lakh women farmers practice sustainable agriculture with a turnover of Rs 1050 crore. She has also helped in providing sustainable livelihoods to over 12 lakh households. More than 1500 farmer producer groups and fifteen farmer producer organisations (FPOs) have been established, thanks to Vimala.

Vimala has also worked actively to promote menstrual hygiene among rural women. In this regard, she piloted the Asmita Yojana, a scheme under which girls and women in rural Maharashtra can avail sanitary napkins at heavily subsidized rates.

Vimala has also led annual exhibition-cum-sale of products made by women associated with self-help groups. (In January 2020, the exhibition had a turnover of more than Rs 15 crore.) She has also overseen the skill development of more than 50,000 rural youths through the Deendayal Upadhyay Grameen Kaushalya Yojana.

Beyond the realm of her changemaking initiatives, Vimala dons the hat of a poet during her free time. An anthology of her Hindi poems has been published and 12 of her poems have been composed into music albums. 

You can listen to her live at MAKERS India annual conference on March 13-14, at Hotel Conrad in Bengaluru. Book your tickets now!


(Edited by Athira Nair)