Renana Jhabvala

Padma Shri and Chancellor, Gandhigram Rural University (2012-17)

Renana Jhabvala is best known for her 35-year long association with the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and for her writings on women in the informal economy. She has been a member of the IIHS Board since 2010.


SEWA, which has a membership of over 2 million women, is India’s largest non-profit organisation and the largest organisation of informal workers in the world. Jhabvala is currently Chair of SEWA Bharat and SEWA Bank, and the Executive Trustee of SEWA Mahila Housing Trust.

Active in education and women’s empowerment, Jhabvala has served a five-year term as the Chancellor of Gandhigram Rural University, Tamil Nadu (2012-17), where she became acquainted with the need for innovation in Indian higher education.


She has made a significant mark internationally as a member of the UN Secretary General’s High-level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment. She has also represented SEWA at the ILO in 1995, 1996 and 2002. In 2016, she was honoured with the FICCI Lifetime Achievement Award for her national and international contributions to social work.


Jhabvala is a founder member and Chair of WIEGO (Women in Informal Employment Globalising and Organising), a global network that has focused on securing livelihoods for the working poor in the informal economy, especially women, over the last two-decades.


Over the years, she has been a member of many Government of India and State Government Committees and Task Forces responsible for policy formulation, including the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act (2008), Affordable Housing (2008), National Policy for Street Vendors (2003), the National Skill Development Council (2009-14) and the National Commission on Labour (2000). She has also been a member of various Committees of the erstwhile Planning Commission.


Renana Jhabvala is a graduate in mathematics from Hindu College, Delhi University and Harvard University. She also has an MA in Economics from Yale University, after which she joined SEWA in Ahmedabad. She has co-authored seven books and written widely in journals and newspapers on topics like basic income, the idea of work, empowering women, and membership-based organisations of the poor.