Empowering rural women to shape their own destinies

Empowering rural women to shape their own destinies

Vicente Ferrer and Anna Ferrer founded the Rural Development Trust in 1969 in the poverty-ridden area of Andhra Pradesh, India. Since then, Vicente Ferrer Foundation/RDT has transformed over 3.6 million lives in rural India. Their holistic, community-focused approach has enabled the foundation to continue its impactful work for the past 55 years.


The foundation has consistently prioritized addressing inequalities at the grassroots level, particularly by empowering rural women with equal opportunities. In 1982, VFF/RDT initiated its women’s development sector to bolster these efforts, making gender a priority in all their programs and addressing socio-cultural challenges that often hinder women’s participation and journey towards economic empowerment. Women in rural India face multitudes of problems, and the intersectionality of poverty, gender, caste, and culture makes their situation more complex.


Nagalaxmi‘s journey exemplifies the challenges faced by many rural women. Married off as the fifth wife of a man at just 11 years old, she found herself widowed with two children, burdened with debts, and devoid of support. However, her life took a transformative turn when she discovered VFF/RDT’s women skill development programs. Despite societal norms and adversities, Nagalaxmi learned to drive autos, defying odds and inspiring others with her resilience. Now, as her autos navigate the streets of rural AP, Nagalaxmi stands as a beacon of hope, proving that adversity can be turned into opportunity.


In her words: “People in the village did not believe me when I told them I was attending auto-driving classes held by RDT. My mother didn’t want me to attend the classes either, but I convinced her. Now, thanks to my rickshaw, I can provide my children with higher education and a better future. I don’t have to depend on anyone anymore.”


Nagalakshmi‘s story is just a reflection of many challenges that rural women face, and without holistic, focused, need-based support, at one point, they stop thinking about moving ahead. While through capacity development programs, women like Nagalaxmi could transform their lives, VFF/RDT supports rural girls to pursue a career of their choice so that no one is left behind. It provides special support to girl children through sponsorship and scholarships to help them further their studies so they have equal opportunities and can break the cycle of intergenerational poverty. One such popular program is the STEM scholarship that has helped many brilliant girls pursue a career that they once dreamt of but didn’t know how to reach because of poverty and lack of support. Every year, the STEM scholarship supports more than 350 students to pursue a STEM career. Navya is one such scholar. As a child, she dreamt of becoming an aerospace engineer. Her father is an agricultural laborer, and Navya has three more siblings. Navya at one time thought of quitting her dreams, but when she got selected for VFF’s STEM scholarship, she knew she is closer to her dreams. As the scholarship will not only cover her fees but will provide all required support so she can study without being hindered by situations around.


The foundation follows a holistic approach to prioritize women in all its programs and projects. It has constructed more than 85,000 houses in the project areas, and 92% of the owners of those houses are women. Ensuring housing rights for women in rural India is crucial as it provides them with security, autonomy, and a sense of ownership, empowering them to lead dignified lives. Through its health, nutrition, and counseling programs, the foundation provides the necessary support to ensure that women do not fall back while moving towards their dreams.


“If we join hands, we will transform this world.”

Vicente Ferrer

Only with the involvement of the entire society will we be able to end gender discrimination and guarantee a future full of opportunities for girls, teenagers and women.

Vicente Ferrer and Anna Ferrer 
Jesús Martínez
Jesús Martínez


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