Wilma Corrêa da Silva

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Fellow since 1987
Individual Brazil
This description of Wilma Corrêa da Silva's work was prepared when Wilma Corrêa da Silva was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1987 .


Wilma Correa da Silva is using her long experience as a seamstress
and community organizer to launch a chain of cooperative production and marketing groups for women.
Wilma comes from a poor family. She grew up in a working class suburb of Rio de Janeiro. She stopped studying after primary school to work in a large cloth manufacturing plant {malharia) where she worked for almost ten years. When she got married and pregnant she was fired (as are many women factory to employees) because her employer was unwilling provide the 4 month maternity leave and other benefits assured to pregnant women by the law. After her two children were born, Nilma like many women in her neighborhood, augmented the small family income sewing or making handicrafts at home. Active with the church and community organizations in her neighborhood, Wilma organized the first women's production group in Inhauma. The group was very successful. A recent study done by Judith Tendler of MIT of the Ford Foundations' Livelihood, Employment and Income Generation projects mentions that the key in the most successful projects are a) a narrow focus - that allows for in-depth understanding of production process, markets, supply etc. b) adding a "missing component" to a set of activities ~alread in place, cj networking of
contacts, especially with government and powerful institutions (church) . In Wilma's case all these components were present: they knew their trade very well from supply to production and marketing. The project provided "missing elements" such as the economics of scale in materials and supplies. And through the church and community, the project was able to easily extend its network of contacts. Wilma's group grew and today it has more than 20 women. They make about $300 per month each, a figure which is about five times the Brazilian minimum salary, without leaving their homes and their children. The sewing group also became a forum for discussion of family and women's problems. In 1985 Wilma was invited to the celebrations of the International Women's Day in Itajai. The contact with women's groups and the discussion of women's issues made Wilma realize that women throughout the world shared problems of unemployment, lack of professional skills. Lack of day care for their children, etc. At the same time she also realized the extent of the potential for repl icabi1 ity of her successful experience. Since then Wilma has helped to start 5 new groups. In the f irst 4 months she provides extensive assistance, f rom helping the women to know each other to teaching basic accounting and how to deal with inflation. After the initial period her personal assistance declines - to weekly contacts and monthly meetings. These five new groups are in full operation now but there are many requests for help in forming new ones.