ECO Kitchen: The Journey of Sethu and her team!!!

About yourself

Sethulakshmi (a.k.a.Sethu) is a trained ethnographer, involved with communities that are vulnerable for HIV, for the past 20 years. She has extensive experience in engaging, educating and linking communities to the much-needed health care research and for their own health care needs. Her work has transformed over this period to focus on, gender issues, urban poverty, issues around fragmented education of children in urban slums, livelihoods and sustainability, economic opportunities for women and being part of a team as supervisor that focuses on sustainability of a large organization currently driven primarily on donor funding. She manages over 20 direct reports and 950 volunteers. 

Briefly, she is a positive thinker and a consensus builder!


The YRG Foundation has over the last two decades built rapport with most communities that are presently in need, and its work on health literacy, urban asset building and food security has helped build an excellent relationship with communities, Government agencies and civil society alike.

Project ECO (Enhancing Community Opportunities) is the latest initiative of the foundation to address economic stability within families affected by social, economic or other challenges. it has two initiatives: ECO Kitchen and Pi Bags. 

ECO Kitchen offers delicious, vegetarian meals of outstanding value from the 18,000 sq ft green facility. Every ECO Kitchen meal helps to improve the lives of under-served families in Chennai. The kitchen is a naturally lit and ventilated building and utilizes innovative eco-conscious technology including biomass briquettes, solar geysers, a condensation recovery system, an expansive drainage system and a waste water treatment plant that irrigates the garden. The ECO Kitchen team, in a series of workshops "Hunger to Hope", is reaching out to thousands of women in Chennai city who are looking to commence a new journey to financial freedom.

What it takes to be an Social Entrepreneur and enable women…

KATHIR of ECO Kitchen is an innovative opportunity for disadvantaged urban women impacted by domestic/partner violence and in need of resources to care for people living with chronic and debilitating diseases. It helps them realize their livelihood aspirations.
The impact of KATHIR is manifold:
  • ·         Improved self-esteem for women
  • ·         Enhanced disposable incomes
  • ·         A purpose to be mobile - leaving the confines of their household
  • ·         Improved sense of empowerment
  • ·         Supports education, nutrition and health for their children
  • ·         Affordable, safe meals to the community

How did you get this thought of enabling lives and saving nature at the same time?   

The journey from 1999 has evolved over a period of time, with efforts to economically “empower” women. The vision behind ECO kitchen was initially an idea germinated in the mind of Mr AKGanesh, the then project manager of YRG - he is now the Chief Program officer, who always had the desire to make food more affordable and available for people at Hospitals etc. 

Our community research work in gender based violence in early 2000 made us to involve men and change agents and opinion leaders to bring about behavioural change, which led us to the creation of a social enterprise- Kathir, that would enable women to re sell food, enjoy autonomy, make margins that are attractive and take care of her needs and family needs , feed the entire family with healthy food etc. The easy disposable income on a daily basis has been one of the attractive features of the program.

The organization philosophy that diffused down the line was social responsibility, which made the team at ECO to be responsible at what we do, carefully crafting production techniques to cook food by causing minimal harm to the environment. It includes visiting various kitchen, getting inspired by people who handles large scale kitchens etc, and to learn from methods that would suit ECO kitchen. The eco-conscious technologies that we adopt at the kitchen are using bio mass briquettes, solar energy, treating water and reusing them etc.

More: World Food Day (in Tamil)

What are your current achievement and future plans.

We have reached out to over 220 women, as social entrepreneurs and food service agents, and hearing them speak about their achievements and life changing moments because of ECO Kitchen lays out a huge impact for us. Our Future plans include expanding the Social entrepreneurship program at Corporate space for safer locations for our women and vending spaces in academic institutions.

Who is behind your success?

A super dynamic mentor and a super enthusiastic support system ( includes family and colleagues and friends):)

Your thoughts that you would like to share with other women

Believe in yourself! If I have to explain that- It’s unbelievable what we can do to help ourselves and others if we believe in ourselves:)


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