The Self Help Group (SHG) movement in India gained momentum around 1992 with the objective of empowerment of women in rural India. In the face of the pandemic, the collective strength of women’s SHGs came to the fore again. A self-help group is a mechanism of organizing people from poor and marginalized communities into collectives who come together to save on a regular basis in order to solve individual or collective problems of the group. The women who are members of such groups collate their savings and retain it among themselves or deposit them in a bank. In return, they get easy access to personal loans or loans with a reasonable rate of interest to start their own micro-unit enterprises.
YUVA has been facilitating the formation of SHG groups since the early years of its founding, especially in under-served communities. The success of the self-help groups set up by YUVA in the early 2000s in Nagpur has been a beacon for women’s savings collectives. This blog focuses on more recent initiatives of facilitating SHGs within the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, specifically in Nalasopara (Vasai) and Navi Mumbai. In the former, while it showcases what the early stages of setting up SHGs may look like, in the latter region it shows how it manifests in a more mature stage.
The Nagpur Experience
Historically we have facilitated the formation of credit cooperatives through SHGs in Nagpur, which function as cooperatively owned banks, utilizing their share capital to offer loans exclusively to women. The cumulative earnings, accruing from interest on loans, are distributed yearly among all the members. Once the first few SHGs proved to be successful in Nagpur, many more were set up in the coming years. Gradually, groups of SHGs were organized into a cooperative. The decision-making body of each cooperative consists of 15 women who are assigned specific roles and responsibilities. While the President formally represents the Credit Cooperative and is the senior most authority, the Manager supervises Agents who scout for trustworthy clients and manage loan repayments. By maintaining strict discipline in loan disbursement and placing the responsibility of repayment on agents, the credit cooperative has ensured an impressive recovery rate of 100% for all loans provided. Even those who opposed its formation are today lining up for loans, and encouraging other women to join the society. In the last year (2021-22), the annual turnover from the cooperatives in Nagpur has been 9.79 crores. Watch this film to know more about our work in Nagpur:
Scaling out to Mumbai Metropolitan Region
In the informal settlements of Nalasopara, where the majority of residents are migrant workers, there are currently 21 women’s SHGs that YUVA has facilitated since 2021 in the communities of Dhaniv Talav, Jadhav Pada, Vanotha Pada, and Valai Pada. Of these 18 SHGs have been linked with scheduled banks and 15 have received rolling capital for on-lending. Initially, it was very challenging to mobilize the women, owing to frequent movement of migrant families, the transient nature of their stay, and scams by property dealers have made community members distrustful of one another.
The communities of Nalasopara reside mostly in informal settlements with no access to basic services like safe drinking water, electricity, educational institutions, and health care centers. Even the schools in the area are not registered and function informally with no legal recognition. Women are involved in home based manual work like making pieces of jewelry, which fetches a very small income after a lot of time-consuming and tedious work which strains their eyes. Men are involved in construction work or other kinds of daily wage work. The roads inside these communities are in poor condition and are poorly if not lit at all and some are not traversable because of potholes. Pregnant women struggle to travel on these roads and since autos and other kinds of public transport are available only from the naka (main road junction) most often they have to walk 2-3 km to access anything. Women and girls can’t go out past sunset because of these reasons. The incidence of crime is also relatively high.
Knowing these challenges, the YUVA team actively engaged in rapport building with women from the community by facilitating access to legal identity documents. These documents had been inaccessible to many of the migrant women, who sometimes lack marriage certificates or proof of address which hinders their access to these critical documents. These documents were then used to facilitate access to benefits under social security schemes like Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana, the elderly and widow pension scheme, among others.
All this work in return helped the team build trust with the women, and from these SHG groups. SHGs also have their own bank accounts now. Every group has one or two meetings a month, where they collect Rs. 100 from each member per month, this is to gather enough savings to be able to either start small business enterprises or give credit to members for individual or collective goals. The only eligibility criteria for a member to be part of the SHG is for them to be residents with documents in the basti, as most often members who are on rent leave during off-seasons and this causes problems for credit flow in the group. The groups meet not only to save but also to discuss personal concerns. They have been part of workshops on various issues like women’s rights, health, and sanitation among others. There are also women in these groups who lost their husbands due to covid or illness. The YUVA team has also been actively looking to find livelihood opportunities for such women who wish to work and earn a living.
Usha is part of the Lakshmi Utpan SHG which was formed nearly 5 years back with the support of YUVA in Navi Mumbai. Usha is a domestic worker who was introduced to YUVA through its work on registering domestic workers under the Domestic Workers Welfare Board- DWWB. Usha is also part of the Kamgar Ekta Union, which is a union of construction workers, domestic workers, and street vendors. Usha is the group leader of her SHG and is in-charge of organizing monthly meetings and keeping track of loan repayments and savings.
YUVA started facilitating the creation of SHGs in Navi Mumbai in 2018, and today there are over 60 such SHGs like the one Usha is in, with more than 600 women. These women groups are saving Rs. 100 to 200 every month, where each group’s registration under NULM fetches them INR10,000 in their registered bank accounts. YUVA also facilitates this process by coordinating with the Mumbai Municipal Corporation office, by getting a letter of recognition for the SHG signed which helps them in creating their bank accounts and accessing the initial funds under NULM.
In Navi Mumbai, YUVA has facilitated the creation of SHGs in areas where they have received demands for such groups. The initial process of forming these groups involves orientation meetings where the community organizer from YUVA discusses the benefits of saving and having an SHG group, once members are fully aware of what an SHG entails and how they can benefit from it, a group leader and a co-lead is chosen who help in organizing periodic meetings and collection of savings. Once the process is kick-started, YUVA only intervenes when they are asked by the individual group to come to facilitate a meeting, or if they need to counsel a member who is late in submitting their monthly interest payment of a loan.
Three years back, 5 members from Usha’s SHG secured a 50,000 loan divided equally among the 5 women who needed this loan for their individual needs like marriage in the family and for starting small businesses. For Usha, it was for taking her livelihood forward by starting her own fruit vending stall. This loan, which is close to reaching its maturity, has helped her set up her business successfully, soon the 500 every month that Usha has to give back in loan repayment will be part of her profits.
Since the SHG groups in Navi Mumbai were started much earlier than those in Nalasopara, they have been able to save enough to give out loans for small business enterprises. Many women among these groups who are either domestic workers or involved in other informal work have realized the benefits of being a member of an SHG. Among the women who were looking for a means to earn a livelihood have been able to take out loans at a small interest rate, which has helped them in setting up small enterprises like tailoring units, street food vending shops like vada pav stalls, among others. YUVA also periodically calls resource persons to do capacity-building sessions for the SHG women on different aspects of managing small enterprises.
From 7 am in the morning to noon, Usha works as a domestic worker. Post-lunch she goes to buy the fruits from the wholesale market and then in the evening she sets up her fruit stall on a busy street market. After the loan repayment of the current outstanding amount ends this year, Usha intends to take out another loan to upgrade her business. When asked how this SHG has been helpful to her, she says,
“The same loan will accrue double an interest rate if I were to take this loan from any other private entity or bank. Compared to this I am paying such a minimal interest that it makes it possible for women like me to think big and aspire to build a better business and livelihood for my family. That’s why I have gotten other women in my family to become part of the SHGs as well”.
Explaining the role played by the SHGs in the lives of its women members, Shanta Khot, who coordinates the SHG work in Navi Mumbai region, says,
“While the loans provided through the SHGs helped the members earn a livelihood when their regular sources of income were adversely impacted, we also see long-term change in terms of self-confidence and leadership abilities of the members. Women who would have hesitated in approaching government offices earlier, feel confident enough to deal with even police officials now. They support each other in their struggles. For example, an employer who was shifting out of the city without paying their domestic worker for the work she had done for the last 3 months, the worker and her friends from the SHGs collectively confronted the employer and made them pay all the pending wages”.
Geeta Dabre who coordinates the SHG work in Nalasopara (E) also points to the transformatory change that involvement has brought about among the women and their families,
“Before becoming members of the SHGs most of the women didn’t know each other well despite being living in the same neighborhood, since they had all migrated from different areas. With their involvement in SHGs there a sense of community has emerged among them which is now transforming into collective action. For example, members of the SHGs came together to demand solid waste collection facilities in their areas and took out a rally asking for provisioning of water connections. Several women members, who would hardly step out of the house earlier, decided to pool in money to go for a picnic recently and told their husbands to take care of the children on Sunday. They recognise that they also deserve to spend some time on their own needs.”