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These Womens’ Groups Turned Thousands of Poor Women Into Business Owners!

Over 25 years, the foundation has turned women suffering from abject poverty into small business owners.

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Sri Padmavathi Mahilabhyudaya Sangham (SPMS) is India’s first registered federation of urban self-help groups. Their journey of 25 years offers inspiration and insight for those interested in poverty alleviation, particularly in the urban context. It is a federation of 529 self-help groups, and 6,500 women members. Organised into 20 cluster associations, members have saved ₹13.61 crores over these years, generating loans of ₹292 crore. An average of ₹4.8 lakh per member.

Through access to timely, reliable, non-collateral based and repetitive source of credit, women members have been able to set up their own enterprises and take a leap out of poverty. These entrepreneurs now need advisory services for accounting, taxation, legal, technology, marketing inputs. They also need to be connected now as individual entrepreneurs directly with a formal financial system.

There are many others with the potential of similar transitions, which can be facilitated through continued credit, cross learning and market linkages.

SPMS has addressed another critical link between urban poverty and housing. Housing not only provides a sense of security, but also residential stability, which is critical for livelihood. Members have received access to finance for home improvement/addition, and new home construction, leveraging their membership of self-help groups instead of giving a collateral. These women have demonstrated the role of social capital in making a well-performing portfolio on housing, with a repayment rate of 98% in a challenging urban context. 475 groups have been involved in the initiative. So far, 1080 houses were upgraded with an amount of ₹2.69 crores and 625 new houses were constructed with an amount of ₹4.39 crores; ₹7.08 crores in housing loans over 22 years. The linkage has been established with HUDCO, HDFC, NHB and NABARD financial institutions. The need now is to expand this besides addressing poor awareness and management capacity of individuals through better negotiation and linkages with vendors.

The life of the urban poor is filled with vulnerability. The uncertainties of occupation, coupled with other social factors such as age, gender and health can drag a household into the cycle of poverty. Usual social support is not available to migrants away from home. SPMS has pioneered a mutual insurance programme – Paraspara Sahaya Nidhi – through which members have received immediate cash in times of need, besides seed capital for strengthening livelihoods. Through a subscription of ₹250, the initiative provides a cover of ₹20,000.

Over 10,000 lives have been covered in partnership with insurance companies, for reinsurance leading to a settling of claims of ₹40-50 lakhs.

All this has been possible due to the deeply embedded practice of leadership rotation. 134 members have served as directors of the institution while almost 1,250 have been in leadership roles at various levels. This needs to be continued now with a focus on grooming next generation of leaders. The women have the fire to continue their legacy of evolution and stay vibrant.

No Small Change – stories of women who stand tall – is a film that captures the journey of 25 years of India, through the voices of real protagonists – women who have taken a leap out of poverty through sheer resolve and courage amid their ongoing struggles. Their journeys show the power and potential of social capital in this transformation.

SPMS is keen to develop partnerships to bring in another generation of change. To get in touch with them, email spmsthirupathi@gmail.com. The filmmakers can be reached via vriddhirural@gmail.com

(Written by Vartika Jaini and Neelanjana Banerjee)

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