The Principles underlying the practice are:

  • Poverty is not just material deprivation but a continuous process of “Dis-empowerment” that includes denial of choices/rights/opportunities, discrimination, disparity, domination, displacement, de-humanization etc.
  • Alleviating poverty does not end with meeting individuals’/people’s material needs. Their “Strategic needs” have to be met.
  • An unjust “system” which includes the state, international bodies and even religious institutions perpetuates poverty. Unless the system is challenged and changed the root causes will be left untouched.People including the very poor have to be empowered socially, economically and politically. This is best done as communities and not as individuals.
  • The present socio-economic scenario is leading more and more communities to be “Matri-focal” with “Patriarchy” still very strong. This leads to an undue burden and strain on the woman and destroys the well being of the family.
  • Individual interventions in children / youth do not address these root causes and hence hardly makes an Impact on the unjust system.

Poverty is not just material deprivation but a continuous process of “Dis-empowerment” that includes denial of choices/rights/opportunities, discrimination, disparity, domination, displacement, de-humanization etc.
* Alleviating poverty does not end with meeting individuals’/people’s material needs. Their “Strategic needs” have to be met.
* An unjust “system” which includes the state, international bodies and even religious institutions perpetuates poverty. Unless the system is challenged
and changed the root causes will be left untouched.People including the very poor have to be empowered socially, economically and politically. This is best done as communities and not as individuals.
* The present socio-economic scenario is leading more and more communities to be “Matri-focal” with “Patriarchy” still very strong. This leads to an undue burden and strain on the woman and destroys the well being of the family.
* Individual interventions in children / youth do not address these root causes and hence hardly makes an Impact on the unjust system.

Two foundation stones on which this approach is developed
are:

  • Every human being has tremendous potential in her/himself. This hidden potential in the poor can be unleashed if the right environment is provided.
  • As an individual, the poor are voiceless, powerless and vulnerable. By bringing them together as a homogenous collective, they have tremendous strength.

Every human being has tremendous potential in her/himself. This hidden potential in the poor can be unleashed if the right environment is provided.

* As an individual, the poor are voiceless, powerless and vulnerable. By bringing them together as a homogenous collective, they have tremendous strength.

The practice that is presented is a “Community Development” approach. The very poor members of a community are organized to form Self Help Groups. The entire community plays a role in selecting the poorest households among them using criteria that they themselves develop – aided by a Facilitator. 15 to 20 members from these poor households and from the same socio-economic background form a Self
Help Group. This approach normally works well with women.

Meeting together each week and a weekly saving by the poor members are two basic steps. The meeting together gives each member a new identity. The poor women who have thus far been voiceless and powerless leading to a sense of hopelessness, soon realize that they are no more alone. They start seeing a new meaning and purpose to life. They start sharing their problems in the group and social issues are discussed. A new relationship of trust and togetherness develops in contrast to the former state of loneliness. The process of “Social development” is initiated.

The weekly saving – however small it may be – brings in a financial discipline in the members. Once they have made a commitment to save and start at it, they push themselves to work more and raise more resources to keep their commitment. It develops in them the attitude that says, “I can do it” from a fatalistic state. This triggers the “Economic development” process.

A lot of Capacity Building inputs are provided to the individual members as well as the groups and their leadership qualities are developed. The whole process is slow and no spectacular results are seen immediately.

The conventional entry point to a poor community is through the acknowledged leaders. Very often, the very poor within the community are left out in this development process. Even in participatory approaches, their voice is not heard. As a consequence, the needs of the very poor are ignored. On the contrary, in this approach, members of the community identify the very poor households in a community and the interventions start with them. The members of the community are facilitated to carry out PRA (Participatory Rural Appraisal) exercises like Social Mapping and Wealth Ranking. This helps them identify the poorest among them based on criteria developed by the community themselves.
The poorest members of the community are invited to form Self Help Groups.

A second contradiction to conventional programmes is that there is no external material resource flow in the initial stages of the process. Material aid runs contrary to the Self Help concept. Although the people are very poor, their inborn potential to manage their lives have to be brought out. This is a slow process, but with the right approach, it is possible and it works.

Around 10 Self Help Groups come together to form Cluster Level Associations. 8 to 10 Cluster Level Associations form a Federation. It is finally a “People’s Institution” leading to Economic, Social and Political empowerment. Empowerment is clearly defined here as a stage surpassing the Development stage. The empowered People’s Institution can question and challenge unjust systems and structures.
At these higher levels of the People’s institution, larger issues affecting the community are taken up and solved. Linkages are established with other development players and service providers. The people start realizing their rights and privileges and demand that their dues are met. These higher organizations also interact with the government and other external agencies.

The practice touches the root causes of poverty. The very poor are normally left out from the normal development initiatives. They are considered the “Non viable sector” of society as they are unable to help themselves as individuals. For example, they are left out of the micro credit programme since they have no financial discipline. They are not included in micro enterprise programmes. External help in this state of affairs often makes them “Dependants”, which only  worsens their situation. By organizing them as groups and communities, they gain a new sense of identity and purpose. They are able to achieve “Adequate living conditions” through their own efforts in a “Sustainable” way.

The basic characteristics of a Self Help Group, which is the primary unit of the People’s Institution, are:

  • Informal association
  • Homogeneous in terms of socio economic condition, mainly for the poor.

Informal association
* Homogeneous in terms of socio economic condition, mainly for the poor.

Non Political

  • Voluntary participation.
  • Rotational leadership.
  • Affinity among members, the members bound by mutual trust, respect and affection
    that support one another.
  • Small size (15 – 20 members).
  • Participatory methods in management.
  • Self help principles.
  • Mutual support.
  • Continuous capital building .
  • Common interest in all activities .
  • Bank account in the name of the group.
  • Own rules and regulations, Bye – laws formed by the group members.

Voluntary participation
* Rotational leadership
* Affinity among members, the members bound by mutual trust, respect and affection that support one another.
* Small size (15 – 20 members)
* Participatory methods in management
* Self help principles
* Mutual support
* Continuous capital building
* Common interest in all activities
* Bank account in the name of the group
* Own rules and regulations, Bye – laws formed by the group members

The functions of the SHGs are:

  • Regular weekly meeting.
  • Regular saving.
  • Credit management.
  • Book keeping.
  • Social action programs and Community action programs.
  • Awareness and training.
  • Linkages with other development players.
  • Net working with relevant agencies.

Regular weekly meeting

* Regular saving
* Credit management
* Book keeping
* Social action programs and Community action programs
* Awareness and training
* Linkages with other development players
* Net working with relevant agencies

Very often, the poor are in a state of hopelessness and with a deep sense of apathy. When one child is taken out from the family and supported in a hostel for education, the family is happy that there is one mouth less to be fed. Long years of such support very often alienates this individual child from it’s own environment. This individual might progress, but the community stays where they are, or even gets further marginalized, since the oppressive forces are constantly working. In the Self Help Group approach, a fresh awareness of the role of a family comes in. Families start taking care of their children according to their ability. This may be less than what external donor organizations may consider “Good for the Child”, but this is what the family considers necessary and can sustain.

Learning:

  • The tremendous potential that lies dormant in people can be unleashed for very productive ends by organizing them and building their capacity.
  • People, including the very poor have a tremendous, inbuilt, coping mechanism. Very often the external development player undermines this and brings quick solutions to problems, which also has a quick end. The wisdom and strength of the people is their big asset. Encash on them.
  • The poor are able to adopt the culture of saving and are able to invest in viable Income Generating Activities.
  • It is very important to mobilize the social capital through active participation of poor men and women.
  • Sustainable development cannot take place from outside initiatives, but by the abilities and possibilities of the Target Group.
  • Communities start re-establishing broken values. Traditionally communities have been closely knit and have a strong value system for themselves. Over a period of  time, powerful forces have systematically broken down communities and made people vulnerable. Along with this breakdown, the values of the community have been diluted or disappeared. When communities are re-built through these People’s Institutions, value system are being set up again.