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Originally produced for UNICEF


Champa Mahila Vikas Samiti, Champa Village, Phulwari Block, Patna, Bihar
We were uncomfortable when we went to the bank to deposit the group savings. Since none of us can read or write we could not sign our names and had to give a thumb print instead. To do this we had to let the bank clerk guide our hands, letting him press our thumbs on the ink-pad and then on the paper. It felt disrespectful to let him touch our hands like that. We discussed the problem at one of our meetings and decided we should at least learn how to write our own names. We contacted a lady of higher caste and collected Rs. 20 (about 40 cents) to pay her fee. We sang songs and learnt to write our own names. The next time I went to the bank I didn't have to give my hand to the clerk. I signed my name and it felt very good.

Sudhir Kumar Roy, District Development Manager, NABARD, West Champaran, Bihar
At first, we were very wary about participation in credit for self-help groups but between 1992 and 1995 NABARD (National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development) conducted a pilot investigation and we were very impressed with the results. We realized that women's groups were much better at paying off their loans than anyone else. From 1995, supporting self-help groups became a mainstream project of the banking industry. We aim to have one million groups by 2008.

To achieve this we work with many organizations, not only through CCA but I see a difference between the CCA women's groups and others. They seem to be more supportive of each other. There is not so much infighting. The literacy level is usually lower than in other self-help groups but they seem to have received better training.

I ask the bank staff to try to understand the psychology of the poor or illiterate ladies, how they feel walking into the bank, and that many have to travel a very long way to get there. "Don't keep them waiting," I ask the clerks, "serve them first and help them."

This system has broken through the barriers of banking especially for poor women, who own no property in their names. Women's growth in understanding banking is probably the biggest legacy of SHG. Through groups, poor women are discovering a growing sense of independence, self reliance and empowerment.

D.K. Mishra, District Development Manager, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD), Hazaribagh, Jharkhand

It was a very big shift in banking in India when we realized that the resourceless poor were actually bankable. The commercial banks are naturally still very apprehensive. It goes against all their training. The people themselves are worried because they think that the banks are not made for them. It is our job in NABARD to bring these groups together, the bankers and the poorest people in our country.

The work for the banks in administering these group accounts can be high, but the risk is not. Recovery from regular customers who have a lot more money is very poor, only about 25% to 30% but among poor women it is almost 100%. They take a loan for two years and the repayments come in one year. It is this rate of recovery that is really giving confidence to the bank. In the past year we have seen a real sea change in the response of the commercial banks, particularly from the State Bank of India and the Bank of Baroda.

For the women it is a complete revolution when they realize that within six to ten months, saving only Rs. 10 per week, they can rescue their families from moneylenders and some of them qualify for small loans as well.

We have rules to govern loans but just this week we made an exception. A village that is very remote with no access to transportation asked for a loan that would allow them to purchase a jeep. They need it to be able to transport people when they are sick. The whole community will pay for it so we approved the loan.