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Originally produced for UNICEF



Thrift Groups

Each group has twenty women members. Only one woman from each household is permitted to join. The aim is for every poor household in the community to be represented and for as many groups to be formed as necessary to achieve this. Group members are those involved in thrift and credit activities, but the social development aspects can involve all women.

Each group has a leader, secretary and treasurer who are chosen by the other members. The group's ledger (with records of savings), the savings box and the key are usually held separately by the group officials. Each group's member also has her own bank record book. In women's groups formed by the NGO PRADAN, group members are responsible from the beginning for raising funds to purchase their own bank books, ledgers and savings books (at a cost of maximum Rs.300 per group). Project funds have been used to cover these costs in other locations. In general the PRADAN approach seems more likely to foster independence among the groups.

In areas where good bank linkages have been established, the women are permitted to take out bank loans four times the size of their savings. The banks do not question the loans. The validity of any project is assessed by the group since the group's reputation rests on the ability of the members to meet repayments.

Once the group has been operating for two years it is linked with ten or more other groups to form a cluster. Each cluster possesses committees dealing with such issues as education, health, water supply, social justice, welfare and housing. Group members who have particular problems that cannot be solved at the village level can raise them at monthly cluster meetings. Cluster representatives can then raise these issues at the Block Level Task Force meeting with local government and social service representatives.

Women's groups are taking the lead in organising or calling for cluster meetings. The cluster meetings are now being organised by the groups themselves and the women take up their own agenda. Various local issues, including basic services and income generation are discussed and solutions sought for in these meetings. These cluster meetings are being organised regularly once a month.

When the groups and clusters are well established, a number of clusters gather together to become a legally constituted women's federation. The federations provide a structure for sustaining and expanding women's groups and for NGOs to withdraw and move on to other villages. The Gaya Federation, for example, has set up several non-formal adult education centres, three community health centres and provides the services of two legal advisors to women members.

The advantage of the cooperative model federation is their ability to use their position to generate profits. While working with NGOs, this possibility is lost. The federations are encouraged to raise sufficient funds from their members to help fund continuing support from CCA coordinators who advise on group formation, social development and accessing the line ministries at block level.

Training
To date, about 50, 897 group representatives and cluster level animators-CLA- have received training on the strategy of Convergent Community Action. The comprehensive, participatory training process includes strategies for group formation and organization, thrift and savings and child health and development issues. The representatives in turn strengthen the groups and improve their ability to effectively participate in the block-level and district-level task force meetings.

Training sessions are also organized on specific themes. For example, AUS Aid recently sponsored two training programmes for members of 50 selected groups. The exercises focused on preventive and curative measures to be taken in fighting various common diseases. Information on proper use of home remedies was given. The participants learnt basic first aid procedures and were presented with first aid kits.

Representatives from the majority of groups were also given training and orientation on intensive pulse-polio immunisation. As a result the members of all the groups played important roles in mobilizing their communities for the immunisation drive.

Loan Analysis
Every six months, group members carry out an analysis of loan activity. This is an important group-strengthening activity, where the group members analyse the percentage of loans given for various purposes. The exercise is especially important in new groups, where members often see that a majority of loans are taken for consumption and health emergencies. A recent study of twenty self help groups by PRADAN showed that a third of all loans taken up by group members were for medical treatment. However, groups that have been in existence for over a year display a shift towards loans for income generation purposes, education or agriculture.