Learning should never ever stop! A primer on Self - Help - Groups, Micro Credit Finance & Savings Groups.

I'm learning on many counts.  What are women self help groups (SHGs)?  How really does a micro enterprise function and what do micro finance initiatives  (MFI) mean? How do the community based organisations (CBOs) that I'm collaborating with help support the livelihoods programs to create sustainable income for marginalised village women. Here's how it works in a nutshell: Each and every business activity is owned by the self help group or SHG, a group of some 10-12 women, usually friends or neighbours that come together under the aegis of a Non Governmental Organisation (NGO) which helps create program initiatives and projects to train and skill the women. In Himachal Pradesh, indigenous tribes are given recorded rights to collect non timber forest produce (NTFP) for sustenance and means of income generation. The women SHGs I work with are taught to harvest and gather wild ingredients from the forests which are bought by the CBOs and NGOs at fair trade prices. The SHGs own jointly held bank accounts which they can also use for micro financing and inter lending. The SHG owns the harvested stock, the machinery for processing of raw materials and all members are equal shareholders of the business.  This enables each member to control her finances and earnings, making her income independent and choose how she wishes spends her income, be it putting her girl child through secondary schooling or investing in livestock or farming. Our partner organisations who help establish and support the SHGs provide income generation skill sets like soap making, knitting, oil extraction and NTFP harvesting and marketing of produce. The SHG are paid fair trade above market prices for their produce  above market wages to produce soaps,  distill and extract oil, gather and bottle honey and teas, loom woven or knit woollen shawls, socks, sweaters to earn income. Welcome to a world of gender equality and empowerment in the making. Fledgling steps these and the shy smile in this picture say it all!   All photos taken by Kavita Khosa

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