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Women on a Pathway to Prosperity

By Dr. Jayanta Mitra

Senior Program Specialist

 

In rural India, even in those communities that live in extreme poverty, further divisions between community members exists  along lines of caste, gender, and religious affiliation. These can perpetuate prejudice, create barriers to change, and prevent certain groups from accessing community-based institutions and services. People from these groups face daily preconceptions that they are ignorant and lack the capability and courage to make decisions for themselves. It is evident that development efforts have not reached these marginalized communities as intended.

Trickle Up identifies these groups, and reaches people who need our support the most.

Despite the challenges, our team and believe in the ability of women in extreme poverty to overcome difficulties, forge collective support systems, and take small, bold steps towards change. We’ve seen these successful community-based initiatives challenge preconceived notions about marginalized communities and reinforce local commitment, making a crucial difference in the lives of people living in extreme poverty.

 

I saw this first hand when I visited two Self Help Groups (SHGs) in Bangamunda, Odisha, India: Ma Brundabati SHG (10 members) and Ma Gangadi SHG (14 members). They told me how this program has brought remarkable changes in many aspects of their lives. They have greater confidence in themselves, knowledge of savings and credit, and access to various government programs and entitlements that can help them improve their lives. These include the Indira Awas Yojona for housing, Public Distribution System for food, and MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) for 100 days of guaranteed employment.

 

Several women shared how their cultivating vegetables like okra, cauliflower, tomato, or radish, running small businesses like vegetable and dry fish vending, and rearing livestock rearing had increased their income and savings, and allowed them to invest in additional livelihood activities.

With their new incomes and access to government services, the can feed their families more regularly and they no longer have to migrate to other provinces in search of wage labor.

For example, Padmini Chhura used her seed capital to cultivate okra. She earned $96 (INR 6,200) and used those earnings to invest in tomatoes to earn an additional $99 (INR 6,400). Through the MGNREGA program, she worked for 35 days, netting $94 (INR 6,090). Through the Indira Awas Yojona program, she was able to improve her house. Padmini also purchased a goat with a loan from the Community Investment Fund, and she plans to expand and diversify her businesses even further.

 

Sabitri Chhura earned $86 (INR 5,600) from her tomato harvest, and she estimates earning $162 (INR 10,500) from her crop of chilies. She has purchased a goat from the Community Investment Fund and is increasing her assets. With an upcoming 30 days of paid work through MGNREGA, she anticipates earning another $80 (INR 5,220).

 

Soni Bhoi and Dhanabanchi Bewa experimented by cultivating mixed crops. Soni earned $92 (INR 6,000) from cauliflower and green leafy vegetables in the local market. She also used the Community Investment Fund to finance her goat rearing activities. Dhanabanchi earned $102 (INR 6,600) from a mixed crop of cauliflower and radish. Soni and Dhanabanchi each earned $94 (INR 6,090) for 35 days of paid work through MGNREGA.

For generations, women from these communities have battled patriarchal values, exploitation, and violence. Today, they are united by sharing their common stories, concerns, and challenges.

It was inspiring to see the courage among the women of this SHG, who came forward to tell me about their struggles, successes, and achievements. Trickle Up’s 18-month program helped them build the confidence to tell their stories to a stranger like me without any discomfort, the courage to dream of a better life, and a sense of pride when showing me their vegetable crops that have seeded tremendous hope. After this experience, I am both humbled and inspired.

 

When development strategy aligns itself with local organizations and a community’s own vision of change, new social and economic norms, power relations, and worldviews can transform public discourse about social issues. Our intervention is rooted in our belief in a community’s engagement and collective strengths. We are committed to creating space at the community level so people living in extreme poverty can carve out their own destiny.