Self-help Groups: A Key to Community Organizing and Agency
By Yeshica Weerasekera, Thousand Currents’ former Director of Program Partnerships
Following the Agroecology Learning Exchange in Jelu-Gagari, we visited our partner Sahyog Sansthan in southern Rajasthan (India). Pivotal to Sahyog’s work is organizing groups of men and women in self-help groups (SHGs) with a philosophy of community self-help and co-ownership. This approach is particularly important for local indigenous tribal groups, such as the Rawat, Meena, Dangis and Gayaris, that have been highly marginalized and struggling for generations with elevated levels of poverty. Such burdens have constantly undermined their capacity and creativity. This intergenerational poverty has been compounded by climate change and environmental degradation.
The SHG is an effective method on many levels, and especially valuable with changing socio-cultural attitudes and behavior. Here, in Sahyog-supported communities, the model helps unify the members, build confidence and unity to work together, and create proposals to access government services and advocate to influence local decision-makers. The concept of SHGs ties into the IDEX* belief in and practice of enabling traditionally marginalized communities to support themselves, including leaving to them the decision about how this is best achieved.
What makes up the glue in the SHG is access to small loans through a savings and credit scheme. Where once villagers paid interest rates of 62% and mortgaged their jewelry assets, they can now access loans for an easier 12%. Based on this foundation, additional activities radiate out that helps enormously with tackling conditions of poverty, cultural barriers and organizing community engagement with local power structures.
Yeshica Weerasekera visited India in April 2013 to help organize an agroecology learning exchange as part of a global initiative to strengthen sustainable agricultural practices and also visit IDEX partners in Rajasthan.
*Thousand Currents changed its name from IDEX in 2016