Mahila Shiksha Kalyan Evam Prashikshan Parishad (MSKPP) has been facilitating the formation of SHGs, promoting rural entrepreneurs and sustainable livelihood for the past 16 years with special focus on promoting micro enterprise among women.
MSKPP began with a novel experiment asking women to put aside a ‘fistful of rice’ out of their daily meal in the villages of Masturi and Bilha blocks. Though strongly patriarchic but in Chhattisgarh women have a control over houselold foodgrain. Started in 23 villages , the effort was encouraging and it helped in inclultaing a new culture of savings among unlettered village women.
Asking women to save a ‘fistul of rice’ out of daily meals was a starting point to launch empowerment process at the grassroots and liberating poor women from different forms of exploitation . It germinated an understanding for saving among poor women. They went ahead with saving Rs. 5 to 10 a month and started depositing in the monthly meetings of the self help groups. It has been in operation with great success wince 1990.
In the year 1994 to take ahead the credit and saving programme, three functionaries of MSKPP underwent one-month basic micro finance training at Ahmedabad-based ‘Entrepreneurship Development Institute’ (EDI). Capitalising on the skills garnered during the training, MSKP functionaries decided to unleash an empowerment process at the grass roots, liberating poor women from different forms of exploitation.
Within a span of 12 years, it has used micro-credit assistance as a tool for mobilisation of poor women, the MSKPP has innovatively experimented with success its model of women’s empowerment. Due to its assiduous effort, it could launch Sakhi Bank. Today the Sakhi Bank serves a model for other such efforts and its frequented by teams of civil society organizations from all over the country who come to learn from them.
The opening up of Sakhi Bank has geared up MSKPP to take on other tasks that would impact positively on the local environment, economy and self-governance. Thus, it graduated from being merely guiding village women to form SHGs to the promotion of sustained community based socio-economic development and empowerment. Keeping the SHGs run by women at the forefront its various developmental and social action intitatives encompassed activities such as community mobilization, promotion of rural livelihoods an income generation programmes.
After launching of Sakhi Bank MSKPP is involved in
- Providing management and technical training for entrepreneurial development in food processing, bamboo baskets, garments etc.
- Identification and motivation of potential entrepreneurs among the marginalized communities, such as Gonds, Birhors and dalits.
- Facilitating marketing of products through ‘Sakhi swawlamban vyapar mela’(Sakhi self-reliance trade fair)
All the activities of Sakhi Bank are managed through a decentralized decision making process whererin the 11-member governing body drawn from ‘mahila mandal’ members are closely involved in policy and implementation decisions through 3 tier federating structure. Sakhi Bank oversees credit and saving programme in 217 villages divided in 15 clusters wherein there are 500 SHGS and 6000 members.
However, the promulgation of 73rd Constitutional Amendment in April 1993 also broadened MSKPPs role. It made 33 percent participation by women in Panchayati Raj Institutions (PRI) mandatory through reservation. In the post 73rd Amendment period, MSKPP organised village level training sessions to devise modus operandi for pre-election awareness campaign. These campaigns were to focus on information dissemination through ‘Mahila Mandals’ thereby encouraging women to come forward and contest elections under the new system. Skills imparted in the training helped 23 women to contest elections out of which 10 got elected. Post to the Panchayat elections, capacity building training of elected women representatives were imparted with the functioning of Panchayati Raj institutions or the administrative or political system. It also emphasised to make the women representatives understand documentation pertaining to PRI Act in a simplest manner.
Organising the poor certainly has been quite daunting task of MSKPP but most exemplary has been that women have to be put at the forefront of a sustainable livelihood through SHGs and micro credit so that the benefits percolates down to the last person. Though micro credit is not a panacea in itself; it could help eradicate poverty, which the MSKPP has immaculately complemented with other measures like rural livelihoods, income generation programmes, literacy, women’s rights and micro- enterprise management.