The novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic derailed several growth initiatives in India. Women-run self-help groups (SHG) from the backward districts of India, however, fought mightily: They manufactured essential medical products such as masks, sanitisers, protective equipment and ran community kitchens, provided financial support to the vulnerable and communities.

The World Bank gave $750 million in financial support to National Rural Livelihoods Mission, which has been doing remarkable work by eliminating poverty gaps in rural India, according to report dated April 11, 2020.

The initiative has also motivated SHGs to fight against gender discrimination in rural India. As many as 67 million Indian women are members in six million SHGs, according to the report.

SHGs in COVID-19 climate

The said report underlined that despite COVID-19-induced difficulties and socio-political pressure, women-run SHGs successfully established social well-being in their communities.

The government of India announced financial support to over 0.4 million SHGs through Rs 1,625 crore in funds August 12, 2021. The funding was given under the Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) programme.

The central government has provided financial support to Micro Food Processing Enterprises (PMFME) and Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) as well. Government initiatives have also encouraged women citizens to have a bank account, which has made it easier to procure loans for SHGs. SHGs, in turn, have shown satisfactory results by bringing down banks’ non-performing assets.

New reforms, according to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have been incorporated in the sustainable development model by creating self-reliant economy and inspiring women to explore the global market.

While more women are increasingly carving a space in such business, several challenges remain. We observed that despite scopes and capability, some SHGs are unable to develop into full-fledged organisations because of the following reasons:

  • Lack of understanding about core values of business
  • A loss of interest in doing business due to socio-cultural pressure
  • Poor presentation skills
  • Zero knowledge transfer
  • Poor financial knowledge
  • Feeble management framework
  • Lack of understanding on importance of United-Nations mandated Sustainable Development Goals
  • Poor marketing and promotional skills
  • Short-term orientations

Road map for the next phase

Women-run SHGs form the backbone of our country. A policy should be designed and implemented to support their activities so that they can sustain their livelihoods.

But policies are not well-defined for SHGs. Women face several roadblocks compounded by traditional malpractices that hold them back from participating with confidence in all aspects of business.

To alleviate these problems, the following should be implemented:

  • Policy design is the most important step. It should be developed as per the baseline study related to the growth of women SHGs
  • Policymakers should know the stumbling blocks of women-run SHGs
  • Followed by a successful pilot implementation, large-scale projects should be implemented
  • Providing fund support is not a solution. The government should work on creating a gender-neutral ecosystem for women entrepreneurs, develop adequate infrastructure, provide training, destroy red-tapism, omit the role of middle-man, establish a platform for knowledge transfer, provide financial assurance, create innovative mentorship programs, connect various stakeholders such as non-profits, government bodies, institutes and more to disclose.
  • Specialised training should be given on climate change, clean energy, disaster management, water, etc
  • Women SHG members should be inspired to explore other sectors as agriculture, handicrafts, renewables, watershed development, alternative tourism, finance, education
  • A framework should be implemented to monitor activities of women SHGs
  • Development activities should be conducted keeping in mind socio-geographical factors
  • Development initiatives should be designed according to the requirements of end-implementers. And it should be evaluated and monitored as per the global standard
  • CSR support, international funding, multilateral bank support should be given to SHGs so that they can shape themselves into a corporate entity
  • Innovative ideas should be incubated by the top-most institutes of India
  • Relaxations and special assistance should be given to SHGs for tenders and expression of interest
  • A dedicated grievance resolving mechanism should be set up
  • Guidance from sector-leaders can help SHGs understand how to run a business
  • Assessment and livelihood support plan will help stakeholders to support women SHGs
  • Integrated common facility centre will help promote activities
  • Policies should designed to waive off financial losses
  • Agricultural and non-forest product-based industrialisation will help women SHGs to increase their funds and cash flows
  • Decentralised approaches will support women SHGs
  • A cost-free platform should be created for technology support for two years

The government needs to listen to women; they don’t need only money, but institutional support to fully exploit their potential.

A multidisciplinary committee should be instituted to improve the condition of women SHGs in India. A mentorship programme may guide SHGs to survive in the hard, competitive market.

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

By Rangeet Mitra, Senior Consultant, Prayukti International