Self Help Groups
Women’s collectives – or Self Help Groups – are a global phenomenon that have existed in many forms throughout space and time. These networks provide individual benefits – self-esteem, agency and confidence – as well as a platform for collective action. These groups ignite a spark: as women meet together, they work together, and as they work together, they begin to have hope for themselves and for their communities. With the power of hope in their hands, women begin to design and create the change they want to see.
Self Help Groups are voluntary groups, typically comprised of 15-25 people who meet every week to save, start small business activities, and create change both for themselves and their communities. SHGs are created with the underlying assumption that when individuals join together to take action toward overcoming obstacles and attaining social change, the result can be individual and/or collective empowerment. Empowerment, in turn, creates the bedrock for a wide range of positive outcomes, many of which provide the enabling environment for good governance, political change, and economic growth. As groups grow in maturity, SHG members begin to facilitate new groups, replicating organically and exponentially. Thematic content for groups can extend well beyond savings and business skills, with topics ranging from health practices to disaster risk prevention to human rights.
How it works
Phase 1: Group Formation
Community members are invited to learn more about the Self Help Group approach and are invited to join an SHG. As individual groups start to meet, on a weekly basis, facilitators help the group members to name their group, agree on their by-laws, and begin to work collectively to support each other and members of their community.
Phase 2: Group Strengthening
Over the course of many weeks, SHG members begin to save, start small businesses, and give each other micro-loans from their savings. As women work together, their confidence and their aspiration for change begins to grow. They activate to stop childhood marriage, advocate with government for access to services, and support vulnerable members of their community.
Phase 3: Maturity and Growth
As the SHG reaches maturity, it begins to seed and support new SHGs. As the SHG movement grows, groups start to create federated structures, with group members forming clusters and federal level structures that become formally recognized. This allows them to drive change at scale, from the bottom up.
Self Help Groups In Action
Meseret came from a poor family, but they managed to get by. Her parents supported her and her four siblings to go to school, and Meseret had plans to go to university. That all changed when her father unexpectedly died when she was 14. Meseret had to work in the evenings after school to help support her family. Her mother wanted to marry her off to an older, wealthy man, but she resisted and married Belay, her childhood sweetheart, when she was 18.
The next year they had their first child – a daughter named Kalkidan – and moved to Nazareth to find work. They slept on the floor of a rented room. They had no money or food, and Meseret was struggling to nurse their baby. Belay would bring home the lunch that he received at work, and they would share that one meal. Some of the local women invited Meseret to join their Self Help Group. They were meeting each week and working together to save, start small businesses, and create change in their community. Meseret was skeptical – she was very poor and didn’t see how she could change her life.
Nonetheless, she began to save a small amount of money – as small as a few coffee beans a day – and quickly realized that by working together with the women in her group, she was growing in confidence.
When she applied for a local government job – and got it – her husband began to beat her. She was disrupting the traditional role for women, and he didn’t like it. He finally gave her an ultimatum – him or her work. She chose her work. She knew that she deserved to be independent, to honor the education given to her by her parents, and to provide for her children.
Her Self Help Group was her lifeline. Meseret’s savings and income grew, she was able to buy a small house, and send her daughter to school. But more importantly, the women had become her family. They stopped childhood marriage, and advocated to prevent Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). When I ask Meseret how long she thinks her Self Help Group will stay together, her first response is a confused expression. Then the smile creeps across her face, and she begins to laugh. “We will be together forever. We are sisters.”