From pickle making to IT business, the march of Kerala's neighbourhood network 'Kudumbashree' in the last 12 years is an inspiring story of social and economic empowerment of women.
The self-help chain, started on a modest scale in 1998, has grown over the period as one of the mighty women’s movements in Asia with a full-time membership of 3.7 million, engaged in an array of gainful activities.
It was initially conceived as a community based women oriented initiative with Neighbourhood Groups (NHG) as its base.
‘Kudumbashree’ has since then emerged as the driving force for most of the community activities at the grassroots in Kerala, where 40 per cent of plan funds are spent through the local self-government (LSG) institutions.
"Self-employment and poverty eradication were set as the goals of Kudumbashree when it was launched.Since then it has been able elevate the role of women in society and made them the controllers and managers of money in their family. Now, no empowerment programme at the LSG level will be carried out without it," spokesperson for the Kudumbashree Mission, R Parvathi Devi, told PTI.
It was conceived as a collaborative venture of the state government, NABARD and State Poverty Eradication Mission.Under it, economically deprived beneficiary groups were identified and a wide network of NHGs formed.Though initially it focused on the rural areas, it had over the years been extended to towns with help of municipalities and city corporations.
The units started small and micro enterprises by pooling individual savings and with support of rural or co-operative banks and civic bodies.Many of them were then like cottage industries turning out such items as chutney, pickle or curry powder, small-time snacks or household articles like broomsticks or mops.
Slowly, they began to diversify and expand into initiatives like catering services, budget hotels and group farming.
While engaging women, majority of them drawn from working class background with the burden of looking after their families and children on their shoulders, the organizers ensured that they would not fall into the clutches of private money lenders for raising capital for their small ventures.
"Besides the social impact, the product and services of Kudumbasree has been able to achieve a brand-like status," Parvathi said.
The NHGs' number increased within a short time exceeding 2.03 lakh with their presence in all 999 village panchayats, 53 municipalities and 5 city corporations.