5,000 women pulled out of abject poverty

A project with an objective of providing a better life to the poorest of poor women has so far helped around 5,000 women to overcome extreme poverty and find sustainable livelihood under the microfinance umbrella.

Kolkata: A project with an objective of
providing a better life to the poorest of poor women has so
far helped around 5,000 women to overcome extreme poverty and
find sustainable livelihood under the microfinance umbrella.

The first-of-its-kind pilot project in the country,
was successfully conducted among women belonging to even below
BPL sections in West Bengal and some parts of Bihar, Tripura
and Assam, by microfinance major `Bandhan`.
Chandra Sekhar Ghosh, the chairman-cum-managing
director of Bandhan told PTI that the pilot was carried out by
the company`s not-for-profit entity `Bandhan Konnagar` and the
funds for it came from the award money of Pro-poor Innovation
Challenge Award by Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, an
affiliate of the World Bank.

The project was launched in 2006 at Sargacchi in
Murshidabad district after it was found that a certain section
of poor women could not be given microfinance loans as they
were the `hardcore poor` who lead abjectly poor lives.

"It was with the objective of providing a better life
to these poorest of poor women and giving them a critical push
to the higher step in the economic ladder that the `Chartering
Unventured Frontiers - Targetting the Hardcore Poor` was
launched," Ghosh, who is also founder of Bandhan Konnagar

Ghosh said it was found during microfinance activities
that around five to six per cent women belonged to this
section in four states where the project was on and it cost
about Rs 22,000 spent over two years to bring them to the
level where they were ready to be included in regular
The project was, however, not confined only to rural
areas as it included beneficiaries from Topsia and Bantala
slums in Kolkata too, he said.

Benefits extended to the poor by the government or
programmes to develop them, were never availed by these
`hardcore poor` families, as they were often seen to have lost
confidence in themselves and their abilities.

The worst off among these women were the beggars,
deserted wives or widows of daily labourers and the condition
of women headed households, which formed 10 per cent of these
`poorest of the poor` families, were pitiable, he said.

The company followed the tested Participatory Rural
Appraisal, an important component of modern day development
efforts involving the community, to identify such poor people.

It then provided them with consumption stipend and small
assets like livestock, looms, basket making materials,
provisions to run grocery, vegetable or fruit shops to help
them eke out a sustainable living, he said.

As part of the pilot, field workers guided the
beneficiaries in the day to day life and even taught them to
read, write and learn basic arithmetic to carry on their tiny

The community was also involved in their uplift as
village elite in the operational areas were brought together
to interact with these women to guide them. This in turn
provided for their social inclusion.
The children of such families were educated in non-formal
schools run by the organisation. Sanitary latrines with funds
from the `Michael and Susan Dell Foundation` were provided to
the beneficiaries to promote health awareness to them, Ghosh

They were also taught the benefits of immunisation,
health and hygiene.

"What Bandhan attempts and provides is handholding of
the hardcore poor families, without which they cannot cope."

Asked, Ghosh said there were many impediments in the
implementation of the pilot project as many people had
questioned Bandhan`s purposes. "I had even been suspected of
trying to convert people."

Funds for the project was also provided by Ford
Foundation. Besides, surplus from Bandhan`s microfinance
activities were utilised, Ghosh said.

The Axis Bank Foundation has now come forward to scale
up this programme so that it reached 50,000 people in the four
states by March 2014.

The organisation has already started working to bring
all `poorest of poor` families under the programme in
Murshidabad and South 24 Parganas district, he added.


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