Eleven women sit cross legged on the floor of a MYRADA training centre. Most wear the same sari, the uniform of their Self-help Affinity Group. They sit with piles of books, lists of transactions, the savings deposited each week over these last eight years, the loans they have made to one another, and loans the group has taken, and repaid, from banks. This is gentle commerce in action.
Strangers to each other at the beginning, the women saved 10 pence per week. Today it’s a pound a week. The money goes into a shared bank account and the interest generated is used to make loans to one another.
Over time they built up trust, not only within the group but also with the local bank manager who looks with pleasure at the lists of loans repaid. India’s banks have faith in these women of modest means. Self-help Affinity Groups have a reputation for paying their debts.
The structure grows with the women. It starts with saving week by week. Small loans come next, drawing on the groups own reserves. Bigger loans later, making use of the banking systems confidence in this type of collective. At every stage the women invest a little more, pay back more, and grow a little more.
The women had invested in cars to rent to village members. In their children’s education. In the marriage dowry for their children. In land and buying houses. Investments with returns for the women, their families and their community.