In July, we visited our partner organisations Darbar Sahitya Sansad who focus on Khurda district and Social Action for Rural Community who operate out of Sambalpur.
It was lovely to be back in the field after a long time. Rural areas are where many of us at the Impact team feel we belong as the people are very warm. We were touched by the warmth of the people there.
They made tea and gave us a lot of respect for the work we do. They also invited us to come and see when their vegetables grew in the harvesting season.
Despite the warmth, there are troubling signs. Many self-help groups are malfunctioning in the area and doing more harm than good in the process of development primarily because of a lack of orientation and direction from the local authorities.
These women have immense potential. They can definitely function as strong collectives and build successful social enterprises but they just are not getting enough support.
The concept of a self-help group has gotten lost in the way somewhere. There is a lack of proper understanding of what a self-help group can do.
Economic poverty is not the only aspect of poverty.
There were a lot of women who got loans and just handed the money over to their husband who utilised it for his activity whether it be paddy cultivation or betel nut production. The woman was not involved.
She only got a loan because she was a member of her self-help group.
Her sense of agency is not enhanced. We consider this to be equally important and perhaps more so than financial growth.
We don’t know whether many women get to take part in the household decisions.
At Rang De, we do regular checks and ask questions. Even the least vocal member told us that they do work on the vocational activity alongside their partner when utilising the loan but this may not be true.
The rural areas of Orissa are still largely patriarchal — women are not allowed to walk outside the house in OBC households. They are not allowed to do transplanting, harvesting or weeding.
This is why cow rearing and tailoring have become successful in the Khurda district and why we are increasing our loans in this sector in this region. These activities can be carried out from home.
Tradition is stopping women from doing a lot of things. They use a lot of labourers in the field which brings down their profit. Even in a poor family, because a woman cannot be part of the work, they hire ST women villagers from other villages to do the manual labour for the farm. They cost Rs 200 per day bringing down the family income.
There is also a lot of potential for handloom in the Khurda district. Many women know applique work and they can do various things with golden grass. Unfortunately, they do not have enough capital in their hands and the government in the region has not helped them buy materials or form cooperatives. Market linkage continues to be a big problem in such endeavours.
Handloom could gradually die out in the area as well.
Khurda district is also a flood prone area. They have had floods and cyclones nearly every year as the area is near the coast.
In such areas, it is very important to reach out to more and poor families, giving them loans that can ensure a solid footing for their future. But many institutions do not give loans to poor families as they are not confident that the families would carry out repayment.
In the coming weeks, we will showcase the lives of the borrowers we met in July on our Impact page but these are the ones that are doing well. There are many that have managed to repay the loan but they are not doing well economically or otherwise. What will happen to the gap? Will it increase?
We are providing loans but it is not the full solution. There has to be a nurturing of self-help groups and capacity building.
We have to start thinking about the future already. And we have.
Impact team member Ananya visited the villages of Khurda and Sambalpur in July 2016. You can invest in over 100 small-income borrowers serviced by DSS and SARC on the Rang De website.
We regularly carry out field trips to ensure that Rang De loans are making the desired impact on the poor communities we seek to empower. You can see the upcoming field trips on our Field Trip calendar and join us or you can sign up for audio evaluations by filling up the form here.