Soukhya Samudhaya Samasthe (SSS)
Soukhya Groups were started by women sex workers in MYRADA projects. Though they shared some common elements of the regular SAG, they were unique because the main focus was on their health and psychosocial well-being. Within a year, these groups had started to take onus for their own health by collecting and distributing condoms to their members; going for health checks; saving regularly and linking to the banks; dealing with harassment from pimps and police and confronting oppression from the power brokers. They successfully addressed risk factors that made them vulnerable – lack of alternative livelihoods, education, security for their children, distress migration, harassment from pimps and brothel madams etc. Their savings gave them a sense of security and empowered them to refuse clients who did not agree to practice safe sex. Soon, they felt the need to federate and this led to two superstructures – the Soukhya Okoota at the taluk level and the Soukhya Samudhaya Samasthe (SSS) at the district level. This is a classic example of how MYRADA built on the strengths of the community.
The experience of MYRADA staff in building local level institutions built on affinity and trust helped in the process. Over 500 Soukhya groups were formed across four districts with five SSS overseeing their progress. After the project closed in 2012, all the SSS, who were registered under the Societies Act, continued to receive independent funding directly from KSAPS (Karnataka State AIDS Prevention Society). They manage the HIV prevention program with an average annual budget of Rs.20 lakh per project. The SSS institutions of Kolar and Chikballapur districts have received several awards for their work in mobilising social entitlements for the members of Soukhya groups. All groups have savings and credit. Today they are empowered enough to dictate terms to clients and take care of their own health.
MASS – Mahila Abhivrudhi Samrakshana Samasthe
Devadasis are young girls who are dedicated to Goddess Yellamma and spend their lives in service to the deity. Contrary to how they are portrayed in the movies, these young girls are actually sold to rich men by their own families and often bear their children. They are often cast aside when they grow older. As per tradition, every Devadasi was supposed to sacrifice one of her daughters to the Deity or forever be cursed.
The Government decided to do something to help eradicate this system which negatively impacted the life of so many women. MYRADA’s involvement with the Devadasis began in 1991, when the State Government provided funds for this program. MYRADA deputed Lathamala, one of its key staff, to work in this program. It took over 10 years of hard work and fighting against atrocities and the system itself, for the Devadasis to believe that MYRADA was there to help them.
Later, funds were raised from NOVIB for a program to support Devadasis, and this is how MASS (Mahila Abhivrudhi Samrakshne Samasthe – an institution of ex-devadasis) was born. With the help of Lathamala and the MYRADA team, the ex-devadasi women were trained, formed into small SHGs and taught to manage their own lives. The organization MASS was registered as a Society in 1997 with the Board of Directors made up only by the ex-Devadasi members. MYRADA supported them directly till 2005. MASS currently has a membership of 3,600 and raises funds from several sources. The Government of Karnataka granted MASS a plot of land on lease for its office and other training facilities.
Today MASS has 17 permanent staff, 3000+ members and over 50 volunteers. They work for the empowerment of ex-devadasis, provide education for their children, have a legal desk to address counselling and support for many women. They also manage several programs and mobilise grants and credit from several Donor organisations.
One of their founding members, Sitavva Jodatti, was recently made CEO of the organization. Her dedication to MASS and its members was recognized this year when she was conferred with the Padmashree award by the President of India.
Sanghamithra – Micro Finance Institution
A key function of SHGs is credit linkages. So, once SHG members were trained in the basics and comfortable with internal credit and savings, they were then linked to banks for external loans. In the initial stages, it seemed to work as the loan size was small and procedures simple. But mature SHGs were facing a problem when they started asking for larger loans, which the banks were unwilling to provide. Since MYRADA was closely involved in conceptualizing and promoting the SHG-Bank Linkage program of NABARD in the early 1990’s, they understood this dilemma and were looking for solutions. As a not for profit society, MYRADA did not get want to get directly involved in transacting credit activities (loans and repayment) of the SHGs. MYRADA staff prevailed on the Management to start a separate rural credit institution. This was how Sanghamithra was conceived and started in 2000.
Registered in 1995 as a not-for-profit under Section 25 (now changed to Section 8) of the Company’s Act, they started operations only a few years later, once exemption from tax on donations was obtained. Today, they have 8 regional offices and 250 staff.
Unlike other MFIs, Sanghamithra has not had a problem with liquidity ever since its inception. It partners with people’s institutions in remote areas and lends to SHGs and community-based organizations of all kinds. They have expanded their operations to all of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. Their interest rates are the lowest in the MF sector and it has made profits consistently. They get loans from SBI, Indian Bank, Canara Bank, SIDBI, Syndicate Bank and NABARD. An efficient and hands-on Board of Directors ensures that they are never short on credit.
A stringent check is done every 3 months and thus it has a good credit rating from approved Credit Rating Agencies. Regular guidelines and circulars are issued to all branches. Systems and processes are in place and strictly followed by all staff.
Sanghamithra adopts the Business Facilitator Model. NGOs and people’s organizations like Community Managed Resource Centres are selected as business facilitators. Sanghamithra and BF staff together assess the SHGs to see if they fulfill the criteria for applying for a loan. It lends directly to the SHG (not through the BF) and the staff collect repayment directly from the SHG. The BF organises and trains the SHGs and monitors their performance. For this service, the BF gets a commission of 1.5 % if it is an NGO and 2% if it is a people’s institution like the CMRC.
Since the interest rate is lowest amongst other MFIs, Sanghamithra is very popular in most rural areas. They are the first MFI to have loaned money to the Soliga tribals in the MM Hills area and to sex workers in Soukhya groups.
Future plans are many and the current CEO, Mr.Gadiyappanavar, is confident of attaining an average annual growth of 25%. The aim is to encourage Joint Liability groups to borrow and bring down the NPA to less than 1% by 2020. They are working on getting a new software with an upgraded tracking system and billing machines based on Android technology.
Formed in 2006, this VO covers the H.D. Kote taluk and some parts of Mysore district. It is a prime example of an organisation hived off from MYRADA. The process of setting it up took over a year and involved several meetings to plan how to do it seamlessly. The staff did not want to leave MYRADA as they felt a sense of security working there. Credit for convincing staff to move to MYKAPS should be given to the Program Officer – William D’Souza, who they trusted implicitly. MYRADA assured staff that they would continue to moblise funds and the corpus held by the Project would be given to MYKAPS.
In 2006, MYKAPS’s annual budget was 12.9 lakhs. Ten years later, in 2016, it reached 5.9 crores. Proves how successful this VO is.
They have done tremendous work in the years since they began. The Raleigh International program which ran from 2009-2016 saw over 1,000 trainee students from Europe intern at the project. They came in batches of 16, stayed in a village for 1-2 months and taught the villagers about hygiene and sanitation. This program also aided the construction of toilets. In 2013, under a program called International Citizen Services, 14 youth from UK and India stayed in a village to create awareness about sanitation.
MYKAPS has worked with various donors like ITC (Agro forestry and tank desilting), L&T (school sanitation and infrastructure), Automation Axles (rehabilitation of tanks), IDH Netherlands (cotton cultivation), Rabo Bank (organic farming). The team has been involved in clearing out tanks, liaising with FIGs and FPOs, building toilets, organic farming, building sustainable Sanghas, creating awareness on hygiene etc. The list is almost endless. MYRADA is a household name in the H.D. Kote area.
They have ambitious plans for the future. The focus will be on rehabilitation of tanks, sanitation, increase in CSR funding, increased training activities in the CIDOR at H.D. Kote and biodiversity promotion. Under the able leadership of William D’Souza, the success of MYKAPS is a certainty.
MYRADA Krishi Vigyan Kendra (MKVK)
MYRADA implemented a Lab to Land Program supported by Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) in Talavadi. They then applied for a Krishi Vigyan Kendra from ICAR. MKVK in Erode District was sanctioned by ICAR in 1991 and started operations in 1992. The aim was to bridge the gap between farmers and the science of agriculture and to improve the lives of farmers by providing a range of services and capacity-building efforts to achieve sustainable livelihoods. In the initial years, the KVK was run by MYRADA staff. The salary was considerably lower than ICAR scales and so staff attrition was high. A special mandate was then taken to pay the MKVK staff on par with ICAR scales as long as it was supported by ICAR.
MKVK works with new technologies, conducts various tests and takes innovations to farmers. They have training facilities for theory as well as practical classes. Farmers, SHG members, CMRC staff, agriculture students and faculty come regularly to seek help in improving farming and farm-related entrepreneurial activities.
MKVK has specialist scientists who work on various innovations and testing. They run a soil testing lab, plant health diagnostic centre, bio control lab, micronutrient production unit, millet processing unit, and spawn production unit for mushrooms.
MYRADA KVK has published various booklets on organic farming practices, goat rearing techniques, turmeric crop cultivation techniques, rooftop gardens, vermicompost process etc. They also cultivate a demonstration farm in the premises and grow mango, curry leaves, sapota, azola, fodder grass, bananas etc. MKVK has won numerous awards for innovations in farming. They actively promote farmer markets and have over 136 branded products that are sold under the MYRADA KVK label.
Both MYRADA and ICAR are committed through the MKVK to build capacities of farming communities. The mission statement of MKVK reads: “To promote an integrated natural resources management and farming systems approach under complex, diverse, and risk-prone conditions based on the principles of equity and sustainable increases in productivity through appropriate institutions and linkages that support on-going changes in strategies, methods, and materials related to adaptive research and extension.”
MKVK in association with Indian Institute of Horticultural Research (IIHR), Bangalore, has produced micronutrients for banana, vegetables and mango cultivation. MKVK also promotes second level organisations to aggregate, add value and market agricultural commodities. Commodity-based groups, farmers’ producers organizations and a farmers’ market outlet called Uzhavan Angadi have been promoted. This store was registered in 2013 under the Co-operative Societies Act in the name of Velan Vanigan Farmer Producers Society with an initial membership of 40 which has now grown to 382.
In addition, MKVK has promoted 7 farmer producers’ companies (covering 6,200 farmers) who focus on turmeric, groundnut, paddy, millets, pulses and arecanut. These FPOs are involved in processing and value addition of the products and are involved in direct marketing.
Meadow (Management of Environment and Development of Women) Rural Enterprise – Hosur
In early 1995, Titan had some discussions with MYRADA to start collaboration in Hosur, where local poor women would get involved in manufacturing opportunities with the private sector. The Prince Charles Business Forum and Confederation of Indian Industries had organized a visit to the MYRADA Project in Hosur. Two officers from this Forum visited the project and saw the potential for collaboration with Titan Industries. One of the outcomes was to ask Titan to engage young women from poor rural households in Hosur for the assembly of watch straps and bracelets. Dexterity of fingers and sharp vision were required. The SHG members and MYRADA staff visited the Titan factory and studied the activities that were being considered for outsourcing. Titan then offered to involve the SHG women in production processes.
The women got together and decided to take up bracelet assembly and 24 young girls were trained by Titan. Within a month they reached 75% of the required productivity levels. Payments from Titan went directly to the SHGs and they paid out salaries and allowances. Titan then suggested that a separate company be created to avoid legal issues. MYRADA saw this as an opportunity to form an independent enterprise owned and managed by the women and proposed setting up a private company owned by these women members. The women hesitated to take up responsibilities of running a company since they had no prior experience. However, MYRADA offered to place a senior officer Anandan in the proposed company and paid his salary for three years until the company took over. The legal aspect of having a private limited company with less than 50 shareholders had to be dealt with. Each group selected a representative and shares were allotted in her name with the suffix “& Co”. All the women were listed as co-owners. Thus, a woman managed private limited company came into existence in September 1998. The company was named MEADOW (Management of Enterprises and Development of Women) Rural Enterprises Limited.
With a 6-crore turnover this year, the growth has been exponential. Theirs is an amazing story of grit and perseverance. They now do Case polishing, Stone setting, Movement assembly for watches, d-burring of Aerospace parts, gold plate masking, waxing/mold setting, jewellery polishing etc.
This above is very intricate work and it is fascinating to see them bent over microscopes and putting into place tiny components, especially in the watch section.
With regular training from Titan, these enterprising and competent women have kept abreast of changes in technology and operate machines with relative ease. Their QC is very stringent and there are hardly any rejects.
Attrition from Meadow is low as all staff are extremely happy and content. The women said that their lot in life has improved because of Meadow. They have sent their children to good schools, buy household items like washing machines and refrigerators, pay back their SHG loans etc. They work regular hours from 9.30 am – 5.45 pm and take public holidays as dictated by the government. Meadow gives employment to women from over 50 villages in the area.
Their long terms plans include getting their own building, staff quarters, canteen, office bus and increase staff strength to 1,000 workers.