Self-help Groups & Networks Groups

RDT has been invested in empowering rural women, their collective autonomy and rights, by forming and strengthening the functioning of Self-help Groups. Through peer-support and affirmative collective action, many in the groups have reached self-awareness, skill acquisition and socio-economic possibilities.

In the early 80s, RDT teams were not allowed direct access to women, and interactions were blocked by the men who had sole decision-making powers and resisted their participation in activities of socio-economic consequence. Women themselves expressed fear and inhibition, and there was a general lack of understanding about the resources of the Government. RDT’s early discussions with men centred on how they were there to teach women about being healthy and strong to continue her work for the home and family. Community workers were allowed access to individual women, then 2, 3 and so on in informal groups where the Community Organiser (CO) talked about herself to show that they all can share experiences.At the time, RDT was also working towards driving primary school enrolment levels and women with young children were coaxed to bring their toddlers to these gatherings.

“We wanted to create a system of access for poor rural women so that they become empowered and capable decision makers.”
Mr. Adinarayana,
Sector Team Leader

Supplementary schools didn’t necessarily run in permanent buildings back then and they ran for 2 hours before, and 2 hours after government school. The big draws for women to attend were that their children received a meal and were groomed at the supplementary school. Grooming was important as it psychologically prepared the children to attend a school of mixed-caste classmates- and they did not feel shabby in comparison to their better off mates.

In time, RDT constituted a 6-member team of COs and/or social workers to initiate the programmes in about 10-15 villages on experimental basis. After establishing a good rapport with women and their families, the team started the process of organising Sanghams on a collective basis. By the end of 1982, as many as 20 villages were covered under women’s programmes and within 2-3 years, many more Sanghams were formed. Between 1995 and 1997, Women’s Groups/Sanghams were reorganised into Self-help Groups (SHGs) consisting of 15 members in each group. Over four decades, 1,08,612 women across 1675 villages are members of 8,122 SHGs today.

Over four decades, 1,08,612 women across 1675 villages are members of 8,122 SHGs today.RDT also created an intersection between SHG leaders forming a Network Group (NG) – usually 2 women, a man and now, 1 Person with Disability/Disabilities also becomes a part of the network. These leader members are also usually members of their local Community Development Committee (CDC).Network Group members have an expanded view of the work in other SHGs and are given inputs on topics like HIV/AIDS and Family Planning etc.

to be conveyed to their Sangham/SHG members besides receiving leadership inputs from STLs, ATLs and Sr. COs. By the mid-80s, the state government had also rolled-out women’s schemes such as Development of Women and Child in Rural Areas (DWCRA) and Velugu- which provided additional funds to SHGs aided by the World Bank. The Network Groups (NGs) carry out the kind of activities that RDT’s Sanghams and SHGs are involved with, in Ananthapuram and across the state. At present, 1222 villages are part of these networks. The membership in a Network Group is exclusively confined to SC & ST community women and there are 10,493 Network Groups.

Today, SHGs’ primary domain is the management of micro-finance initiatives, i.e. savings and credit facilities like Mini-Banks and Women Development Fund (WDF), which requires managerial abilities on the part of member-beneficiaries. To simplify accounting procedures, individual passbooks were given to the members and each group maintained separate ledger books. RDT introduced Management Information System (MIS) for getting information about Mini-Banks and the pattern of its utilisation and repayment. Transparency in financial transactions mandated by RDT in its mentor and supervisory role resulted in high organisational esteem. The reorganisation increased the membership from 45-50 % to about 80-85 % in villages.

Major achievements of SHGs:

  • The most pronounced impacts have been growth of self-belief and economic independence in women.
  • They have mobilised average savings of 2.04 crores per year through mini-bank activities.
  • Several SHGs (1/4th) are now managed independently by women, and they all report effective communication between group members.
  • There is also a marked improvement in the leadership qualities and awareness of SHG members in addressing social factors inhibiting women like child marriages, property rights, physical and mental exploitation, and foeticide etc.
    Earlier, all major life decisions of women were taken by others like her parents, in-laws, husband and brothers. Today, more and more women have a direct say in their life-choices.
  • They express themselves more coherently and confidently, both within and outside their families, amongst the community elders and at various forums.
  • Roughly, 84% SHGs have cross-affiliation with Network Groups. This effectively mobilises women for collective action at an inter-village level.
  • It is encouraged that 50% members of a Network Group form part of the local Community Development Committee (CDC), which manages and monitors community schools/children’s education at village level.

“Sanghams provided an opportunity for women to show that if they work together, they could achieve even what the men had failed to achieve (e.g., House Sites), and that there is value for their decisions at both family and community level. With this view, the ‘Women’s Core Team'(WCT) was constituted in 1993 with senior members from all departments and cadres and is headed by Women Sector Director.”

Mrs. Prameela Kumari, RDT & WCT Member.


“After the demise of my husband, I had to completely shoulder the responsibility of taking care of my two children. I joined the Sangham in our village as I felt the need for support and guidance. Earlier, women in our village had no space of their own; men made all the decisions and did not like our presence in the meetings. RDT teams started awareness camps in Sangham and interaction with women within and outside our village. We members were told many things which were not known to us earlier and along with improving my articulation skills, I also learnt a lot about education and health.

Sangham became our collective strength. RDT trained me as a Community Health Worker, popularly called CHW. I also gained tailoring skills with the help of RDT and even obtained a loan from Women Development Fund to buy a sewing machine. I am happy that I am not dependent on outside labour anymore because I earn enough with my tailoring. My son is doing his technical course while my daughter is studying for her graduation and I am able to support their education. Today, I am the leader of SHG in our village and by taking this lead role in the management of the Group, I learnt a lot on social issues and became independent in managing financial transactions.  My self-confidence has improved a lot, for which I am very grateful to RDT.” – Ms. Nagamma, P. Kondapuram Village, Pamidi Area

“I never thought that a single skill such as tailoring would bring about a great level of financial independence for me and my family.”


The living standard and quality of life have improved since people have become aware of family planning benefits as now they are able to give better facilities and education to their children, which was earlier not possible as income was limited and children were more.