In 1993, Latur and parts of rural Maharashtra suffered a massive earthquake which claimed over 11,000 lives and damaged over 2,00,000 houses. SSP redesigned the State led rehabilitation program from an individual beneficiary to community led reconstruction and development effort in 1300 villages in the repair and reconstruction program. One important element of the revised approach was the reliance on Samvad Sahayaks, women village communication assistants, to facilitate communication between the villages and the Government of Maharashtra and to motivate villagers to participate in the repair and strengthening program. Between 1996 and 1998, 500 Samvad Sahayaks were appointed in as many villages.
Working to transform this mass-scale disaster into an opportunity for development, SSP developed a widespread network of self help groups (SHGs) that went beyond savings to build social, political and economic competencies for its women members. Since 1998, it has operated in five districts of the economically backward Marathwada region in Maharashtra.
Later propelled by insights from women’s groups with previous experience from Latur earthquake, the women of Kutch and Jamnagar districts of Gujarat formed Self help groups and gained know-how on responding to disasters after the earthquake (2001). In the aftermath of South Asia Tsunami (2004), SSP has facilitated grassroots women to transfer innovations to strengthen women’s self help groups/networks firstly for community preparedness and recovery and later to address social and economic vulnerabilities.
Later, federations formed by SHGs linked women to local institutions, banks, and business opportunities. In 2006, the network promoted Sakhi Samudaya Kosh (SSK) as a MFI which has loaned Rs. 23.75 crore ($ 52,78,000) to 24,647 women SHG members for small business, infrastructure and agricultural investments.
Today, SSP partners with over 72,000 women in self-help groups or networks in three states in India Maharashtra, Tamilnadu and Gujarat. Scaling up its microfinance and enterprise strategy by partnering with women’s groups/federations, SSP expanded its operations to 1600 villages across six districts in Maharashtra promoting a women’s leadership to operate savings and credit and insurance businesses and act as information/service providers. Mature women’s groups act as planners and advisors by working hand-in-hand with private service providers and government to improve health, water and sanitation services.
Working with corporations, SSP created business partnerships and “business ready” women’s networks that emerged from the micro credit and disaster recovery work.
The microfinance and social businesses promoted by the NGO, till date, recorded a combined turnover of 25 crores ($ 55,56,000) and made a tremendous impact on incomes and savings for rural households. Operating on a business model, the ventures reach out to over 5,00,00 people much needed micro credit loans, insurance and products –cook stoves, water filters, solar lamps, home lighting and clean fuel.
Prominent are Sakhi Retail - a rural marketing and distribution network, Sakhi Samudaya Kosh -social microfinance; Sakhi Arogya Samudaya Trust that offers cashless health insurance and discounted quality health care. Future plans include a School of Entrepreneurship for women and youth where successful local entrepreneurs will be the teachers / mentors and inspiration for their community. Social Businesses established and supported by SSP provide range of services to communities creating eco-system for rural development.