FAO Investment Centre

Self-help groups empower India’s rural poor


When the World Bank wanted an end-of-project evaluation of its Bihar Rural Livelihoods Project, it turned to the Investment Centre, a trusted partner. 

Bihar is one of the poorest states in India. Malnourishment, social marginalization and migration are rife, and many people are deeply indebted to moneylenders or landlords, which can sink families for generations. 

The project, which began in 2007, has reached more than 1.8 million women through self-help community groups across 10,000 villages – transforming these women’s networking skills and ability to save, rotate funds and link with banks for productive loans. 

The Investment Centre’s job in 2017 was to pull together the massive amount of data to see if and how the project was contributing to positive changes, such as reduced debt, increased incomes and greater food security. Using a participatory approach, the evaluation team conducted workshops to draw out lessons and interviewed large numbers of people, including women from many different types of households. As an outsider, FAO was able to look at the project with a fresh pair of eyes and really probe the data to make sure there were no major gaps or inconsistencies.  

The evaluation found many positive spin-offs from the project. Community groups, for example, now act like watchdogs for their members’ needs, helping them access other entitlements such as pensions and insurance, procure food and kerosene and manage public distribution systems, cutting out intermediaries. In fact, the State is increasingly depending on these groups to deliver key services to people most in need. 

FAO’s partners are using the evaluation to shape future programmes. And even though the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Project was not an FAO project, the results of the report are leading to interesting collaboration across the Organization – from analysis of the project’s impact on nutrition outcomes to lessons for reducing rural poverty in other countries.

Image:©FAO/Noah Seelam
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