SEWA: The Self-Employed Women's Association

Under the guidance of Ms.Ela Bhat, a women's trade union called Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA) was registered at Ahmedabad in India in 1972. One of the services it operates is a cooperative bank which was started in 1974 with an initial membership of 4,000 (11,000 in 19887-88. The main features of SEWA Bank are:

  • membership is open only to poor women on payment of Rs. 10 (32 cents)as share capital.
  • help women become financially independent and start their own economic activity
  • cut red-tape/procedures to help illiterate women get small loans without difficulty (In view of the fact that many women could not even sign their names, photographs were used for identification).
The objectives of the Bank are:
  • to provide facilities for savings and fixed deposits accounts, thus inculcating thrift in women managing their savings and ensuring safe custody of cash.
  • to provide credit to further the productive, economic and income generating activities of the poor and self-employed.
  • to extend technical and management assistance in production, storage, processing, designing and sale of goods and services
  • to provide facilities to redeem jewellery from pawn brokers and money lenders
  • to adopt procedures and designs schemes suitable for self-employed women, like collecting daily savings from their place of business or home, or providing savings boxes and giving training in banking procedures.
SEWA Bank also provides legal and productivity training, education, maternity, protection, social security and "creche" facilities.

Note: Rs.31 = US$1

Some figures (for 1988):

Shareholders                  11,000
Depositors                    23,000
Deposits                      Rs. 11,233,000
Profits                       Rs.    370,000
Staff members                 22 (excluding field staff)
Interest rates (p.a.)         12-16.5 %
Repayment schedule            36 monthly installments

Amount                             Percentage of 
(in rupees)                       total Loans

Less than 3,000                    25.0
3,001 to 5,000                     30.0
5,001 to 10,000                    12.0
10,001 to 15,000                   25.0
15,001 to 20,000                    8.0

Performance Comparison with Public Sector Banks:
Items               Public Banks        SEWA Bank

Profit/deposits     0.20                3.57
Profit/Loans        0.35                5.55
Reserve/Deposits    1.17                9.82
Reserves/Loans      2.05                15.27

Some major departures from conventional banking include:
  • close supervision by field staff who visit borrowers regularly to remind them of their repayment obligations.
  • Guarantees by two persons with regular incomes are accepted for loans distribution.
  • Jewellery may be accepted as collateral
  • credit services are supplemented by other community services support.
  • recovery rate of loans is over 95 %.
  • staff provide additional assistance in filling forms, obtaining required documents, hiring professional services, assessing loan requirements etc.
  • procedural simplification has made the schemes more accessible to the poor and illiterate.

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