A livelihood generation model financed through micro-credit released by women’s self-help groups (SHGs) in the dusty Rajput-dominated Jhund village of Jaipur district has impressed the representatives of Commonwealth countries, who are keen on replicating it in the regions with identical social milieu and economic conditions.

Representatives from the developing countries of Asia-Pacific region and Africa – attending the ongoing 10th Commonwealth India Small Business Competitiveness Development Programme in Jaipur – visited the village in Bagru tehsil, 36 km from the Capital city, on Tuesday to witness the SHGs’ activities to access finances and technology.

The delegation, comprising about 30 entrepreneurs, businessmen, representatives of non-government organisations and government officials from Commonwealth countries, evinced a keen interest in the SHGs’ role in developing handicrafts, promoting animal husbandry and supporting sustainable small business ventures.

There are nine women’s SHGs functioning in Jhund at present with the total membership of 137. A Jaipur-based NGO, Students’ Relief Society (SRS), guided the SHGs during their formative years since 1998, while they operate their “micro banks” autonomously, making important decisions on their own about the recipients for lending of money as well as the recovery process.

The rural women’s progressive march to shield their future was showcased to the delegation through the embroidery work on Saris, bed-sheets and quilts and making of iron products and toys by a goldsmith family at the Government Middle School in Jhund. The delegation members were also apprised of the high percentage of girls getting education in the school.

SRS Director Prem Narayan Sharma, interacting with the Commonwealth representatives, pointed out that there was a separate SHG for adolescent girls, known as “Kishori Samooh”, functioning in the village.

Naval Kunwar belonging to a traditional Rajput family has emerged as a role model for the families of the village after she passed out tenth standard from the Government Secondary School in Bagru. The young woman succeeded in her educational pursuit after her mother, motivated by the members of “Saraswati Samooh”, encouraged her to continue her education against all odds.

Several members of women’s SHGs have opened local shops and dairies and are utilising loans for agricultural purposes, such as fertilisers and fodder for animals. SRS is also planning to up-scale livelihood activities in future, both in variety and in dimension.

Shobha Gupta, SRS community mobiliser, disclosed to the visiting delegation that “Saraswati Samooh”, an SHG formed in 1998 with an initial amount of Rs. 1,020, had increased its assets to Rs.32,796 by December last year, while its capital grew to Rs.3.60 lakh.

Shobha, educated upto fifth standard, said her SHG was engaged in Zari embroidery, locally known as ‘Aari Tari Gota Kinari’ work. Each woman member has an income of Rs.3,600 per month. The families of SHG members have also benefited from vocational training under the livelihood promotion programme, with the savings and credit practices enabling them to finance other enterprises.

SRS, working in 11 districts of Rajasthan, was selected to display the successful example of the role of NGOs and SHGs in generating sustainable employment, profit making and capacity enhancement of rural women in view of its track record of guiding women for formation of SHGs and taking up wide-ranging activities for bringing women to the mainstream of development.

The delegation was accompanied by Commonwealth programme evaluator, former civil servant K. Roy Paul. Selima Ahmad, president of Bangladesh Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the micro-credit structure evolved in her country by Nobel laureate Mohammed Yunus was useful for social enterprises in India.

By investing small funds, women of Jhund have contributed to economic uplift of the entire rural community. It has also acted as an effective tool for an enhanced role of women in the family and village affairs and led to women’s empowerment in the rural society.