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  • SEWA Bank: Changing with the times

  • Self help groups and co-operatives: Spreading the SEWA Model of Micro Finance

  • SEWA Banking in the hills

  • National Event of Domestic Workers in India

  • SEWA News:

    • SEWA daughters win Judo Competition at the National Level

    • Kokilaben honored with Best Farmer ATMA Award

No. 52 | August 2013
H2 Side SEWA Bank: Changing with the times

Shri Mahila SEWA Sahkari Bank Ltd (SEWA Bank) has now entered it's 40th year of existence. Over 2500 members were present at the Annual General Meeting held on 20th June,2013 at Town Hall Ahmedabad, chaired by Manjulaben Vaghela.

Jayshreeben Vyas, Managing Director, SEWA Bank said that the bank is there to rescue members from the hold of moneylenders and to build up women's savings and assets by providing services at the doorstep through Bank Sathis. This year SEWA Bank has reached 4 lakh women and has seen growth in all financial indicators. However the most satisfying is that the bank introduces new products and services all the time, as needs of women change over time and with a changing economy and society. This is possible because it is a co-operative and its members are its owners, every member has one vote irrespective of their shareholding; this principle gives equal voting rights to its members. Members have a right to elect Board of Directors, who take policy decisions and also motivate women to join the bank and avail of all its services.

As can be seen from the tables below SEWA Bank is growing steadily over the last three years.


Financial literacy is a major reason for the success of the Bank, which has designed its own tool kit of charts, videos and guides for spreading the awareness of its services and schemes. The bank designed four lessons for their customers which were taught to over 30,000 women across their customer base. These lessons were taught to the women to make them aware of the importance of having an account and saving money on timely basis so as to avoid any financial problems in the future. In the process of providing financial services, it was realized that women should also build their financial management skill, which starts from understanding the importance of thinking about long term instead of living and thinking on day to day basis and help them to make proper use of financial services available to them.

Over the years one of the life cycle needs that was voiced by the women was the need for security when they became old. They wanted a pension. Hence the bank decided to come up with a new product and scheme which would be designed specially to meet the needs of the women of unorganized sector and provide them with old age security. This was done in the following stages:

  • Designed own Pension Saving Product in the year 1995.
  • Linked with Pension Product of UTI in the year 2006.
  • Linked with National Pension Scheme (Government of India) from February, 2012.
    Currently, 80,000 members have been linked with Micro Pension Scheme.

Another new direction for SEWA Bank is that of Housing loans for women. "My house is my asset, my saving, my workshop and my place to rest. Improved shelter increased productivity and security" said Shardaben, a bidi roller member.

Financial Institutions have been reluctant in giving women housing loans. Women are still perceived as mere housewives who are high credit risks. Housing loans are not seen as productive loans which will lead to an increase in income. In reality housing however is a productive asset for millions of women who are poor and work out of their homes and this access to housing finance at long term, affordable rates is a necessity. Housing loans could be to buy a new house or to repair or replace a roof, wall, floor or door, for monsoon proofing, adding a room or kitchen, upgrading as well as loans that could be used as deposits for rent. Loans were also taken for infrastructural facilities such as water or electricity connections, building toilets and paved approach roads to the house.

UJASIYU - THE LIGHT REVOLUTION, is yet another new product of SEWA Bank. While making field trips to members' homes SEWA staff realized how their members shared three sides of their house wall with the neighbours. This resulted in blocking the light and air, with only view and ventilation from the front. This meant that even in broad daylight, in extreme summer with a glowing sun outdoors, the inner rooms remained pitch dark. It remained extremely hot with full roof radiation and no ventilation.

In order to benefit thousands of its members residing in industrial chawls and slums, SEWA Bank along with Mahila Housing SEWA Trust set up an "Innovation Centre for Poor" that prioritized energy-saving and comfort through efficiency of design. A number of initiatives were taken up under the idea of energy saving through gadgets. The most successful of these was UJASIYU, a roofing sheet made from Fiber Reinforced Plastic with capacity of 80 to 100 kgs integrated decorative design made from Galvanize and Cement Sheet.

Benefits of Ujasiyu :

  • No electricity supply needed during day time.
  • Lesser amount of temperature compared to earlier.
  • Monthly saving of Rs. 60 to Rs. 150 in electricity bill.
  • Good for the health. (Relaxation in respiration and skin diseases).
  • Increase in literacy level of children.

Chandrakalaben Kongari is a resident of Bapunagar, Ahmedabad. She is engaged in the work of bidi rolling. Her family consists of eight members. The monthly income of her family is Rs 19000. The number of electronic equipment's used in her home are five. In the past it was difficult to carry out livelihood activities at home due to lack of air and sufficient light. Electricity bills increased but it failed to keep the rooms coolers and it felt darker. With the use of SEWA's new technology of ventilation roofs today she does not need to use lights during the day time. This has in turn reduced her electricity bills.

Varlaxmiben Kamcheti works as a bank saathi. She resides in Pathan ni Chawl in Saraspur area of Ahmedabad. Her family comprises of eight members gathering a monthly income of Rs 10,000. Before the use of Ujasiyu her family felt severe heat and humidity in the house and due to high electricity bills they failed to save anything. Today with the new technology in her home she feels blessed as it has not only benefitted her children's education but money saved due to reduced electricity bills has been deposited in the savings account.

H2 Side Self Help Groups and Co-operatives: Spreading the SEWA Model of micro-finance

SEWA Bareilly

Bareilly district in Uttar Pradesh is famous for its embellishment work. Majority of embellishment workers get irregular income throughout the year. Hence they depend on family, friends or contractors to meet family expenses. Most families depend on loans at high interest rates. Therefore, micro-finance is needed to facilitate savings and credit services tailored to the needs of home-based workers. Women Self-Help Groups facilitate skill building, income generation and awareness on health and education. First, the importance of savings was instilled in the women of Bareilly by SEWA members and thereafter women starting forming savings group.

Since the time women of Bareilly have been associated with the savings group they have started taking care of their own needs. Nathiyaben belonging to one such savings group said, 'Women from our area have come up in life due to SEWA's efforts in creating such saving groups. I have become a part of this group and have started saving money. Once I had to pay my daughters school fees but I didn't have money to do so. I then took a loan of Rs 10,000 from the savings group and not only deposited her fees but also bought her books.'

The husband of Munnibegum works as a labourer. After being associated with SEWA he has learnt the importance of saving money. She not only linked herself with the savings group but also associated her daughter with it. Her family possessed a land but never built a home on it. Eventually they took a loan worth Rs 20,000 from the savings group and built a room on their plot.

Since the time women have joined the savings groups their self-confidence has increased and they have become more alert about their health as well. Amnaben took a loan of Rs 5000 from the group and got her eyes operated. She says her vision has improved significantly after the surgery. Before the operation she had to take help of others for work. But now she has become self-reliant.

Another incident reflects the story of Gangadevi. Where in the roof of her house was broken making it difficult for them to survive during monsoon. Since she was associated with the savings group she could take a loan of Rs 10,000 and repair the roof. Lamenting her story she said, 'During rains my home would fill up with water creating great difficulty. Had I not joined SEWA and learnt the importance to save money we would have to bear with such difficulties for many years to follow.'

SEWA Katihar

Virma Devi lives in Katihar, Bihar. Her husband works as a farm labourer. She has three children. She has been associated with SEWA since the past three years. She cites, 'My husband is a farm labourer but his income is not sufficient to make ends meet. My children were not enrolled in school and we were facing severe difficulties. I knew how to stitch and sew but due to lack of money we couldn't buy a sewing machine. On joining SEWA I was encouraged to save some money and join the savings group. With SEWA's support and encouragement, I started saving Rs 100 every month and deposited it with the savings group. After a while with some money saved I borrowed a loan from the savings group and bought a sewing machine. With the help of the sewing machine I started working from home and soon enough started making enough money to support my family. Later I not only enrolled my children in school but was also able to keep tuitions for them whenever required. As my economic standing became stronger my status and respect in the society grew. Formerly my husband took all the decisions but since I have started contributing to the family I have an equal say as well.' Now in the true sense she has become self-reliant.

SEWA Delhi

SEWA members in Delhi formed the Mahila SEWA Urban Co-op Thrift and Credit Society Ltd to ensure financial inclusion and empowerment of poor self-employed women. Women themselves are the shareholders and partners of the co-operative. They save as per their income and capacity. Women receive loans on interest rates as low as 1.5 percent. Joining the co-operative has enabled women to free themselves from the clutches of moneylenders, be more self-reliant and avail loans for their basic necessities.

Karunaben is a resident of New Ashok Nagar in Delhi. Her husband has a private job. She is mother to three daughters and one son. She is a home based worker. She applies pico (beads) and fall for sarees. She cites, 'Initially whatever income I generated through work got used up in household expenses. I was barely able to save a single penny. Once SEWA sisters visited my area and informed me about the Co-operative. I opened my account with the co-operative and saved whatever I could. Gradually my savings increased and I could afford to take a loan. This money enabled me to purchase two sewing machines. My work increased, and with that did my income and savings. Thereafter I opened my daughters' accounts with the co-operative as well. I urged women known to me to open their accounts with SEWA's co-operative. My fellow sisters agreed to open their accounts since they had witnessed my business growth and increased savings.'

Naimaben lives in the slums of Sunder Nagar in Delhi. She has five children. Her husband has a descent job. She knew about the importance of savings and tried to save as much as she could. However since the amount of savings was kept in the house the money got frequently used up. Her husband opened her account in the bank yet was unable to save any money in it. Somewhere around the same time, SEWA members advised her to open an account with the co-operative and informed her about the loan facilities she could avail at lower rates of interest in times of need. Naimaben refused to open an account with the co-operative then.

Sometime later Naimaben was in urgent need of money but she felt helpless as no one offered aid. This is when she remembered what SEWA sisters had told her. She immediately contacted SEWA members and from the various existing schemes prevalent with the co-operative she opened her account under the Rs 500 scheme. It had roughly been a year into savings when Naimaben's husband informed her of Rs 10,000 he had taken as debt from his sister. He informed her that it was time to return and repay the money he had borrowed. She instantaneously took a loan from the co-operative and returned the money. Thereafter, after she repaid the loan in a timely fashion.

Later she took a loan of Rs 25,000 from the co-operative to free her jewelry kept as mortgage with the moneylender. She had to pay 3 percentile interest to the moneylender in comparison to which the co-operative charged only half the interest. She repaid this loan as well with the help of her savings. Not only this, she later took a loan of Rs 80,000 to help her husband increase his business. Currently she is depositing the loan installments with the co-operative. She delightfully says, 'Just as a sinking person breathes a sigh of relief on seeing the shore similarly we have received the support of the co-operative in rough times.'

The SEWA model has spread outside Gujarat, to reach thousands of women with self help groups and through the Co-operative model. This model is based on women's savings which totals now to about 12 crores and loans of three times that amount. It has become a powerful model controlled and run by poor women themselves.

H2 Side SEWA Banking in the Hills

Working as a federation, SEWA Bharat operates a unique program in the hills of Uttarakhand. More than 75% of Uttarakhand's population comes under the category of 'rural'. Owing to the high altitude, poor connectivity with roads and thinly spread population, bank services in such areas are often very limited. In order to bridge the gap between rural areas and banking services, SEWA in collaboration with the State Bank of India (SBI) began a unique initiative of financial inclusion in 2009. SEWA Bharat works as a Business Correspondent (BC) of the SBI.

SEWA Bharat-SBI Financial Inclusion Programme employs selected women from the community as Customer Service Points (CSPs). SBI issues a Business Correspondent Code to each of the CSPs. Technology provider, A little World, generates a unique CSP ID and issues them Point of Service (POS) Machines. Once the data is entered and linked to the corresponding account, it is uploaded to SBI's server through GPRS culminating with the registration of the account.

With the help of these machines, basic accounts are opened by recording identities of customers through fingerprints, voice recording and photographs thereby enabling a spectrum of transactions. Deposit savings (Fixed Deposit/Recurring Deposit), withdrawal, remittance, loan applications and pension distribution are readily made available through this model of financial inclusion. This acts as a mini-bank branch on the palm top with facilities of cash deposits and withdrawals up to Rs 10,000. The BC is connected to a local brick and mortar branch that supervises the functioning of all BC's in the area.

The Business Correspondent model of service delivery has widened the scope of inclusion. Direct Benefit Transfer is an avenue to use this model at mass scale. This model becomes practical if all stakeholders share financial responsibility fairly. Uttarakhand has organic farmers spread all over. Farmers and producers do not get returns in proportion to the risk or effort put in. Five aspects like product, price, awareness, delivery,and people/attitude effect financial exclusion. Price, delivery and to some extent awareness have taken steps towards financial inclusion; however, product and people/attitude have left a gap in the inclusion. The vulnerable people need 'Community based micro insurance intermediaries' to take care of risks in agriculture. Banks need to be more sensitive and trained to deal with poor vulnerable customers.

Leelaben Pandey, an enthusiastic Customer Service Provider, elaborates on the benefits of the programme:

'I wake up at 4 am each day and prepare my children for school. I walk almost 25 kms every day through the jungles and hills often in the dark, braving wild animals and snakes. I have basic school level education and was partially familiar with the mobile before I started the role of a CSP. On the POS machine I enroll members, make transactions and take loan details. I have given financial security to my family and earn a handsome commission. Today I walk confidently into a bank and talk to its officials. I have distributed old age pension through this technology among the people of my community. I have gained much respect from my community.' In Uttarakhand, she is one of the 25 SEWA women who could decide the fate of branchless banking.

Till date, the CSPs have been able to open over 20,000 accounts, mobilized almost Rs 7.28 crores in deposits and channelized Rs 2.72 crore loans in the most difficult terrain of Uttarakhand with a team of only women CSPs selected from the local community and guided by capable staff. The team has covered all the FI villages assigned by SBI from time to time. The CSPs have also provided 'old age pension' at peoples doorsteps. This model of SEWA Bharat has worked as the users and providers of services from the same community. This is the best way to ensure quality.

In Almora, women who are essentially organic farmers had access to formal financial system through SEWA Bharat's BC programme. On having their own bank accounts, women felt encouraged to save in safe places. They could plan and collectively started bargaining for a decent price of their produce. They have collectively opened their producer cooperative of organic products. Their transaction of selling is through the transparent mechanism of BC model.

Today, Leelaben Pandey knows that 25 other women CSPs in 3 more districts have invalidated the need of physical banks.

The rural population of Uttarakhand primarily consists of the elderly, women and young children. Men regularly venture out to the cities looking for better employment opportunities. Agriculture, albeit difficult, alongside animal husbandry, have been the main occupations of these women. For long, the state has struggled to retain these people through local employment and income generation schemes. Through this unique model, employment generation for women has grown manifold.

H2 Side National Event of Domestic Workers in India

The National Platform for Domestic Workers organized a national event on July 31, 2013 in the Indian capital, New Delhi. This Platform is made up of various unions/organizations of domestic workers from all over the country. Over 3000 domestic workers across 12 states of India presented themselves. A massive mobilization campaign was undertaken by all the states for this event which officially commenced on June 16th 2013 on the occasion of International Domestic Worker's Day. A signature campaign was launched to get support for the Memorandum that was to be presented to the Prime Minister demanding a Comprehensive Legislation for Domestic Workers. More than 10,000 signatures of workers and some supporters were collected.

Prior to this, in February 2013, a large representative group of the Platform members met to agree on the demands to be included in the Memorandum. This is basically a set of 'non negotiables' that is sought in a Comprehensive Legislation. At the national meeting which took place at Jantar Mantar in Delhi, domestic workers from all the organizations spoke about their issues and demands and the progress or problems they faced in their states. One of the National Convenors explained the main contents of the Comprehensive Legislation that was demanded.

Basically, the demand is for the registration of workers and the employers through tripartite boards which would regulate work and deliver social security to the workers. The boards should also have a help line and mechanism for grievance redressal. These boards would also regulate the placement agencies.

There was great energy as the workers sang their songs, shouted their slogans and waved their organizations banners. Several parliamentarians also attended the meeting and felicitated the workers and promised to take the memorandum with signatures to the Parliament. Two representatives also took the memorandum with signatures to the Prime Minister's Office and the Ministry of Labour.

SEWA sisters played an important part in this process. Elaben accepted to be a member of the convening committee of the event with Mohiniben Giri, the former Chairperson of the National Women's Commission and Devakiben Jain a leading feminist economist and a close friend of SEWA. Sisters in Bihar, MP and Kerala collected signatures.

Bihar and Kerala had a delegation of 16 participants and Delhi had over 300 women at the event. Naliniben Nayak general secretary of SEWA Kerala has been a member and virtual coordinator of the Platform while Namitaben, from SEWA Bharat has been a member of the Delhi coordination group. Manaliben Shah Co-ordinator SEWA urban union, Lataben and Soniaben from the National Council were present at Jantar Mantar.

Prior to this event, earlier in July, a delegation from SEWA Delhi met Sheilaben Dikshit the chief minister of Delhi requesting her to create a legislation for domestic workers of Delhi.

The Platform will now follow up this work with the Parliament and keep up the organizational momentum by enlarging the membership in the Platform and working on the state governments to move ahead declaring minimum wages for the domestic workers and including them on the schemes already floated for them by the Central Government.

H2 Side SEWA News

SEWA daughters win Judo Competition at the National Level

Judo is a modern martial art. Twin daughters, Ruksana and Suhana of incense stick worker and SEWA's executive member Anishaben represented Gujarat and won at the National Level Judo Competition in Assam. At the state level they have won a silver medal and in Gujarat's Khel Mahakumbh-2012 they won two medals, two trophies and a cheque worth Rs 5000.

On being conferred with many awards and cheques the daughters said, 'Our mother works as an incense stick worker and has been associated with SEWA Union. She rolls incense sticks and in spite of her minimal income she sent us to school and helped us reach these heights today. Our mother received the warmth of SEWA and the understanding of Gandhian values which she passed it on to us as well. Currently we are competing at judo at the local and national level. Nevertheless if the opportunity arises we will be more than happy to represent our country at the international level as well.'

SEWA family feels immensely proud of their achievement!!

Kokilaben honored with Best Farmer ATMA Award

Kokilaben a resident of Pisawada village of Gujarat received the Best Farmer ATMA Award with prize money of Rs 25000 and was felicitated with a shawl in Gandhinagar. She associated herself with SEWA early on as a leader and later got elected as a representative of Ahmedabad district for SEWA. She received several trainings through SEWA's platform. The once introvert Kokilaben gained confidence and did extremely well in her work. She would travel to different villages, meet the villagers, hear their problems and make sure that each question and query reached the SEWA office.

Through SEWA she received agriculture training in Anand Agricultural University. She formed a union of farmers and linked them with government's ATMA Project. Hence enabling the farmers to receive the benefits of the government projects specially designed for farmers. Not only did she use the training imparted to her in the benefits of other farmers but she cultivated her own land as well. By doing so her farm production increased. She was honored at the Krushi rath festival in her village. The sarpanch of the village took immense pride in the fact that out of 85 male farmers only Kokilaben received such a prestigious honor.

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