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  Samaj Pragati Sahayog (SPS)

SPS was founded by a dedicated group of professionals - Scientists & Experts in different disciplines, who about 20 years ago, gave up lucrative careers to live with the poorest of the poor, the most marginalised, oppressed and exploited tribal communities of India. SPS draws inspiration from the life and work of Baba Amte, who is the Pramukh Sahayogi (Chief Associate) of the organisation. The aim of SPS is to move in the direction of Baba Amte’s life mission viz, “Empowerment of the most neglected and marginalised sections of our society, so that they become capable of standing on their own strength.”

SPS believes this also contributes to strengthening India’s fragile democracy at the grass-roots. The core group consists of ten highly educated & totally committed persons, (most of them are quite young), from different academic disciplines & hail from 9 different states of India. So it is almost as much a project of National integration as anything else.

SPS believes that location-specific watershed development combined with low-cost, low-risk agriculture, other nature-based livelihoods and women-led microfinance, can dramatically raise rural incomes, providing an enduring panacea to the suicide-ridden drylands. This approach arrests distress migration towards the metros and liberates the rural poor from the clutches of usurious moneylender-traders.

Indeed, the mainstream development experience has totally by-passed the specific requirements of resource-fragile regions - the drylands - a large part of India’s land area, covering nearly 397 districts of the country, which have to practice agriculture under "dry" conditions. In these parts (more than 60% of Indian agriculture), there is no possibility of extending irrigation & productivity levels remain way below their potential. Still dependent on uncertain rainfall, the drylands are where the poorest people live. These are regions of violent unrest, regions from where people migrate in search of work to cities, ending up in sub human slums, regions which, if developed in tune with their agro ecological diversity, could dramatically raise income level for a population of about 600 million people.

This process has already started & over the last two decades, Samaj Pragati Sahayog (SPS) has grown to be one of India's largest grass-roots initiatives for water and livelihood security, working with its partners on a million acres of land across 72 of India's most backward districts, mainly in the central Indian Adivasi (tribal) belt.

Work of SPS is indeed most outstanding, important and exemplary in the field of community & social services. In fact, by their own work, they have convincingly demonstrated that similar projects need to be and can be implemented all over the country. Such an effort can change the face of the entire country & put it on the path of sustainable development for decades to come. Whereas most other community & social service efforts benefit a few thousand people in a particular region, the work of SPS has the potential to benefit millions of people all over the country & that too in the most backward & tribal areas.

SPS believes that the full potential of watershed work can only be realised if it is supplemented by a microfinance programme. This is essential if we are to ensure long-term livelihood security to the poor. SPS is also convinced that no microfinance programme can be successful until it is tied up with livelihood programmes such as agriculture, dairying, marketing etc. Thus, microfinance and livelihoods programmes are complementary to each other and their simultaneous implementation is the key to poverty alleviation. Income raised through livelihood initiatives need to be saved. Of these women are the best custodians. These savings must be reinvested in livelihood options that in turn raise incomes, setting up a virtuous cycle.

The SPS microfinance programme is based on the Self Help Group-Bank Linkage (SBL) model. Over the last four years, SPS has formed more than 1000 women's Self-Help Groups (SHGs) with around 15,000 members, who have aggregate savings of Rs. 30 million (about $700,000) and have lent more than Rs. 150 million (about $3.5 million) to their members. Most members of these SHGs belong to marginalised sections, such as the poor, Adivasis, Dalits, landless and displaced people. SPS SHGs offer their members a range of financial products including interest on savings, recurring deposits, fixed deposits, loans against fixed deposits, loans for genuine needs and emergencies (the veracity of each of which is judged by the members themselves), loans for cattle and well construction, cattle insurance, life insurance etc.

But the central goal of the SPS SBL model goes beyond finance. It is the empowerment of these disadvantaged women who learn to run their own series of nested institutions – SHGs, Cluster Development Associations (of 15-20 SHGs) and Federations (of around 200 SHGs).

For more details about Samaj Pragati Sahayog, please Click here.

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