Social Land Ownership
Land Reform Act Part 2
This page offers
Real Voices in Development
a hundred stories of Women's Bank members
There is a scarcity of literature on concrete experiences of peoples self
development, that is, narratives of peoples own initiatives to improve their
socio-economic situations. While there are many books, reports, journals and other
documents on micro-economic development processes, micro development activities or
development initiatives of people at the grass roots have not been extensively researched
and documented. As a result, there is a conspicuous lacuna in the development literature.
In particular, development activists (variously called change agents, facilitators, social
mobilisers, catalysts, animators, group organisers and so on) do not have adequate access
to literature from which they could learn in order to improve their knowledge and skills.
- S Tilakaratna
- Professor of Economics & Researcher on Participatory Development
- Sri Lanka, 27 June 1998
|Magret of Seevali Pura is a member of the group
Shakthi. They formed the group in 1995. Her husband B A Daniel Appuhamy worked
as a labourer in the Colombo seaport and has retired now. W D Magret has nine children
five boys and four girls. Two boys and two girls are married. Now Magret is a
She is an active member of her group. She likes her group very
much and is satisfied with it. This is what she has to say about it.
|I lost one son and a daughter in their young age. The son was
stabbed to death in 1988. This happened after a small argument with a well known person
it was a real shock to me as a mother. My daughter died of brain fever in 1980.
Within one day of fever she died. I was highly worried by these deaths of my children.
worked about ten years in Colombo Municipality in my young age. I could not give my
children a good education due to our poverty and therefore they can work only as
labourers. I could not provide them the opportunity to change their social life. They have
to lead a life like that of ours in the same society. Is this the fate of the poor?
This is my second Womens Help Group. In 1994 I joined the first group called
Eksath but it collapsed due to its leaders migration for employment and
a long time had to be spent for accessibility of bigger loans. Some of the members of that
group did not have the patience to wait for the bigger loans but I thought that we did not
have any other option for credit. Therefore I talked to some members of the first group
and formed the second group.
Now we are at the bigger loan stage. I obtained Rs15000/= as a housing loan from our
branch and I plastered the walls of my house and completed the toilet. I also got a loan
for alms giving to commemorate my dear children. I expect to get another housing loan to
complete my house and a loan for an income generation activity.
We can overcome the difficulties of our daily life with this group. I personally have
settled my old debts from the local money lender which were on high rates of interest. Now
we have a place to get loans at one percent interest. This group system is very useful for
the poor people. I can now see the value of unity among the group members because of this
|Rupa Manel is the president of the Womens
Bank and she is also the Treasurer of her bank branch at Gajabapura/Bosewana in the
District of Colombo. K V Rupa Manel is a member of the Praja Sahayaka Sewaya (PSS) and has
been working for it for a long time. She has a good understanding of the friends and
enemies of the movement as it has grown. She knows very well how friends have assisted her
by deed, by word and by smile.
The time that Rupa has spent and the sweat
that she has shed can not be separated from the Womens Bank. Her devotion to the
movement is well known and appreciated by all women in the movement.
|I had never participated in community development work or any
organisational work before I joined the Womens Groups.
I was born in 1958 in
Bandarewela in the District of Badulla. I am a rural woman. I came to Colombo after my
marriage to Luxman De Silva who is a driver by profession and who was born and lives in
Colombo. He is 46 years old.
I have three children, two boys and a girl. The eldest is the only daughter
Ruwani Luxmi De Silva who is 19 years old and studying in the Advanced level class. The
second is Ruwan Lakmal De Silva who is 15 years old and studying in the grade 10 class.
The youngest is Thilina Sudhrshana De Silva who is 13 years old and studying in the grade
Joining a womens group for savings and credit was a strange thing for me. At the
beginning of the programme functions in a collective activity were new to all women. I was
not so interested in the work in the early period. My group members also sometimes had
felt that they were in an inconvenient condition. I can remember the funny things in the
early days of my group. In those days our groups were examined by an external agency
called WIN. Mrs Kamalini Wijethilaka came on WINs behalf. She came thrice to examine
the group but we could not meet together for Mrs Kamalini to do her supervision. She was
annoyed by the negligent behaviour in our group. I am astonished now when this incident
comes to mind. How strong my group is now. Is this the same group that got Mrs Kamalini so
annoyed? Yes it is the same group and the same leader is still functioning.
In those early days I did not think of involving myself in this new direction of
community development but today I am completely involved. It has become part of my life.
The Womens Bank has evolved gradually from the earlier group work and is the result
of the devotion of our women leaders and the teachings and direction of Mr Gamage. Members
of the Womens Bank very clearly know the contribution of Mr Gamage to the movement
and are very sorry about the People to People documentary produced by UNCHS
Regional Programme for Asia which has deliberately tried to erase his figure. This was a
harsh effort. I can strongly say through my experience that Gamage and Womens Bank
are bound together.
The value of my involvement in the Womens Bank as the President and a normal
active leader is a case to be judged by the members. I am confident that I have done as
much as I can. My capacity as a community leader improved completely because of
Womens Bank and the PSS. The dues should go to these two organisations.
Womens Bank paved the way for me to visit several countries such as Thailand,
India, Kenya, Turkey etc and I learned many things from those visits which made me
stronger in working for the Womens Bank. We are now a government approved national
level movement of the poor people in this country. Like any good organisation we have to
face obstacles but we go to our target anyway. We are reaching more and more poor people
every day. We make it possible for the poor to be recognised and have bargaining power so
as to have a better living using the countries available resources.
|For a copy of the book contact:
- Sri Lanka Women's Developmental Services Cooperative Society (Women's Bank) Ltd
- 151/13, E Zone, Seevali Pura,
- Borella, Colombo - 08, Sri Lanka
- Tel 94-1-681355, 94-71-76065
- email: email@example.com
The book is available free of charge but a contribution to cover the cost of
postage would be greatly appreciated - get in touch for details.
The Womens Credit Union of Sri Lanka
Concerns about the failure of macro-development efforts to alleviate poverty have
resulted in greater attention being paid to alternative approaches which enable
low-income women to become the active agents of their own development. The
Womens Credit Union (WCU) of Sri Lanka illustrates this alternative development
pathway. It was formed in 1989 with government, United Nations Centre for Human
Settlements (UNCHS) and Childrens Fund (UNICEF) assistance. The project, initially
operating from the governments National Housing Development Authority (NHDA),
offered its members a mechanism for saving and making loans.
Banking by the Poor
After a short struggle with certain bureaucratic and authoritarian professional
elements within the NHDA it became apparent to the senior management of the Housing
Authority and UNCHS project staff that the WCUs best chance of survival lay in the
hands of its low-income women members. In 1992, the WCU became an independent co-operative
organisation managed by low-income women thereby illustrating that women could act as
agents of their own development. The WCU has a very clear and strong approach to gender
and challenges the thinking that access to finance alone leads to empowerment. It
recognises the importance of low-income womens control and management of financial
systems not only at the household level but also in the community. Consequently, there has
been a concerted effort to make low-income women responsible for decisions on who obtains
loans as well as who controls the saving funds. In doing so, the WCU goes beyond a banking
for the poor approach to a banking by the poor approach.
Learning from Others
The WCU has adopted some features of other organisations such as the Thrift and Credit
Co-operative Societies, Grameen Bank, Self Employed Womens Association and the
Womens Development Federation. The WCU has purposely avoided transferring a specific
model of finance to low-income women. Instead it has encouraged the women to visit,
study and reflect on other models and then devise an organisation based on their own needs
and constraints. In so doing, the twin objectives of developing a mechanism for savings
and making loans and expanding womens capacity building for self development has
Over the last ten years the WCU has grown from 9 groups with 50 members into a movement
with 35 federated branches having 1500 member groups, 800 associate member groups and
between 20,000 to 23,000 members. The formation of the WCU is based on certain defining
principles. These include, a decentralised approach to credit which contrasts with
the approach of formal finance institutions where decision-making and management are
hierarchical. The approach taken the by WCU guarantees that low-income women actively participate
and manage and do not simply receive resources.
Initially the WCU supported the formation of small pre-co-operative groups through the
use of a cadre of low-income women social mobilisers. This part-time cadre of
self-development workers spread the approach into low-income communities through a
programme of social preparation that emphasised the use of verbal training methods,
exposure visits, group dynamics and self-reliance. However by 1990, there was an
appreciation that these small pre-co-operative groups were unlikely to be sustainable in
the long term, a fact borne out by the collapse of two of the original groups. A strategy
of federating was, therefore, seen as a means through which groups could gain
strength, share their experiences and solve problems. Moreover, this strategy
enables members to discuss the nature of the lending and saving systems and to develop
ways of increasing their effectiveness.
Self-reliance and Common Ownership
Other defining principles include:
|Promoting the habit of saving before any loans are issued; this enables the
development of a self-reliant base of lending capital. |
|Emphasising the common bond between members (who usually live or work in the same
location). Shares are sold to members to promote the concept of common ownership. Shares
are sold for US$2 each and it is mandatory that each member own one share for every US$20
|Equality is assured by basing voting rights on WCU membership as opposed to share
A Credit Co-operative Structure and Self-development
By using a credit co-operative mechanism the WCU has successfully retained control of
both the organisation and the finance system. In addition, by using small solidarity
groups of 5 to 15 women as the building blocks of its federated and branching structure,
it has sought to operate a decentralised and democratised financial institution under the
direct control of its membership.
Many NGO and Aid agency supported credit and savings programmes are only now beginning
to address the issues of ownership, empowerment and participation. The WCU has from the
very outset sought to address these fundamentals by which the poor themselves own the
processes, the mechanisms and the structures of self-development. It is beyond both State
welfarism and the free-market, and requires an unbending commitment and recognition of
peoples abilities to create their own organisations. This is not a new concept.
Indeed it was pioneered by the early co-operative movement in the 1840s who
expressed it this way:
" They took their affairs into
their own hands, and what is more to the purpose,
they kept them in their own hands."
|Albee, A and Gamage, N. Our Money Our Movement: Building a Poor Peoples Credit
Union; Intermediate Technology Publications, London 1996.|
|Albee, A and Gamage, N. Gender and micro-finance in Sri Lanka: The experience of the
Womens Credit Union, in Housing and Finance in Developing Countries,
edited by Datta, K. and Jones, A.J. Routledge, London 1999. Pages 169 180.|