Empowering Women Through Microfinance

Ibtada, meaning ‘the beginning’ in Urdu, is a non-profit organization based in Mewat, India, that empowers local communities, especially women, to become active participants in the global effort to reduce poverty and inequality through microfinance and capacity-building initiatives.

Founded in 1997, it organizes women into self-help groups, known as SHGs, clusters and federations. The SHG members are sent to field-schools where they receive training in more effective planting, farming, and harvesting techniques, animal husbandry as well as hygiene and sanitation. They also learn negotiation skills with merchants, for example on how to buy seeds in bulk at a discount. The women then bring back this knowledge to their villages where they become community-resource persons and train the next group of women.

The respect and status of being a community-resource person and an active contributor to a family’s income have empowered many women to join forces to tackle social ills that have long plagued their communities but have been largely considered taboo, such as alcoholism among men, child marriage, or ensuring girls’ education. They also often work together to ensure fellow women get their rights in cases of domestic violence or inheritance disputes.

By all measures, Ibtada has been a huge success. Today, it has about 1,400 SHGs with more than 16,000 women members, 90 clusters and five federations, most of whom are wholly self-organized and financially self-sustained through member contributions.

More important, the women of Ibtada are breaking down barriers and opening spaces for themselves and their daughters so they can live a life of dignity and opportunity.