Working Women's Forum - Indian Cooperative Network for Women banking with the poor
The early initiators of WWF concentrated on credit support as an entry point to social mobilisation. Typically, in a poor urban family, women's economic contribution becomes critical where male contribution to household income is low, as most men spend almost all their income on consumption of tobacco and liquor. As a result, the family is heavily dependent on the earnings of children for survival and a significant number of women are sole contributors to the family income. Consequently, the main pre occupation and concern of women workers was access to formal credit which was also their major constraint. Thus, the credit option became a great relief to women entrepreneurs as it helped them get out of the clutches of moneylenders and middlemen. WWF played the role of mediator between the loan members and the nationalised banks, in its initial effort, taking responsibility for the credit discipline of its members.
The Indian Cooperative Network for Women (ICNW), promoted by Working Women's Forum (and its credit arm) took upon itself the struggle to innovate a new structure both informal and easy to function to facilitate the participation of the poor easier at all levels of its operation.
Today ICNW is a vehicle of social change to organize the most oppressed and the deprived sections of Indian Society particularly in the rural areas and in the unorganized sector. ICNW contributed towards increasing bargaining power of the poorest of borrowers and could infuse confidence that they too can achieve and raise their standard of living and particularly by a process of self-help. The major achievement of ICNW has been that it could generate consciousness among those sections that have been culturally isolated and reduced to marginal existence in their struggle for survival.
The formal bankers had inherent reservations to linking the poor with banking due to the colonial attitude of the banks towards the poor as they doubted the credit worthiness of poor women. They viewed them as large-scale credit risks. The women too were uncomfortable with the banks as they felt that such institutions were meant to serve the rich and the opulent. The collateral demanded by the banks were often far beyond the capacity of the poor women.
Added to this, were the highly bureaucratic formalities of documentation which the poor illiterate borrowers were unable to comply with. These elaborate procedures were probably meaningful within the formal systems but they failed to serve the needs of the poor women. Hence, compelled by the complicated systems and bureaucratic delays of the banks that simply refused to plan for the needs of the poor, women of WWF resolved to create a system of their own that would address their credit needs and would be informal and easy to operate. Thus 2,500 leaders of the Forum with a share of Rs.20 each and seed capital of Rs.50,000 - initiated and established their own Working Women's Co-operative Society in 1981 now registered as the Indian Co-operative Network for Women.
INDIAN COOPERATIVE NETWORK FOR WOMEN
Indian Cooperative Network for Women/Working Women's Forum (India) initiated in 1978 as a women's intensive cooperative outfit promotes social and financial independence of extremely poor women by providing them micro credit support to become independent entrepreneurs (www.icnw.in). Within a decade of its inception, the WWF/ICNW emerged as a multi-state union/co-operative of poor women characterized by a grass root orientation, promotion of leadership among the working class women and cost effective large scale outreach. The organization started with 800women in the urban slums in Chennai city has today over 6,00,000 members spread across three Southern states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Besides providing micro credit to poor women, the organization also plays an important role in imparting various types of training such as financial, gender, empowerment, leadership, skill etc.
Dr.Nandini Azad, President of Working Women's Forum (India)- Indian Cooperative Network for Women. She is a senior women leader in India and the cooperative movement at the International, Regional, National levels. She is the elected President of Indian Cooperative Network for Women/Working Women's Forum (India). She is also the elected Vice Chairperson of Gender Equality Committee of International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) and the Chairperson of the International Cooperative Alliance for Asia Pacific (ICA-AP) Women's Committee. She is currently elected Board Member of International Raiffeisen Union (IRU), oldest cooperative union in the world. She is also board member of the National Women's Credit Fund (The Rashtriya Mahila Kosh, Ministry of Women, Govt. of India).