Thursday, October 29, 2009

Single stop and SHGs

This post is in continuation to the issued raised here about the need to revise our paradigm on Self Help Groups (SHGs) and widen their scope of activities by interventions like this.

I had blogged earlier about the activities of pioneering NGO, SingleStop USA, a poverty fighting startup, which seeks to "connect the working poor in New York with government funds and services intended for them". SHGs and their federations, with the required training and other support from government, could emulate the role of SingleStop USA and provide such one stop services on various issues to both its own members and others requiring such services. Here are a few possible areas of such intervention

1. Assist in accessing various available government welfare benefits. It is well acknowledged that one of the main obstacles to the effective delivery of welfare services to the poorest is the lack of awareness about the myriad welfare programs and schemes among the target groups. These exchanges can become one-stop facilitation centers for poor people to access all the benefits they are eligible for. These centers can help map an individual with the various benefits he or she is eligible to avail, help them fill up the applications and then get the benefits sanctioned and released.

2. Help poor people in getting sanctions, clearances, payment releases, mistake rectifications, and even information from government departments. Such agencies can volunteer to liaison with government departments and help the poor applicants access services and resolve their grievances.

3. Provide assistance with backward and forward linkages for those SHG members who have availed loans for opening new business or expanding an existing one. These agencies can help procure raw materials and intermediate goods at cheaper rates by bundling together the requirements of large numbers of buyers. They can also play an important role in linking up with potential buyers elsewhere and thereby maximize the returns to the SHG member. They can also be assisted with trainings on accounting practices and other specific business needs.

4. Match poor citizens, especially those with medical problems and requiring resources for educational purposes of children, with prospective donors and agencies, government and non-government, willing to support them financially.

5. Provide information and even tie-up educational scholarships and cheap loans for students seeking admission to professional courses.

6. Can provide legal and financial counselling to low-income families, especially those affected by some recent turmoil. Legal advice is valuable to such people in view of the problems faced by them with evictions, land disputes, criminal charges on family members, and so on.

7. Counselling and assistance in helping people addicted to drugs and alcohol. Social workers can also give help on issues including domestic violence and problems at school.

8. Co-ordinate with job placement agencies (and local maistries) to match the unemployed with prospective employers. The agency can establish contact with all the local hiring agents and supply workers to them. They can also provide career counselling.

9. These single stop agencies can maintain a comprehensive database of all its customers and use the same for providing more effectively targeted services to its members.

An agency similar to SingleStop, and located within each federation of SHGs in a block or tehsil, would go a long way towards improving the effectiveness of welfare programs by both facilitating access and improving the delivery mechanisms. It will also help leverage the opportunities available elsewhere to help those in need.

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