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A Self-Sustaining Mechanism to Manage SHG Accounts & MIS
A Computer Munshi is just that – a person who provides accounting services by using a computer. This by itself may not sound a great achievement, because we see offices all over, using computers for maintaining their accounts. But when we say that thousands of Self Help Groups of illiterate, poor women, in remote rural, often very inaccessible villages, where the basic infrastructure such as power or roads scarcely exist, use computers on a routine basis to conduct business, it is something to take a second look at. 95% of PRADAN’s 6000 SHGs are today covered under the computerised accounts system run and operated by local youth-entrepreneurs named Computer Munshi-s. These are young men or women selected from among the local villages. They are trained and equipped by PRADAN to set up the Computer Munshi business. They do need close hand-holding and incubation in the initial couple of years before one can actually say that they have become independent. This is because the business is new and untested, both for the buyers, sellers and the facilitators. For PRADAN it means working very closely at different level: with the Computer Munshi in training and building their technical and entrepreneurial skills; at the level of the SHGs to orient them towards the new system in purchasing information from the Computer Munshi and not look up to PRADAN; and at the interface of the buyer and the seller in putting in place systems for data flow between the two entities, and establishing a business model.
The rationale for a Computer Munshi
PRADAN’s mission is to enhance livelihoods on a large scale to empower the rural poor people. In order to achieve this, PRADAN has been working in some of the very poor States of North India through decentralized projects for over 20 years. Identifying and organising poor women into SHGs, building their capabilities to enhance incomes either through better management of natural resources or by taking up home based enterprises, linking them to government’s poverty alleviation programmes and commercial banks to leverage finances and developing linkages for economic services are the broad strategies followed by 25 project teams, each operating in a district or a few blocks within or across districts.
As of March 31, 2005, PRADAN has organized nearly 6000 SHGs across seven States, with a total membership of about 80000 rural poor women. These SHG shave cumulatively generated a savings of nearly Rupees 7.5 Crore and have mobilised loans worth about Rupees 25 Crore out of which Rs 8.5 Crore is from banks.
Formation of Self Help Groups is an integral part of PRADAN’s livelihood promotion strategy. The following step-by-step methodology has been developed by PRADAN over time for livelihoods promotion:
The above description depicts a clear thrust on livelihoods. This focus on livelihoods entails that PRADAN would like its major energies to flow towards putting in places programmes and systems for livelihoods rather than anything else. Having strong SHGs is a very necessary condition for livelihoods but not sufficient. Bringing in new technologies, training, developing linkages with the market and building appropriate linkage organisations also require adequate time and energy investment. Therefore it is important that the SHGs become independent from PRADAN in a reasonable time frame so that the field officers are free for their task of livelihoods promotion. The road map that PRADAN has prepared for the growth of an SHG deems that the group be free of any assistance from PRADAN, even for getting loans from banks, in about 1 ½ to 2 years. This requires that for routine maintenance functions such as accounts and MIS the group has to be on its own within the first three to five months.
Need for strong systems
If the SHGs have to be on their own for routine maintenance functions, it requires that they are equipped with strong, yet simple and user friendly systems, especially for accounts and MIS because they are the most important ongoing function in the SHG. But, as can be expected in many of the backward areas that PRADAN operates in, rampant illiteracy and remoteness the makes SHGs dependent on PRADAN for data processing and analysis. There fore decentralised/locally based mechanisms are needed for accounts and MIS so that the SHGs are autonomous on that count.