Do self-help groups promote social cohesion?

Behavioural evidence from rural India

Speaker: Prof. Anders Olofsgård, deputy director, Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics
Chair: Beryl Leach, deputy director, policy, advocacy and communication, 3ie
Discussant: Subhalakshmi Nandi, programme specialist, UN Women
Date: 8 August, 3.30-5.00 p.m.
Venue: Seminar Room, ISID Complex, Vasant Kunj Institutional Area

In many countries, policymakers see self-help groups (SHGs) as instruments for promoting social cohesion through a mixture of education, access to finance, and linkages to wider development programmes. But is membership in SHGs making an impact on the lives of the poor in rural India? 

In a forthcoming study co-authored by Prof Olofsgård, researchers randomly selected 32 of 80 villages in Dungarpur district in Rajasthan where SHGs were set up and women were encouraged to participate Two years later, researchers found that women in treatment villages were more likely to participate in group savings programmes, exert greater control over household decisions and they also displayed greater civic engagement in areas of public service provision. To investigate the sources of engagement, the researchers conducted a ‘public goods game’ in 14 villages. This revealed that SHG members contributed significantly more to the public good engagement and were at least partly driven by an increase in trust and cooperation among them. The study concludes that SHGs and other membership-based organisations for the poor have the potential to promote collective action by fostering norms of trust and cooperation.

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