The Kudumbashree Story

Women Empowerment


In spite of the diversity in coverage and development of the CBO structure, the PRI system has been broadly alien to the community structure across partner-States. This has been the basis as well as the rationale for the pilot projects that have been attempted. The strategy for the PRI-CBO convergence project has been devised in the specific contexts of NRLM.

  • NRLM aims at creating institutional platforms of the rural poor for enabling them to enhance their household incomes through formation of collectives, ability to access financial services, and creating and strengthening sustainable livelihoods.
  • NRLM relies on participatory identification of the rural poor by the communities.
  • NRLM recognises the importance of social mobilisation and building institutions of the poor for helping them in developing three essential capabilities in people:
    • Capability to know
    • Capability to speak up in problems that they faced
    • Capability to articulate their entitlements

The biggest challenges that NRLM faced with have been

  • Organising the poor and building their institutions in the rural context where the local elite exercised control over the people and resources.
  • NRLM’s constituency formed of the poorest of the poor have limited or no ability to access their entitlements.
  • Some of the most vulnerable sections of the target groups of NRLM even lacked a regular space of settlement (as in the case of migrants), and even did not have the ability to participate in a savings-based scheme.

In this context, the PRI-CBO convergence project builds up on the Kerala experience of implementation of another centrally sponsored scheme – Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) – through women’s collective.

MGNREGS stood in stark contrast to other rural development and poverty alleviation programmes of the government by its very nature of guaranteeing employment. Instead of identifying beneficiaries and providing them certain benefits, MGNREGS made the right to work a legal entitlement of the poor. The programme has a built in focus on the most marginalised and vulnerable sections among the poor. It also places PRIs at the centre of its implementation framework.

In spite of these strengths, MGNREGS has been falling short of providing the stipulated 100 days of wage employment to the poor in many States. One of the central reasons for this shortfall has been the weak local governance structures in States. With the PRIs lacking the capacity to play a central role, MGNREGS has been systemic flaws in ensuring employment opportunities to the poorest of the poor. The following have been identified as the main problems.

  • Lack of awareness on MGNREGS and the rights associated with that among the poor
  • Lack of proper systems for ensuring proper implementation at the ground level
  • Lack of participation of the poor in planning and implementing the programme
  • Bureaucratic hurdles
  • Caste based discrimination

This is where the Kerala model of linking the MGNREGS implementation with the community structure of women’s collectives made a difference. The CBO could play important roles in the implementation of MGNREGS through

  • Awareness generation among the poor
  • Job card registration and distribution
  • Filling in work applications
  • Identification of work
  • Supervision of work
  • Labour budgeting
  • Wage disbursement

This was made possible in Kerala by Kudumbashree’s systematic efforts in developing and administering training programmes and driving the CBO structure towards programme implementation. While the existing PRI-CBO convergence in Kerala provided the ground for this, Kudumbashree’s experience in MGNREGS also pointed out towards new opportunity in convergence between PRIs and CBOs.

NRLM and MGNREGS have similar mandates of reaching out to the poor families and enhancing their livelihood opportunities. The rights based approach in MGNREGS, if strengthened through awareness building of the poor on their entitlements can help NRLM in community mobilisation and institution building. Such a mutually beneficial relationship between the two programmes offer tremendous opportunities. This is the context in which the central government departments concerned have been working towards convergence between NRLM and MGNREGS.

In this context, the PRI-CBO convergence project envisages a mutually beneficial relationship between the PRIs and the communities in the process of implementing poverty eradication programmes. The Kerala experience has prompted adoption of a strategy with MGNREGS as the entry point towards building partnerships between PRIs and CBOs. Developing an entitlements-based perspectives for women’s collectives is central to the strategy.

Scope of the PRI-CBO convergence project includes the following.

  • Capacity building of PRI and CBO
  • Strengthening CBOs to engage PRIs for addressing the special needs of the poor and the marginalised
  • Converging the implementation of MGNREGS and other centrally supported schemes for strengthening the PRI-CBO interface
  • Enabling PRI-CBO convergence for livelihood enhancement and service delivery through different centrally sponsored/ State sponsored schemes.

Steps in CBO-PRI Convergence Project

  1. Exposure visits by State teams to Kerala
  2. Formation of State resource groups (SRG) in the respective States, to be the supporting agency for the project at the State level
  3. Scoping study
  4. Formation of resource groups at different levels
  5. Capacitation of Panchayats
  6. Developing localised IEC material
  7. Organising Gram Sabha
  8. MGNREGS convergence
  9. Formation of federations


Exposure Visits

Exposure visits are meant for the project teams from partner-States to gain a first-hand understanding of the way PRI-CBO convergence happens in Kerala and the benefits that accrue from it. It offers the project-teams exposure to an institutionalised system of convergence as well as an opportunity to see some of the show-cased best practice models.

Formation of State Resource Groups

State Resource Group (SRG) or State Resource Organisation (SRO) is formed in every partner-State as part of the project. The role of the SRG/SRO is to work as State level support agencies for the project. The groups typically consist of elected representatives with experience, women elected representatives, and representatives of civil society and academic community. SRG/SRO provides in-house capacity building and offer guidance based on their expertise in the field.

The group could remain as a permanent resource pool within the State and further support extension of the project beyond the pilot.

Scoping Study

Scoping study is a focused exercise meant to provide an understanding of the state of the PRIs, the CBOs, and other relevant institutions in the partner-State. While the study tries to gauge the capacities of the PRI members, it also seeks to work as a sensitising experience for them. The study maps the opportunities for the PRI-CBO convergence project in the pilot areas of the States and feeds into strategy formulation including entry points.

Through systematic conduct of interviews and focus group discussions, the scoping study adds to the understanding of the elected representatives as well as SHG members various relevant themes such as

  • The NRLM and, its role and vision
  • PRIs and their roles
  • SHGs and their roles

While the SRLM has the primary responsibility of conducting the scoping study, the tools used for the study are developed and provided by KS-NRO. Attempts would be made to identify local practices and resources that would be of use to the convergence project during the scoping study.

Formation of Resource Groups

Local Resource Groups (LRG) are formed by identifying appropriate persons from within the communities to assume lead roles in community mobilisation and sensitisation. The early activities of the LRGs include sensitisation, and mobilisation of SHGs for participating in Gram Sabha meetings, and facilitating participatory identification of the poor for SHG formation where required.

Block Resource Groups (BRG) are formed subsequently drawing in from LRGs for providing continued support to CBOs. BRGs, as their name indicates, work at the Block level, and are involved in planning, monitoring, and ensuring quality of deliverables under the convergence project.

NRLM is in different stages of implementation in partner-States. In places where the pilots are being implemented in ‘intensive blocks’, Community Resource Persons (CRPs) are available for supporting SHGs. However, there are other blocks where CRPs are not available. In such blocks, the BRGs also function as SHG resource persons.

Training programmes are conducted for LRGs and BRGs at different stages of the project. These training programmes help the local resource persons to gain adequate knowledge and skills to work with the communities on various activities under the convergence project.

Community Professionals’ Institutions have been envisaged for formation at a later state by drawing in the best resources among the LRG and BRG. These institutions are expected to provide technical services to SRLMs in facilitating the process of institution building through CBOs.

Capacitation of Panchayats

Capacity building of the Panchayats is aimed at creating an enabling environment for convergence. This in the context of the diverse extent of devolution and different levels of capacities of the Panchayats in partner-States necessitates contextualised strategies.

Need for Panchayats to Change

Ajit Bora, secretary of Bhoraguri Gram Panchayat (GP) in Bajiagaon Block of Nagaon District, Assam held the responsibility of managing two more Gram Panchayats. “In fact, this GP came to me as additional responsibility”, he said.

Responding to a question on lack of staff in GPs, Ajit Bora said the secretaries became regular staff only in 2003. “I joined service in 1994 on a consolidated pay of Rs 900 per month. In 1998 it was doubled. We were placed in scale of pay only in 2003”.

Now the pay scales are reasonably good, agrees Ajit Bora. “But if Gram Sabha meetings are going to be like this, then Panchayats need more staff. Also, the additional responsibility of multiple Panchayats should be done away with. Each Panchayat should have own secretary, and adequate staff".

Women attend Gram Sabha meetings with adequate preparations, he pointed out. “One cannot skip a Gram Sabha meeting now. And, if one has to offer satisfactory answers, there is a need to come prepared for the meeting; otherwise these women will take you to task”.


Capacitation includes awareness building of the elected representatives on the roles of PRIs as well as their own role in the working of the PRIs. While capacitation covers all the elected representatives, special focus has been placed on women representatives as well as those from the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (SC and ST) communities.

Roles of Elected Representatives

“The most important contribution of the mentors has been to make Panchayat representatives aware of their roles”, said Mofidul Hussain, the Block Project Manager, Block Mission Management Unit (BMMU), NRLM of Laharighat Block, Assam.

“The Panchayats here are almost like non-entities”, he said. The elected representatives were not aware of their roles; the Secretary of the Panchayat did not realise what role the elected representatives had either. The Panchayat offices remained closed almost throughout the year.

“Now that the elected representatives are aware of their roles, and the SHGs and VOs are demanding things, they have reason to keep the office open somehow”, said Debashish Baruah, Block Coordinator.

Developing Localised IEC Material

The Convergence Project seeks to develop effective IEC tools for sensitisation and community mobilisation. This is achieved through involving local resources such as SHG leaders, school teachers, and community leaders.

Gram Sabha Mobilisation

Gram sabhas, in spite of being the primary constitutional body for direct democracy, have been typically held as routine exercises in many States of the country without active participation of local communities. Participation of women in Gram Sabha has been abysmally low in many States. Gram Sabha being a formal platform where people could exercise their direct democratic rights in demoing entitlements and scrutinising beneficiary selection of various schemes, offered huge potential in strengthening PRIs and local democracy.

The main problem behind the lukewarm response of the people towards Gram Sabha has clearly been the lack of awareness. Devoid of active participation, Gram Sabha has fallen into the hands of the local elite wherein they take decision for the communities. The Convergence Project envisages redeeming the Gram Sabha for the poor; for the communities.

Gram Sabha Meeting in Bhoraguri GP

“Look at the participation in the Gram Sabha. Now men hardly get chance to speak”, said Ajit Borah, secretary of Bhoraguri GP, in Bajiagaon block, Nagaon district. “Didn’t you see how those women were raising issues in the meeting?”, he asked.

The Gram Sabha meeting had hundreds of women attending; many of them were active in raising issues and engaging in discussions. At several points, the GP president had to intervene to calm down the discussions. The GP President, Secretary, elected representatives, and President of the Block Panchayat attended the meeting.

“Attendance would have been even higher but for the death of two persons in the village early in the morning today”, said Deepa Horo, the President of the Anachalik Block Panchayat who hails from Bhoraguri GP. There was also a massive attack by a herd of close to 100 elephants on the paddy crop in the village. Therefore, some of the men had gone to the fields to do urgent damage prevention work.

When women started attending Gram Sabha, it changed everything here, said Dipak Bairagi, president of the GP. LRGs have prepared the SHGs through pre-Gram Sabha meetings to attend Gram Sabha effectively.


Mobilisation for Gram Sabha starts with awareness building on local democracy, PRIs and the role and potential of Gram Sabha as a forum for direct democracy. The discourse is framed around a rights based approach; communities are facilitated to understand their entitlements.

CBOs are prepared to send women to attend Gram Sabha meetings and engage in the processes. Working through the SHGs, it drives towards pre-Gram Sabha preparations and post-Gram Sabha appraisals in SHG meetings. These meetings work as awareness building sessions for poor women on their entitlements and in negotiating the local governance system for claiming their rightful benefits.

Jan sabhas are organised with the participation of SHG members and PRI members for discussing different schemes and entitlements. LRGs facilitate these; Jan sabhas work as preparatory awareness building forums for Gram Sabha meetings.

Panchayat Office at Bhoraguri

Similar to any other GP in the district, the GP office in Bhoraguri also used to remain closed on almost all days of the year. “Now with the Gram Sabhas becoming so active and women visiting us frequently and demanding things, we have to keep the office open”, said Dipak Bairagi, President of the GP.

Bhoraguri GP has been getting noticed with its good work in NREGA. “The GP has been very positive in its approach to NRLM in general and the PRI-CBO convergence initiative in particular”, said Dr.RaihanAlam, Block Project Manager, NRLM.

The health camp that the GP conducted recently was an indication of how well the message on entitlements have been passed on to every households through the CBO structure, he said.

The LRGs have now started using the GP office as their base for regular work in the GP. This has become an additional reason for the GP office to remain open.


MGNREGS Convergence

The PRI-CBO convergence uses MGNREGS, the first central scheme that made employment a right, as the entry point. MGNREGS is an employment scheme that guarantees rural households 100 days of paid work every year doing manual labour.

Under the MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), every Gram Panchayat should have an annual MGNREGA plan with the following.

  • A list of all works to be taken up during the year
  • Project plans for execution of the works
  • The funds required to pay every family registered under MGNREGS

IPPE (Integrated Participatory Planning Exercise) is a national initiative by the ministry of rural development to ensure that people from socially excluded communities are included in their village’s annual MGNREGA planning process.

The planning process is an opportunity for the community members to identify projects or issues that they think need addressing.

The initial step is awareness building on the programme. This include making communities aware of the following.

  • MGNREGS, and how different it is from other programmes
  • MGNREGS – potential and scope
  • Entitlements of the citizens in MGNREGS
  • The MGNRES process and the role that SHGs can play
  • PRI role in implementation
  • SHG role in Gram Sabha in the context of MGNREGS

Demanding Work in Jharkhand

“Women used to go to the work site and demand work, only to be sent back by the contractor”, said one of the mentors of the PRI-CBO convergence project.

Women were not aware of the enrolment process. There was lot of irregularities happening with contractors acting as mates for MGNREGA. Now that the women have been made aware of the entire spectrum of activities under MGNREGA ranging from planning to payment, processes are becoming streamlined.


Formation of Federations

Creation of federated structures of SHGs at the village and cluster levels is part of the NRLM strategy. The PRI-CBO convergence projects works closely with the process of forming and strengthening the federations so that they could be used as vehicles for convergence with corresponding PRI structures at different levels.

As the CBO formation has been predominantly along the SERP model of Andhra Pradesh, the emerging federated structures are not directly amenable to direct convergence with the PRI structure. The lines of engagement are further blurred by the evolving nature of PRIs themselves in most of the partner-States.

In the model that has been promoted under NRLM, there is no Gram Panchayat level structure. The focus has been on village organisations (VOs), with varied jurisdiction as the definition of the village varies across States and regions. The concept of cluster has also not been in one-to-one correspondence with any particular level of the PRI structure. This poses a problem in adapting the Kerala model of PRI-CBO Convergence in partner-States.

Given the CBO structure that has been promoted across the States, KS-NRO works with SHGs to strengthen their federations and converge with PRIs, starting from Gram Sabha meetings to working on MGNREGS. The idea is to move more and more towards institutional convergence through partnerships in programme implementation. A rights and entitlements based framework has been consistently used in this endeavour.


Exit Strategy

Kudumbashree NRO has planned an exit strategy for the PRI-CBO Convergence Project; the strategy is meant to facilitate a process for each partner State to take over the implementation of the project. The following are the steps planned to facilitate a sustainable and smooth transition of the Project. 

  • Building the capacities of the community cadre to assist the scaling of the project in partner-States
  • Establishment of institutional structures for participatory governance at Gram Panchayat level.
  • Establishment of a mechanism for entitlement tracking by the CBOs.
  • Supporting CBO to emerge as a service delivery agency.
  • Nurturing innovative action by local communities. 

An institutional system consisting of Village Organisation Coordination Committee (VOCC) and Gram Panchayat Coordination Committee (GPCC) in the pilot GPs, established as part of the Project, is expected to facilitate the transition process. 

VOCCs are Village level platforms of CBOs liaison with PRIs; GPCCs are Gram Panchayat level forums that federate the VOCCs. The GPCC is expected to meet at regular intervals and deepen the coordination between PRI and CBO in matters relating to planning and service delivery.