Laxmi, 35, from Budhora, Mahoba district, belongs to the Kori caste, which traditionally earns its livelihood through manual labour. Like others in her community, Laxmi had to migrate in search of work.

Since 2004, however, things have changed for the better. Laxmi was associated with Arunoday Sansthan, a network partner of ABSSS. As a member of an SHG promoted by this organisation, she started taking part in group meetings and discussions, and in due course became a beneficiary of the organisation’s attempts to provide self-employment to women.

With an initial capital base of Rs 500, Lakshmi opened a shop selling bangles and cosmetics. It did well and she returned the borrowed amount with interest. She borrowed another Rs 2000 to buy various items demanded by her customers, and repaid this amount too. Today she has material worth Rs 5000 in her shop and is earning a profit of up to Rs 150 per day during festival days and around Rs 45 per day on other days.

For Lakshmi, the spin-offs have been great. She has learnt how to do business. She is able to contribute to the family income and to her children’s education. Most importantly, she does not have to migrate to find work but earns right in her own village.

Rekha from Darerapura, Jaitpur, (Mahoba) also from the Kori caste, earned five or six rupees a day from weaving at a Gandhi ashram. Her husband too was a weaver. After three years, the ashram was closed down. Many poor families who had no other means of earning a living started to migrate.

At this time, an SHG of 15 persons was formed in Rekha’s village with the help of Arunoday. Training was given to women in various activities and they were helped to start small businesses. Rekha began buying and selling vegetables with an initial investment of Rs 50. On the first day she earned a profit of Rs 20 within just four hours. She is now thinking of setting up a permanent vegetable shop from which she thinks she will daily earn more than the Rs 40 she is currently earning. She has no plans to migrate.

As these stories show, in an enabling environment created by NGOs and SHGs, women can initiate major changes in their lives even with marginal investments.