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ICNW’s Schemes


Have larger outreach - need based, simplified and restructured, quality and performance in the delivery of services (based on impact study conducted regularly).

Operational Strategy
ICNW is a simple credit model wherein the clientele and cadre belong to the same neighbourhood. This co-operative movement was supported rapidly as it is a low-cost communication strategy wherein by word of mouth, women were mobilized around poverty and powerlessness. Women’s group are the fulcrum and peer pressure is critical for credit strategy. The entire credit process, training/activities are operated and controlled by poor women, infusing trust and confidence in other poor women. The credit group leader is the woman intermediary for a group of ten. She identifies other women and acts as a loan guarantor of group, local resident. Organizers are well experienced, trained and belong to the same neighbourhood and provide institutional link between groups. By merit, the Organizers move up as office bearers to the ICNW Board. Efficiency is the watchword in each of the branches
ICNW Gender and equity model: A holistic Approach
Economic exploitation and social oppression called for a new model of development and intervention based on women’s innate wisdom and response, modelled on existing indigenous collectivities utilizing local modes of communication. The WWF/ICNW facilitated this holistic and equitable intervention model based on ‘women-centred’ development. It also rejected a piecemeal approach to the development and based its services on a holistic perception of gender roles (i.e. women’s roles as economic producers, home managers and community leaders).
The Accumulation Process: The Poor Are Efficient
The accumulation process by poor women has taken place at WWF/ICNW in a particular sequence and the process has been replicated in various other socio-economic contexts. It is therefore a viable strategy that has led to a sustained process of development and has cost effectively reached large numbers of poor women within a minimum time. The change from indebtedness and oppression to productive employment and growth, as well as empowerment, has taken place since the first decade of inception. The process can be categorized in three phases.
Phase I
Where all other institutional systems had failed to give poor women access to credit, credit intervention helped them to gradually pay off old debts before they could start to make capital investments.
Phase II
With a lessening of the debt burden and with diversification and growth in enterprises, household food security and quality of physical living were made possible.
Phase III
At the height of this change, once stabilization of businesses occurred, asset creation in the form of education, sanitation, housing and jewellery has taken place, with simultaneous increase in awareness, enhancement of social status, dignity and empowerment. Emerging form the organizational power and collective action is a social platform of 25,000 groups who are making in-roads into the panchayat local government system (ICNW members have been elected to some panchayats), generating demand for government services including the public distribution system, hospitals, schools, or dealing with and challenging civic, municipal and police authorities for solutions and redressing social oppression through creating alternative structures based on women as new leaders in the household and the community.
Phase IV
Sustainable Human Development and Sustainable Development Goals(SDGS)

Sustainable Development Goal 1
End Poverty in all its forms everywhere

Institutional systems had failed to provide poor women access to credit nor had they found women’s economic ventures bankable. ICNW credit intervention through the cooperative banking structure helped poor women gradually pay off debts before making capital investments.

Countering gender discrimination by organizing poor women into credit cooperatives at nominal interest - through, for and by women through engendered strategies.

Thus it is the effective leadership of poor women that has enabled the expansion of ICNW from a small base in Chennai into a multi-state cooperative organization.

In this massive expansion process, ICNW has gone through immense challenges. Bringing together the most difficult, disorganized group of workers who had no earlier experience in any formal and informal unions – a real challenge in the early days for the ICNW.

ICNW initiated an alternative structure with poor women as shareholders and creators of a new banking accumulation process, whereby they, as labour, retained the surplus in their own hands.

The process had significant results based on empirical evidence suggesting that the strategies of poverty eradication adopted have been institutionalized for sustained development and ideal for multiplication.

Sustainable Development Goal 5
Achieve gender equality and empower All women and girls

Asset creation in the form of investment on education, (including the girl child) sanitation, housing. Simultaneous increase in awareness, enhancement of social status, dignity and empowerment.

10 to 25 % of the income of their income is going into savings, (or more if child education, housing, jewellery, assets are also included), about 20 per cent being utilized for investment and a further 10 to 15 per cent for asset creation.

Members who were vendors and petty shopkeepers now desired social mobility for their daughters as well. This led to the setting up of a vocational centre for girls in urban areas and skill training in rural areas.

In 2000, ICNW computerized its banking efforts. The installation of software in ICNW helped to double its outreach to the poorest women. Daughters of fisherwomen and wage labourers are operating the IT system.

Emerging from the organizational power and collective action is a social platform of 50,000 groups who are making in-roads into the panchayat local government system (ICNW members have been elected to some panchayats), generating demand for government services including the public distribution system, hospitals, schools, or dealing with and challenging civic, municipal and police authorities for solutions and redressing social oppression through creating alternative structures based on women as new leaders in the household and the community.

Sustainable Development Goal 2
End hunger, achieve food security and Improved nutrition and promote Sustainable agriculture

With debt burden lessened, diversification, growth in enterprise, household food security, quality of physical living have been made possible.

One square meal became two for the poor women’s families, leading to better nutrition, eggs, locally available nutrition.

As a social action, for ensuring food security, the public distribution system is pressurized by ICNW groups to provide for better equality products without hoarding, black marketing, etc. and to improve access to food resources. In this manner, poor women were organized to assert their right to food security resources to which they are entitled to.

Sustainable Development Goal 9
Build resilient infrastructure, promote Inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation

Innovative ways to move from simple to appropriate technology, and to more complex technology depending on the size and number of loans and type of trade have been made.

The original capital of less than 155,300 US$ (INR 10 million) has been rotated over (over US$4,659,000) (over INR 300 crores) and the rate of repayment is over 99% amply testifies that the poor women are bankable (can save, invest). (Institution, banking infrastructure).

ICNW initiated a new banking infrastructure with poor women as shareholders and creators of a new banking accumulation process.

Women have achieved, with multiple loans, insurance, training, increased income and profits, expansion of markets, capital formation, improved technology and decreased indebtedness.

Case Studies in Technological choices.
In Chennai, a wage earner who initiated a leather goods workshop with a US$23 (INR 1500) loan has now been able to shift to a bigger unit with several machines. Vendors who started with head loading have moved to a hand cart and now use two wheeler for business operations. Repatriate women from Myanmar who used tailoring machines for hand embroidery with successive loans have moved to enterprises producing synthetic raincoats and gloves.
Sustainable Development Goal 3
Ensure healthy lives and promote Well-being for all at all ages

Increased income leading to access to health care facility for well being of the family.

Half a million were reached and 1,000 health care cooperatives managed by an equal number of health leaders from slums and villages.

The community-based approach included mother and child care, nutrition and birth spacing etc.

Sustainable Development Goal 14
Conserve and sustainably use the oceans,Seas and marine resources for sustainable Development

After the Tsunami of December 2004, the fishing community in Tamilnadu was in shambles. ICNW’s credit intervention enabled women engaged in fish marketing to carry on their occupation. Apart from the fishsellers, other women have also been mobilized who are peripherally engaged in the fishing economy. (such as basket makers, salt sellers and those selling food items near the fish landing spot). The fisherwomen in adirampattinam cooperative, after joining ICNW not only established a banking centre but also fought for their rights to repair their fishing canals, fishing auction rights as a process of social action and growing mangroves.

Capacity Building/Training/Education/Awareness Programmes


Research Division
An exclusive division for Research and Training activities through a participatory methodology was specially evolved in 1981 to demonstrate to the world that the poor are not solely responsible for the problem of persistence poverty as mostly conceived in the development circles. But in certain cases it is imposed on the poor by external feudalistic activities. Therefore the poor have to be made become aware of this and find their own solutions through an empowerment process. For this, they have to be motivated through a participatory training methodology to make poor men/women aware of the environmental situation in which they are placed. The ICNW experience has been that the poor invariably have become highly enriched through such orientation programmes realizing the situation in which they are placed that have enabled themselves to assert their power through consciousness and an entitlement approach. In fact such information collected through a participatory approach for the poor have been valuable informations to many of our projects where socio-economic development results have been far better. The organizations that have so far embarked on a study mission to WWF/ICNW have reaped benefits in learning from the poor women directly from the field. Some of the perceivable results achieved by the study teams include
  1. An indepth understanding of the issues of poverty and empowerment as a ‘tool’ to mitigate the vicious circle of poverty.
  2. Thorough understanding of the economic intervention of credit as micro-credit assistance that in many cases relieved the poor women from the clutches of indebtedness enabling them to gain economic independence through lucrative entrepreneurship.
  3. The impact of unionization of divergent groups has infact enhanced their collective bargaining and collective action process for their own benefits.
  4. Helped the poor in many cases to adopt solutions that are locally sustainable for area specific and occupation related contexts.
  5. Demonstrates that poor women could be harnessed as a potential resource to fight challenge of poverty and powerlessness by adopting suitable strategies to fight local field conditions.
  6. Some of the teams who have received training/orientation have been able to replicate themselves. This model of WWF in their respective areas is to address their own local issues.
  7. Training has enabled in some cases to establish fruitful partnership in different geographic locations such as in tribal belts of Orissa, Bihar, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, etc.
  8. Training has helped many research scholars, from Western and Eastern Universities to document their observations directly from the field and have been able to gain rich information resource.


Several organizations had their orientation/training programmes in the WWF/ICNW in order to establish a similar organizations in the rural areas across India to help poor women. This ensured that the experimentation in Tamil Nadu could be replicated in other states in different cultural/language contexts, both in urban/rural areas. This proved that the model is a highly replicable one not only in India but also in other countries. Thus, successful model of WWF’s have spread to northern states of India i.e. Uttaranchal, Madhya Pradesh, Maharastra, Bihar, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh Etc.,.

Disaster Management

Relief services in the history of Working Women’s Forum (India)/Indian Cooperative Network for Women is not new as Working Women’s Forum (India) was initiated in the year 1978 as an aftermath of severe flood in Chennai. Reaching the needy and affected people is something that WWF/ICNW is committed to particularly as the poor and downtrodden women face sudden calamities like floods, fire, tsunami that are on a yearly basis.

The tsunami killer wave that hit the Marina coast of Chennai, the eastern coast of Tamil Nadu and few Coastal areas of Andhra Pradesh on December 26th 2004 was of severe magnitude wave nearly affected 2000 members of WWF were worst affected in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. The experienced volunteers the alongwith the President, not only visited the affected areas and the members there but they immediately pooled their scarce resources and provided them quick relief.

Since there was fear / trauma among the fishing families who do not want to go back to sea to the fishing occupation once again this will be a great disaster to the WWF/ICNW also as to the fishing families themselves as WWF/ICNW is an outfit who promote only workers in several occupation. WWF/ICNW quickly volunteered to organize a one day counseling as advocacy workshop to the representatives of the fishing families who were in trauma. They provided them expert advice through oceanography experts and marine engineers, assuring that the tsunami doesn’t come as often but only in 50 to 80 years. The counseling also facilitated WWF/ICNW for a need assessment for the financial assistance, to many of them and provision towards fishing infrastructure, housing needs, children’s educational need’s and many other requirements that are washed away in tsunami.

On 28th June 2005 a function was organized where His Excellency the Governor of Tamil Nadu, was invited as the chief guest to distribute rehabilitation measures of boats/nets and other requirements.

The housing requirements - new and repairs of the damaged houses have been undertaken in not only 17 villages of eastern coastal areas of Tamil Nadu where the WWF member’s live but also in Chennai Marina Coast with fishing colonies. Nearly 140 houses were repaired and new houses have been constructed. In Andhra Pradesh WWF/ICNW constructed a market shed for the fishing community.

During there recent flood too, i.e., in November/December 2015, WWF/ICNW with years of experience made its volunteers to act swiftly to reach out to its women members amidst the fully submerged areas both in Chennai city and Kanchipuram town and showed its solidarity as ever. This also facilitated us WWF to assess the damages/losses and to know their needs/requirements. The WWF’s relief work is not a piecemeal approach but it’s a long term participatory approach made by careful field surveys to reach out to the really needy members.

The volunteers provided the victim members emotional and psychological support to restore their lives and occupations and other requirements through development strategies. In addition, they provided relief materials such as clothes, cooking utensils, other vessels and provisional items besides to support them through ICNW loans to revive their occupations.

Further, WWF/ICNW in Kanchipuram they addressed the grievances of the affected members by bringing the breakdown of public services to the attention of the concerned district authorities. To enable them to rescue facilitation for larger assistance such as compensation for construction of damaged houses, for lost valuables such as cows, goats, poultries, weaving equipments, etc. Similarly in Chennai WWF/ICNW has addressed petitions to the Municipal Authorities to take up immediate action for the damaged roads or public utilities or evacuation.

WWF/ICNW has provided relief materials to over 300 families in 30 areas in Kanchipuram and similarly in Chennai over 1000 families in 59 areas in 2016

Orientation and Replication

The dignitaries admired the work of cooperative and unique experiment among grassroot women

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Building Leadership Qualities

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