About Us


Poverty is a complex issue involving both national and international domain and uniform solutions are not possible towards poverty reduction.  Its consequences are more severe on women than men i.e., feminization of poverty. The large reservoirs of poor women in India are in the informal / unorganized sector (90%).  Considered a low growth sector, attention on it in terms of investment, protection and regulation, support structures, skill up-gradation, backward and forward linkages are minimal. Unions and bargaining power in this sector are low as there are few formal unions. Conditions of social oppression, poor living conditions, large families, child labour, illiteracy exist.


It is in this environment of powerlessness that the Working Women’s Forum (WWF) and the Indian Cooperative Network for Women (ICNW) intervened to help poor women create the foundations of a new development model. Based on altered gender relations, it challenges structural poverty, spearheads social integration, and by transforming labour into capital with the surplus retained for poor women’s needs.




ICNW has so far disbursed loans worth over Rs.3456 millions to 589,724 women entrepreneurs with a recovery rate of 99.69% even though the beneficiaries have been urban slum dwellers and landless rural poor in around 6,449 slums and villages in 14 branches in the 3 Southern states of India - Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh & Karnataka. It has a membership of 589,724 through 14 cooperative branches federated by a multistate cooperative.

Members are involved in a total of 276 occupations/enterprises (trading, production, services, manufacturing)s – hawkers, vendors, petty shopkeepers, fisherwomen, agricultural labourers, cigar rolling, silk and handloom weaving, incense stick rollers, sericulture, toy makers, lace makers etc.

To achieve any results in terms of development, the WWF/ICNW challenged the five pillars in its manifestation related to gender discrimination. ‘Five interwoven threads of oppression can be discerned as class exploitation, caste inferiority, male dominance, isolation in a closed world and physical weakness’. By organizing poor women in the informal sector as shareholders in credit cooperatives at nominal interest credit, the above discriminations were countered.

Initiated in 1981, Indian Cooperative Network for Women is the first women cooperative in South India for, by and of poor women. It facilitates access to credit, providing opportunities to learn new skills, and securing employment for women.


ICNW provided requisite social protection through group delivery savings, training, legal awareness, and insurance products. Digitalization and automated software are operated by women members from the fishing community, daily wage labourer’s and other members at the ICNW credit operations.  The organization adopted an innovative bottom-up structure, and its various training facilitated the women to participate at all levels of the organization.





The initiative demonstrated even the poorest and semi-literate women could manage institutions with the right kind of training and field exposure. It has infused confidence among the members, raised their standard of living upholding human dignity, and helped redistribution of resources towards ensuring social justice and positive social change.










Chennai Cooperative


With a population of 8.5 million, most of the women in Chennai (North, South, Central) are engaged in informal sector activities, both as micro entrepreneurs and as casual wage labourers in low paid, low working capital, low skill and low subsistence occupations.

These micro entrepreneurs are very innovative in devising adaptive strategies for survival. Most often they are constrained by lack of finance, high interest payments, lack of markets, lack of space and lack of mobility.

Under the credit programme ICNW provided credit assistance to more than 276 different occupations to these women workers in the urban informal sector, saving them from moneylenders and pawn brokers and Thandals (daily interest collection at exorbitant rates of interest).  They are mostly vendors, hawkers, petty shop   and so on. Today the Chennai programme has reached 131690 poor women in 1977 slum neighbourhoods.

Dindigul Cooperative

 Initiated in 1979 it  strengthened landless women’s traditional       occupations through credit for alternate employment

  • Women head loaders were assisted to procure banana, tamarind and chillies from villages and sold to rural market/fairs.
  • Credit provision strengthened, non-dependence on middlemen/ moneylenders
  • Alternate employment helped agriculture workers towards revision of wages below the minimum stipulated by social legislations.
  • Dairy cattle were provided were provided to pursue dairy products as an alternate option
  • This resulted in collective group consciousness a platform for collective bargaining
  • The branch has 35071 members as shareholders in 696 villages.


Adiramapattinam Fisher Women’s Cooperative


  • In 1981  the FAO/BOBP project in Adiramapattinam, invited ICNW/WWF to start a programme for fisherwomen
  • The FAO programme was mostly for fisher Women despite Women playing a major role in the overall fishing economy.
  • ICNW’s credit intervention enabled the women in fish marketing to carry on occupations without moneylenders
  • Apart from fish sellers, others are engaged in fishing economy, basket makers, salt sellers, selling food items near the fish landing spot
  • The fisherwomen mobilized others and established their own banking      centre.
  • They fought and succeeded to repair fishing canals, auction rights, etc. 
  • The branch has 38125 members in 374 villages.


Kancheepuram Silk Weavers Cooperative

  •  Initiated in 1990 to facilitate the renowned Kanjeevaram silk weavers
  • The Government policy protected only male weavers through its cooperatives
  • ICNW intervened and made women weavers as the members of Weaver’s Cooperative Societies and made them avail the same facility available to men.
  • Other occupations are goat/cow rearing, milk vending, vegetable/flower sales, farming, etc.
  • The branch has 55792 women as shareholders spread over in 394 villages. 



Narsapur/Bhimavaram/Palakol Cooperatives

  • This is the Green revolution, fertile area of West Godavari district in Andhra Pradesh.
  • At the intervention of ILO, a credit cooperative was initiated in 1981, 1988 & 1992.
  • It exposed oppressive condition’s of lace artisans producing for the world market.
  • Established credit cooperative and also a market shandy 
  • Exporters  could come and buy
  • Acquainted with new designs
  • Other rural occupations – coir making, broomstick making, petty shops, a special paper sweet (Putarekulu)
  • These three branches have 116608 members as shareholders in 602 villages.


Vellore Cooperative

  • Initiated in 1983 to facilitate the beedi rollers and match stick makers
  • Child labour and child mortgage was rampant.
  • ILO later facilitated ICNW to practice alternate employment as part of anti-tobacco campaign.
  • Micro-credit facilitated women to pursue alternate employment and generate good income.
  • Members pursued alternate employment such as camphor/ candle making, artificial  jewellery, etc.
  • The branch has 50176 members as shareholders in 407 villages.



Dharmapuri Cooperative

  • Initiated in 1993 to prevent large scale foeticide as the girl child perceived as a drain on family resources. 
  • The Cooperative took up cause of organizing women, educating them, providing credit assistance and social security measures. Thus, improving food and social security status.
  • Women members are involved in palm leaves plate making, cotton          saree weaving, tailoring, vegetable/fruits sales. 
  • Today, it has 20439 members as shareholders in 592 villages.



Hyderabad Cooperative

  • Initiated in 1997; women engage in zari embroidery, (chumki work), basket making, bangle making.
  • ICNW enabled minority muslim women in closed shell to move into an organization and mobilize other women.
  • Made them financially independent
  • It has 27703 shareholders in 307 slums






Bengaluru Cooperative

  • Initiated in 1983 to provide relief and credit to agarbathi or incense sticks workers
  • Mostly migrant workers in the slums were organized by the credit cooperative
  • Worked under highly exploitative conditions
  • The Credit cooperative was not started until the migrant and non-migrant workers came together.
  • Later with the unity and harmony as neighbourhood solidarity groups credit cooperative was initiated
  • Members are involved in embroidery work, beautician, flower sales, etc.
  • The branch has 29583 shareholders in 208 slums.



Channapatna  Cooperative

  • Initiated in 1991
  • Women are engaged in seri-culture work, toy making, raising mulberry plants
  • The problem in seri-culture work is that silk worms are reared only in moderate weather
  • The credit extension diversified their activities
  • Other occupations of members are - tomato farming, cow rearing, milk sales, basket weaving, etc.
  • The branch has 18887 members in 341 villages.



Bidar Cooperative

  • A backward district and drought prone district of Karnataka
  • In 1980s Govt. of Karnataka initiated Bidar Integrated  Rural Development Project (BIRD) program to improve their quality of life
  • Having spent large amounts, the government decided to hand it      over to ICNW in 1987.
  • The ICNW emphasis on non-farm employment like goat rearing, saree sales, handicraft embroidery work, tailoring, etc.
  • Access to financial service enhanced the quality of life among landless poor women.
  • Has 46957  members in branch as shareholders in 335 villages


Bellary Cooperative

  • Initiated in 1993 on Central Govt. request to replicate the model
  • Large scale oppression inflicted on girl children, dedicated to god due to superstitious belief’s.
  • Girl child ended up as devadasis or children dedicated to god.
  • First strengthened women’s economic roles, helped mothers to undertake gainful employment.
  • Encouraged them to send young girls to govt. schools
  • Women are engaged in basket making, knitting, tailoring, candle making, etc.
  • The branch has 18693 members as shareholder’s in 216 villages.