A DHAN Foundation activist is awarded the fourth highest honour in India for microfinance schemes for self-help groups in poor communities

22 March 2019


The Development of Humane Action (DHAN) Foundation is a professional development organisation in India with a mission to “build people and institutions and to enable the poor communities for poverty reduction and self-reliance”. The DHAN Foundation works through a network of self-help groups, focusing on grassroots action, which cluster together to form federations.

Through the 5-5-5 Mutual Microinsurance Strategy (the “5-5-5”), ICMIF is working with the insurance arm of the DHAN Foundation (People Mutuals) to expand their current operations and reach an additional 1 million policyholders with mutual microinsurance solutions over a period of five years. The 5-5-5 project launched in March 2017, and has been supported through Financial and/or Technical Assistance Projects by 15 ICMIF member companies in 11 different countries since that time.

A DHAN Foundation activist, Mrs Chinna Pillai, has recently been awarded the fourth highest honour that it is possible to receive in India for her work with self-help groups in poor communities in India. The picture shows Mrs Pillai receiving her award.

Chinna Pillai began her journey aged 12 in the village of Pullucheri (rural Madurai, India), as a land labourer in the fields, where, like many other villagers, she suffered exorbitant inflation rates from land-owners, poor working conditions and frequent monsoons. She began questioning this way of life.

Back in 1990, Chinna Pillai formed and led an organised group of women labourers, which enabled her to exert unified pressure on the landlord asking for fairer wages and better working conditions. This women’s group still survives today in Pullucheri.

Chinna Pillai explains: “I began my work as a labour contract leader (kothu leader) of a group, which consisted of women working in the fields just like me. Being unorganised, there was no consolidated effort to ask for what we deserve. However, by setting up the group, we not only exerted a unified pressure on the landlords but also initiated our own savings unit to secure our future.”

Her efforts were soon noticed by Mr MP Vasimali, who is now the Executive Director of the DHAN Foundation, who convinced her of the benefits of pooling the savings of the members of the group, which would then multiply them into larger returns which could holistically benefit the community. The PullukKalanjiam (short for “The Granary of Pullucheri”) self-help group was thus launched.

This was the start of a self-help group movement, and 29 years on, it has spread across 63 districts in India, encompassing 1.2 million families who now have access to affordable microfinance solutions. The movement received a huge boost from Chinna Pillai’s dedication and contributions, reaching out to many women living in poverty.

Chinna Pillai has received significant recognition for her work and this includes, most recently, the Padma Shri Award for service to her country in 2019. The Padma Awards are one of the highest civilian honours of India, announced annually. The award seeks to recognise achievements in all fields of activities or disciplines where an element of public service is involved.

Read more about Chinna Pillai’s story here.

Visit the 5-5-5 Mutual Microinsurance Strategy website and watch a video of Chinna Pillai visiting Mrs Pottaiammal, an elderly blind lady who had recently lost her husband. Fortunately, Mrs Pottaiamal was covered by a microinsurance policy with the DHAN Foundation, which prevented her from slipping into poverty. 

The governance of the 5-5-5 is overseen by the ICMIF Foundation, a registered charity in England and Wales formed by ICMIF in 2015.

For member-only strategic content on the cooperative/mutual insurance sector, ICMIF members have exclusive access to a range of online resources through the ICMIF Knowledge Hub.

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