Women's Empowerment
"All that the poor women want is access to credit, access to better skills, access to information and finally access to markets. While no corporate house came forward to join hands with poor women through the Working Women's Forum, it was Citibank that offered its partnership to provide skill upgradation, access to technology and markets for the exceptionally skilled women weavers in the ancient temple town of Kanchipuram."

Citibank Community Support Programme
Between Customer and Community


itibank India's Community Support Programme was launched in June 1997 to focus on micro-credit organisations working to empower underprivileged urban women through income generation. The programme is based on the phil-osophy of self-reliance. Citibank's partners in this programme are five not-for-profit organisations in India:

  • Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC) in Mumbai

  • Friends of Women's World Banking (FWWB) in Ahmedabad

  • Working Women's Forum (WWF) in Chennai

  • Sasha in Kolkata

  • Sharan in New Delhi.

All Citibank's partners extend micro-credit to low-income women in urban areas. They have successfully organised women's collectives and channelled financial resources to those women who are otherwise left out of the purview of the banking sector.

The Citibank Community Support Programme stands out in the financial services industry in India as highly effective and sustaining, combining active employee participation and cause-related advocacy. The idea is to provide its employees with a vehicle to volunteer their time and skills should they choose to do so. Based on the concept of volunteerism, the employees have grouped themselves into teams in response to areas of need identified by non-governmental organisations. 

The various teams are: 

Marketing Advisory
Employee Communication
Housing Advisory
Cause-related Marketing
Financial Advisory
Tax and Regulatory Advisory

The key aspects of the programme are:

  • Funding

  • Volunteerism

  • Cause-related Marketing (involving Citibank's customers).

Citibank's Partners

Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC)
SPARC works in alliance with the National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF), which has a membership of 3.5 lakh households in 32 cities and towns spread over six states and one union territory in India. In addition, the Mahila Milan groups work as part of the alliance. The alliance addresses issues of urban poverty with particular focus on land tenure policies, community participation in housing and infrastructure projects, and building capacities of poor communities in credit management through the micro-credit programme.

According to the SPARC newsletter, Sambandh, "Homeless International will deposit £1,00,000 in an account with Citibank London. This will part guarantee the loan. Based on due diligence processes set up with SPARC, Citibank in turn will advance a loan to SPARC and Rajiv-Indira Co-operative Housing Society to help them implement the project." This was the first of its kind in India.

Friends of Women's World Bank (FWWB)
FWWB India is an apex organisation providing loan and capacity-building support to non-governmental organisations providing financial services to women in low-income households. The main service provided is that of loans to the underprivileged to help set up enterprises to generate income. They have planned to set up a revolving loan fund for underprivileged women aimed at strengthening the micro-finance sector in India and ensuring access for underprivileged women to suitable financial services.

FWWB and its parent organisation, Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA), have been keen partners in this programme since its inception.

Working Women's Forum / The Indian Cooperative Network for Women (ICNW), Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad
A nationally and internationally renowned union of women workers in the informal sector, the Working Women's Forum (WWF) is a mass movement of over 3,50,000 poor women. WWF has promoted a series of women's cooperatives in the states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Since its inception in Chennai city in 1978 with about 800 members, nearly $3.5 million have been loaned to the members, 85 per cent of whom belong to indigenous communities involved in 167 different enterprises. Eighty-one per cent of the women are retail traders, e.g. fish sellers, vegetable sellers, or incense-stick rollers, 16 per cent are service specialists, and only 3 per cent belong to the manufacturing sector. Thus the Forum has become an easy institutional mechanism for the poor to help themselves in a self-management process.

Large-scale outreach is achieved through a simple credit group model based on group leaders who manage this micro-entity with the help of credit organisers.

A speaker at one of the annual strategy meetings at WWF, Chennai, observed: "All that the poor women want is access to credit, access to better skills, access to information and finally access to markets. While no corporate house came forward to join hands with poor women through the Working Women's Forum, it was Citibank that offered its partnership to provide skill upgradation, access to technology and markets for the exceptionally skilled women weavers in the ancient temple town of Kanchipuram."

Citibank volunteers offered to computerise the credit network initially at the ICNW head office in Chennai to reduce paperwork for the staff, enabling them to devote more time to devising and intensifying a strong field-oriented policy to reach the yet unreached poor. It was towards this end that the volunteers of Citibank put in the effort to develop software that would meet the specific requirements of maintaining the day-to-day transactions and accounts for the staff of ICNW.

Citibank also undertook to find a market outlet for the women workers of WWF. As a result, the first exhibition of cotton and silk sarees produced by the women weavers and lace articles produced by lace artisans of Andhra Pradesh who are members of WWF, was held in Chennai and has been a landmark event. Though only a few silk and cotton sarees were on display, yet the profit that reached the women without any interference from middlemen, was really good. Taking advantage of this experience both Citibank and WWF are envisaging a series of such exhibitions.

Citibank volunteers have contributed in innumerable ways such as the initiative taken towards publishing an information booklet for WWF, which was well received at Expo 2000 in Hanover, Germany and was appreciatively reviewed by The Hindu.

Sarba Shanti Ayog /Sasha, Kolkata
Since its establishment in 1978, Sarba Shanti Ayog (SSA), a craft-making organisation, perceived its objective as supporting women's income generation through micro-credit. It is a catalytic agent involved in promoting a better quality of life for the craftsmen and artisans of India through the direct marketing of their products. These efforts have resulted in developing the craft community, reviving dying arts and skills, inspiring creativity and creating awareness of India's rich handicraft heritage among urban buyers.

Today, Sasha works with 15 craft groups in 15 communities in Bengal. Nearly $2,50,000 have been given to 55 craft groups. In 1991, Sasha established RASA to work with rural agro-based producers with the central aim of promoting Indian herbal hair and body care products.

Sharan, New Delhi 
Sharan (Society for Serving the Urban Poor) was established in 1979. With 19 years' experience in the development sector, it is a progress-ive organisation working in the slums and resettlement colonies of New Delhi. It has evolved a sustainable and participatory programme to help women become financially self-sufficient. Loans over $150,000 have been disbursed with a complete return rate. These loans are utilised for income-generation activity such as making woollen cardigans, bindi making and embroidery. Sharan promotes over 80 small thrift groups comprising 15 to 20 members and has disbursed over $100,000 over the last 15 years.

Key interventions that were given a major thrust by Citibank were:

  • The creation of appropriate systems to handle the flow of the programme and redefining the community involvement.
  • Leveraging the financial viability and profitability of micro-credit operations.

  • Financial assistance to spearhead growth and development of the credit cooperatives for optimum benefit to the community.

  • Promotion of vocational training and placements like cutting and tailoring, domestic help bureau and driving school; group enterprises like cooking oil distribution and waste-paper recycling managed through women's federations.

The results are very encouraging for both the partners and the success has definitely paved the way for continued as well as new joint ventures between the NGO sector and corporate sector for bringing meaningful changes among the poor.

Courtesy: Uma Gopaldeb