This profile was prepared when M.G. Papamma was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2002.
The New Idea
South Indian women have benefited from microcredit programs, revolving loan funds, and communal banking schemes for many years. Credit and savings at the village level have become mainstays of both rural development and women's empowerment. Papamma sees an enormous opportunity to transform the basic social unit of microcreditthe women's "self-help group"from a localized, somewhat insular project to a force for social development, more active in the community, and better connected nationally. The first idea is to make women's groups more active by having groups broaden their scope to include activities beyond members' own personal or household economic interests. From her own experience Papamma sees that at the same time women are seeking basic economic security, they are also seeking a more rewarding and just role in society. Papamma uses the groups to create new roles for women as investors in social development programs that benefit entire communities, like modest scholarships for children and antimalaria campaigns. This new role is also the creative force behind Papamma's mass mobilizing effort aimed at statewide and nationwide confederations of self-help groups coalescing around a common agenda.