Asian grassroots women at the forefront of resilient development

Grassroots women define resilience. This was the principal theme of a three-day regional Asian Academy on the Community Disaster Resilience Fund (CDRF) held in New Delhi. The women attending the Academy have a successful track record as leaders and activists responding to disaster, having pioneered innovative work on savings and credit, enterprise, food security, water and sanitation and health in their own communities, but they had not previously been able to develop a shared framework from which to operate collectively. This forum provided an opportunity for grassroots women to develop a concerted approach to resilience. The groups defined resilience as the ability to prevent the impact of natural disasters in communities combined with the ability to quickly recover from disaster. Women understood resilience as ways in which they were moving from an emergency response framework to one that protects and sustains development assets, changes public roles, promotes leadership and focuses on political organizing as a means to build an active citizenry that redresses development failures.

The meeting built on momentum from an earlier GROOTS India Leadership event designed to promote women as initiating and sustaining resilience in their communities. The group made the most of the opportunity to develop a shared understanding of resilience at the community level, explore and make action plans on the CDRF, and situate advocacy initiatives within the launch of the UNISDR Community Practitioner’s Platform for local implementation of the Hyogo Framework of Action. Bringing together over 30 grassroots women from across Asia from Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Nepal and 5 states in India, the session was organized by the Huairou Commission and GROOTS, and sponsored by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Dutch Ministry’s Millennium Development Goal Fund (MDG3), UNISDR and Cordaid. The meeting was facilitated by Swayam Shikshan Prayog and GROOTS International.

Concrete gains made by organized grassroots women

Grassroots leaders gave concrete examples of ways in which they were taking action to build resilience through:

  • Changing power dynamics: Women’s groups, through the community-based organization KPRM in Indonesia, mobilized a constituency of 70,000 urban poor in the 2008 Makassar election to leverage partnerships with the local government. This action resulted in the Mayor of Makassar signing a political contract at a public meeting to make DRR budgeted funds available to activities and priorities of grassroots women’s organization.
  • Action networks, advocacy and budget allocation: As a result of advocacy (and support from other groups in GROOTS India network), women’s groups in Maharashtra succeeded in getting the District Collector to allocate Rs 7 crore (US$ 1.4 million) from the district budget to repair two bridges and construct a canal water system for irrigation through the Government of India NAREGS program. In Bihar, as a result of sustained advocacy, local government departments changed the location of a bridge that allowed the construction and accompanying roads to serve as a barrier against future floods and waterlogged fields.
  • Reducing vulnerabilities and protecting resources: Women in Assam, India through the CDRF community groups, created grain banks to protect food security from recurring floods (24 grain banks in 24 villages). Any grain unused at year-end is sold, and money is put into a revolving loan fund. To date, the communities have raised 10 lakh (approximately $22,450 USD) to invest in health, education and livelihoods in their communities.

Grassroots leaders unanimously agreed that the portrayal of women as passive victims and beneficiaries through the disaster risk-reduction paradigm had run its course. Leaders insisted it was necessary to replace the current top-down paradigm of DRR that sees women as powerless victims with a holistic approach that links social, economic, political and environmental issues into a single framework. This shift would place the onus for resilient development in the hands of community women. As Wardah Hadfiz, Director of UPLINKS stated, “We should believe that it is our era of women. This is our time. We have to bring the expertise and power of community women to the forefront and make it a force within our movement.”

The shift in approach is perhaps best understood through the lens of the Community Disaster Resilience Fund (CDRF), launched in 2007. An initiative of the Huairou Commission and GROOTS International in partnership with the Alliance for Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction (AADRR) in India, and endorsed by the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) in India, the CDRF channels resources directly to at-risk communities, particularly grassroots women’s groups, to reduce vulnerabilities and scale-up effective pro-poor DRR practices through collaboration with local and national governments. The Fund recognizes that community-based groups cannot access development funds and challenges the current assumptions that community-based groups are not engaged in resilience-building activities, or that they don’t deliver and cannot manage funds. Gaining momentum and support, the CDRF is now active in eight states in India and 12 countries globally, and is a mechanism of the UNISDR Community Practitioner’s Platform.

To orient the other member networks in the Huairou Commission’s Campaign on Global Resilience on the process of the CDRF, facilitators described the 5-point interconnected star of the Fund as:

  1. Creating an understanding of risk and resilience (through hazard-risk mapping)
  2. Reducing vulnerabilities through the actions of grassroots women
  3. Advancing grassroots women’s leadership
  4. Building action and learning networks to demonstrate that grassroots women’s work can adapt the scale at which they work
  5. Initiating partnerships and linkages between grassroots groups and national and local government bodies.

Indian leaders from Maharashtra, Assam, Bihar and Tamil Nadu described the work they have been doing since 2007 as a result of their involvement in the first round of the Community Disaster Resilience Fund. It is important to note that these groups had never previously received untied funds to focus on preventative measures. The groups chose to use the fund in a variety of ways depending on their communities’ situational context, but all groups used the money as either a revolving fund or a fund to leverage government programs. Focusing their efforts on agro-based production, grain banks and seed banks, health and sanitation funds, group vegetable cultivation, and coastal plantation, women conducted hazard mapping, formed disaster task forces, created women’s markets, improved infrastructure, and strengthened relationships with government authorities to create a critical mass of champions (horizontally and vertically).

To further develop a shared regional framework on the CDRF, Indian grassroots leaders linked their actions through the Fund to the 5-point framework. An example that reflects the depth and scale at which women are working is in Maharashtra:

  • Creating a shared understanding of risk – In Maharashtra, women were given support from the Huairou Commission to assess their food insecurity. In doing so they mapped food supply chains – noting increased costs of vegetables and depleting nutritional levels in families. With an intention to mitigate the impact of changing climate patterns and food security issues brought on by an over-reliance of cash crops in local agriculture, women realized this was not sustainable.
  • Taking action to reduce vulnerabilities to food insecurity through networks – To provide immediate food for their families and communities, grassroots women became vegetable producers by learning techniques from older knowledge-holders in a nearby village (through the support of GROOTS India). Godavari Dange Bhimashankar, from SSP explained, “We have defied gender norms that prevent women from owning land or keeping the income from the products they farmed. We have been able to negotiate with our husbands for 1 acre of land per plot to farm vegetables.”
  • Partnerships with government authorities – Their success with farming has led to the agricultural department of India (KVK) agreeing for the first time both at the district and village levels to train women with innovative techniques for vegetable farming (including testing soil etc.)
  • Advancing leadership and organizing Ms. Jayashree Kadam, Federation Leader stated, “The big change is that women are now working together, deciding the prices to sell the crops and sharing the profits. This never would have been the case before.”
  • Building learning and action networks-Women farmers have expanded the joint organic vegetable farming groups to include 550 women in 35 villages through GROOTS India.

A meeting that produces results
These practices clearly demonstrate that in undertaking multiple, diverse roles, women are being empowered to shape the processes that affect their lives. It is no small feat that women are creating consultation mechanisms and funds through saving and credit groups. This allows them to reconfigure social relationships to generate and protect equitable access to resources at a time when governments are focused on transient approaches and “quick fixes.” Women are playing creative roles to safeguard their communities and build partnerships with government and institutional actors to do so.

From these presentations, the leaders from Nepal, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka asserted that they understood the CDRF to be an effective mechanism that will enable them to pilot innovative practices to:

  • Demonstrate women’s capacity to address community resilience priorities by putting money and decision making directly in women’s hands;
  • Disseminate the lessons learned across action and learning networks;
  • Scale up grassroots led initiatives to advocate to government and policy makers for pro-poor DRR programming/ planning.

As a result, all the groups were eager to design concrete action plans to implement the CDRF. Perhaps most exciting was the announcement from the Nepalese groups. They launched a National Resilience Network of 7 groups (as a result of attending the HC South Asian meeting in February 2010). Remarkably, they pledged their own resources (5000 Rupees each) from their saving and credit groups to the Fund to operate in 10 risk prone communities thematically on issues related to resilience (health, sanitation, landslides, and food insecurity).

Some women raised the issue of isolation (villages being in remote areas) and how being part of the Huairou Commission and GROOTS networks is seen as a support system, highlighting the importance of investing in horizontal networking. By linking their work together through a collective approach, grassroots leaders reasoned that they were part of a movement for building community resilience. Groups also understood that the work they were doing to safeguard development assets could be scaled up institutionally through the Community Practitioner’s Platform, which is being designed by the Huairou Commission and GROOTS International at the behest of UNISDR to convene community leaders and innovators to advocate for policies and programs that advance pro-poor, climate resilient development within the UN system.

The discussions throughout the week culminated in the launch of the Indian Community Practitioner’s Platform in New Delhi. All the groups at the meeting agreed to be part of the network of community based organizations and grassroots women recognized as stakeholders and advisors to the UNISDR in advancing the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action.


Community Disaster Resilience Fund (CDRF)

The idea of creating a mechanism to channel funds directly to at risk communities for innovative solutions on DRR was crafted at the First Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction held in 2007 at a workshop on implementing the HFA. The promoters -GROOTS International, Huairou Commission and ProVention Consortium decided to pilot the idea of a Community Resilience Fund. In India, the Community Disaster Resilience Fund (CDRF) initiative was formally endorsed by National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) at the Second Asian Ministerial Conference on DRR at New Delhi in November 2007. The recently held Global Platform 2009, noted
the increasing gap between local and national/global initiatives. Policies and programs seem to fade out at the community/local level. Among the recommendations were that mechanisms /processes need to be established so that policy mainstream is informed by insights and initiatives at the grassroots, where communities at-risk are located and live on a day-to-day basis. The aim of the CDRF pilot is to demonstrate that vulnerable communities can self identify risks, plan and manage earmarked funds to enhance community resilience by forging effective community and local government partnerships. The CDRF is currently being coordinated by National Alliance for Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction (NAADRR), a network of over 170 NGOs.

The NAADRR has set up a Project Advisory Committee that is chaired by the NDMA of India and includes other institutional partners. The Committee is viewed as a mechanism for feeding lessons and recommendations emerging from local CDRF experiences into state and national level programs with support of the NDMA. The fund is managed by the local CDRF committees, which transfer funds, plan and oversee DRR initiation across 10 -15 communities. Facilitating organizations provide training and advocate for resources with district level administration and PRI.

CDRF supports communities to:

  • Experiment with solutions to address locally identified risks and vulnerabilities.
  • Create local stakeholder platforms that bring grassroots women’s priorities and practices to the national disaster reduction agenda, as well as development programs.
  • Leverage resources for community based organizations from development, DRR and poverty reduction programs.

1. Recognize community and women’s groups as key actors in DRR, rather than as beneficiaries, by investing in and leveraging their experience in disaster preparedness and resilience building.
2. Align DRR programs with poverty reduction and development. Addressing access to basic services (drinking water, health, sanitation) and sustainable livelihoods is critical to vulnerability reduction in poor communities.
3. Provide resources in the hands of community and women’s groups for disaster preparedness and resilience strategies. Community funds, micro credit and social insurance are strategies that create safety net leading to reduction of vulnerability.
4. Recognize and support community and women’s groups as stakeholders and support local partnership and platform for engagement for DRR and development.

These platforms and learning network allow community experience and lessons to inform development plans in a way that addresses local risks and vulnerabilities.

Women’s Farmer Collectives Enhance Food Security

Crises as Usual
Consultations with poor women in rural India revealed that they were impacted most by the lack of access to adequate food. The food crisis –rising food prices, reduced agriculture production, lack of water and fodder for animals affected everyday survival.

Women rightly argued that they need control over land. They need to be at the helm of deciding what food is grown and ho w it can reach their families if they had to tackle hunger and poverty in suicide ridden, water scarce and climate affected rural districts in Maharashtra. Currently, women were not viewed as farmers. As farm labour, their knowledge on planting, harvesting and food processing, not recognized.

To address the many crises, including growing food insecurity at the household and community level women hit upon forming collectives to ensure access to vegetables and cereals/pulses in the villages. Currently, all food production is geared to satisfy
urban markets, leaving rural communities–hungry. With the goal of furthering community resilience, it was decided to amplify women’s informal efforts to increase food security by scaling up small farmer led agriculture to create a sustainable and replicable path for food security for communities.

In less than a year, over 1000+ rural women collectives have gained control over small farmland. They are growing vegetables and most important have nominated women to market vegetables in their villages ensuring better nutrition at affordable prices. A range of collective initiatives have emerged – women lease land and invest jointly by working together. Through training & exposure on technology, women have saved time spent on the farm. They have a new identity as farmers, until now only possessed by male farmers.

Allied enterprise opportunities have opened up for production and marketing of seeds, bio fertilizers, pesticides etc. Group leaders are responsible for scaling up. They transfer know-how to other women for vegetable cultivation and create new markets. The network of groups builds vital information on innovations in farming which the women have previously been denied.

Impact and Outcomes
Vegetable produce is now available for households whereas earlier families stopped consuming vegetables as they had to travel far. Women increased their market access and income to meet food consumption needs in families. Vegetable producer groups meet many goals for women and their families including reduction in vulnerabilities through diversification of livelihoods, increase in technical knowledge around agriculture and skills, ability to conduct business in local markets. Capacity of women increased to undertake  community mapping, vocalize needs and actively advocate issues/problems. Long term improvement in soil condition and yield  quantity and quality in cases where organic techniques are used, which illustrates an increase in environmental protection through the promotion of sustainable agriculture.

Benefit to the community/environment

  • The central impact is sustainable food security due to large scale cultivation and hence access to nutritious organic pesticide-free vegetables for over 6000 rural people.
  • Sustained incomes (rise by 30 %) for 1000+ women & families.
  • Women- women knowledge exchange on seasonal cropping (from summer and winter vegetables) to ensure food security all year around.
  • Allied enterprises to produce vermi compost and organic pesticides (made from neem plants)
  • Creation of new rural markets for organic vegetables for rural people.
  • Alternating crop method and vermi compost ensures that soil is enriched with natural nutrients year round.

Sustainable model for scaling up of food security
SSP plans to seek support of partners to scale up to 10,000 women entrepreneurs in the next two years through an
approach that designates women as teachers and innovative farmers as leaders of the farmer field schools. Tapping into community expertise, SSP will set up rural collection centres and urban distribution centres that will allow women’s collectives to control the supply chain. By creating Knowledge Centres expertise and skills is open source mode allowing for innovation in low input vegetable cultivation, production and marketing initiatives that promote environmentally appropriate community and livelihood development.

Grassroots resilience by women groups


Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP)––Self Education for Empowerment––is a learning and development organization that improves the lives of some of the world’s poorest people. Based in Mumbai, India, SSP offers skill-building and income and health-enhancing opportunities to rural women and youth. Committed to creating long-term sustainability, SSP develops and works with women’s collectives on the grassroots level, and more broadly, partners with a variety of local, regional, national and international organizations.

SSP is a global and national leader on community led recovery and building resilience of women and communities in the face of disasters and sudden climate crises. SSP and its grassroots networks have spearheaded innovations, a highlight being the Community Disaster Resilience Fund, which puts funds directly into the hands of local women’s networks. SSP partners with GROOTS International and Huairou Commission to ensure that grassroots priorities are brought to the national and global disaster-reduction agendas.

Intervening after the major earthquakes and the tsunami crisis in India, as an opportunity, Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP) has built resilience of women and communities at the grassroots in reconstruction and local governance. As a result of its innovative approach in disaster recovery and resilience building, organization & network has experienced a continuous expansion up to 72,000 women in self help groups across 1,000 villages in the most hazard prone areas in 3 states Maharashtra, Gujarat and Tamilnadu in India.

Peer Exchanges: Expanding scope of its work, experienced women’s groups from Maharashtra were facilitated by SSP teams visited one week after Gujarat earthquake to transfer a long term reconstruction strategies in post disaster response. As a result, women’s savings and credit groups and federations were established, communities were made aware of safety features, retrofitting technology, and community enterprises. In the major disasters across three states, grassroots women’s network of SHGs has emerged with capacities for long term sustainable resilience building beyond mere emergency response.

Women’s Health Governance groups: After the Tsunami (2004), SSP has strengthened the women’s self help groups/networks firstly for community preparedness and recovery and later to address social and economic vulnerabilities. In all the communities, village level Women’s Health Governance groups and Federations were established to address health water, sanitation risks /emergencies and demand quality pro poor public / private services. They are at the centre of SSP’s capacities to transfer vision of grassroots led recovery and long term resilience strategy to Sri Lanka, Indonesia, across disaster prone South Asia and other regions.

Our experience in India shows, that, for the women led resilience initiatives to sustain, groups need to leverage poverty reduction/development funds from local /district governments. The key ingredients at the local level are setting up a collaborative engagement platform and building a cadre of local climate resilience champions – both local governments and women’s groups who can advocate for adaptation/resilience strategies).

Community Disaster Resilience Fund (CDRF): SSP’s role was crucial in designing and implementing the  Community Disaster Resilience Fund (CDRF) pilot initiatives in India. CDRF is a mechanism that channels funds directly to at risk communities to reduce vulnerabilities and build resilience. This work was done as part of Alliance for Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction (AADRR). Lessons learnt indicate that scaling up would have to address the sustainability of community level initiatives by linking them to resources at the district level. This requires grassroots and other levels of advocacy to reshape priorities of poverty reduction/development funds to focus on climate adaptation, food security, and sustainable development.

Learning from this pilot initiative, CDRF will be implemented in Asian countries such as Philippines, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Indonesia. This will strengthen the community initiatives that link to local government authority in leveraging resources for development initiatives and building community resilience.

Impact: SSP work has reduced vulnerability in over one million disaster affected households in the last decade in three states through mass education on safe construction for house owners. Women house owners were encouraged to contribute to design and construction of their homes, while engineers and masons were monitored closely at end, ensuring that earthquake safe houses were built.

Scale up: Lessons and strategies from the experience of earthquake reconstruction initiatives in Latur have expanded to Gujarat and later post tsunami Tamilnadu prepared community to build back better and sustain the initiatives.

The experienced leaders from these areas have transferred their learning to Tsunami affected Sri Lanka and earthquake affected communities in Nepal.

Disaster Watch
Swayam Shikshan Prayog facilitates Disaster Watch ( a platform for grassroots communities for sharing the lessons and learning in resilience building.


  •     Community to Community learning and transfer
  •     Hazard and Vulnerability Mapping
  •     Rapid assessment of Climate threats and solutions
  •     District level Disaster Risk Fund with community contribution
  •     National level Community Resilience Fund at  high risk areas
  •     Post disaster initiatives that has reduced vulnerability in over one million disaster affected households in the last decade in three states

SSP has launched more than 600 women from low-food security areas to start vegetable production and marketing in their communities since 2008. Collectively purchasing seeds and fertilizers; tapping into seed banks, and learning organic farming methods, the rural women’s collectives have started meeting their families’ nutritional needs. SSP plans to scale-up to 10,000 grassroots women in vegetable production initiatives before 2012.


Swayam Shikshan Prayog | Phone: 022 26211476 | E: | W: | | 101, 1st Floor | 76 Baptista House | Gaothan Lane No. 1 | S.V. Road | Andheri West | Mumbai – 400 058 | India