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UBC Theses and Dissertations

To come up in life: members of the Working Women’s forum on the role of an NGO in women’s empowerment Bullen, Carol Elizabeth


This thesis explores the experience of the Working Women's Forum (WWF), a South Indian NGO (non-government organization) that has helped thousands of women gain control of their lives and begin to make positive changes in their economic and social conditions. Research was carried out between May and August of 1997 in Bangalore District of Karnataka. Six WWF member groups participated—three in the Bangalore urban area, and three in Channapatna Taluk. A series of group discussions followed by individual interviews sought to understand members' subjective assessment of the impact of the Forum's programs. This was supplemented by my own observations in four Forum branch offices, as well as interviews and conversations with Forum directors and staff and with representatives of international agencies and the Indian government. The research addressed two related problems: • What are some of the tools that an NGO can use to bring about sustainable improvements in the lives of women and their families? • How can these services be delivered so that the result is empowerment, rather than dependency on the organization? Empowerment exists relative to a previous state, and this was not a longitudinal study. However, the women in the interview sample reported many benefits, and an experience of Forum membership that is generally positive. They attributed many of the Forum's achievements to its success at balancing power within the organization between the grassroots and a small management structure, consisting of bank employees and a core of university-trained coordinators. The Forum uses participatory methods common to NGOs in other locations. It is structured to take advantage of existing social networks in the community, and to concentrate power with the grassroots. By balancing local definition with a replicating network of associated groups, it has created an effective social and political lobby, at the same time bringing about individual gains. Micro-credit is an important element of the Forum's program that has brought economic gains to members. However, it is unlikely that its impact would have been as great without associated strategies such as solidarity groups and training programs. In spite of visible social and economic gains, existence is still marginal for many WWF members. Research participants expressed the need for support for aging members, and improved well-being and security for themselves and their families as ongoing concerns. They summed up this goal as "to come up in life".

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