Mrs 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 of her fellow villagers, she suffered exorbitant inflation rates from land-owners, poor working conditions and frequent monsoons.
She began questioning this way of life.
Chinna Pillai formed and lead an organised group of women labourers, enabling her to exert unified pressure on the landlord asking for fairer wages and better working conditions; this women’s group is surviving today in Pullucheri. This began in 1990.
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 multiplying the small savings of the group into large returns that could holistically benefit the community. The PullukKalanjiam (short for “The Granary of Pullucheri”) self-help group was thus opened.
This was the start of the self-help group movement, and after 29 years it has spread across 63 districts in India encompassing 1.2 million families with access to affordable microfinance solutions. The movement received a huge boost from Chinna Pillai’s dedication and contributions, reaching out to many women living under poverty.
Chinna Pillai has received significant recognition for her work, 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 Chinna Pillai's full story here.
Watch Chinna Pillai visiting Mrs Pottaiammal, an elderly blind lady who has recently lost her husband. Fortunately, Mrs Pottaiamal was covered by a microinsurance policy with the DHAN Foundation, preventing her from slipping into poverty.
The Development of Humane Action (DHAN) Foundation is a professional development organisation, which was formed in 1997. Its mission is to “build people and institutions and to enable the poor communities for poverty reduction and self-reliance”, focusing on grassroots action. The DHAN Foundation works through a network of self-help groups, 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 build their current operations and reach an additional 1 million policyholders with mutual microinsurance solutions over a period of five years. The project launched in March 2017, and has been supported by either Financial or Technical Assistance by 15 ICMIF member companies in 11 different countries.
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.