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Janashakthi Bank Society, Sri Lanka

Map of Sri Lanka

Brief History

The fierce civil war in Sri Lanka in the 1980s left many people in Southern Sri Lanka destitute and caused huge rifts between peoples – which further exacerbated the situation. Many of the men were involved in the fighting – away from home, killed or injured.

A group of Sri Lankan women came together to form the Janashakthi Bank Society, a self-help micro-credit union with members from all communities and all cultural backgrounds.

At first, members helped each other with small loans to buy seeds and tools to overcome the desperate famine caused by the widespread destruction of food crops during the fighting.

The Bank progressed from the success of this modest beginning to the next stage where they supported members' small local businesses.

Today, the Bank continues this work. Now, several of the members' enterprises have grown to the stage where they are looking for opportunities to expand into wider markets and exports.

The Janashakthi Bank Society still retains its original philosophy of true grassroots development: Only poor women can join. They are organised into groups of 5 women – only one from each household – who support each other. Each member must save some money with the Bank Society.

Each group of five women meets together each week to discuss their problems and how they can overcome them. The five women support each other. They work at each other's households to clear vegetable gardens, plant vegetables, and help each other in their small businesses. When a member of the group takes out a small loan from their local Janashakthi Bank Society, the loan is guaranteed by all five women of her group - a policy which has led to more than 90% of loans being repaid successfully.

Types of Small Loans Include:

Before the formation of the Janashakthi Bank, such people could borrow money only from the money lenders, often at exorbitant rates of interest, so they often fell further and further into debt.

The Janashakthi Movement has been a great success: Now 12 years on, the Janashakthi movement is flourishing and poor people are continuing to join. In some villages there is 100% membership of all poor women. Many poor people are out of debt, are able to grow their own food and support their families. They have substantial new houses, most now have running water and are connected to electricity. Their small businesses are flourishing.

Several businesses are now keen to find ways of developing national and international markets.

Women are the members because they are the centre of the family. Through the village level meetings they learn about health and hygiene, the importance of sending children to school, and new ideas. Now everyone boils drinking water, illiterate members are taught to read and write.

Tsunami Relief

The organization and experience of Janashakthi proved very effective at providing relief from the 2004 Asian Tsunami which devastated Sri Lanka's coasts.

Many Tsunami survivors lost family members as well as the improvements for which they had worked so hard. The Janashakthi organization has been very effective at helping people to recover. It has used its limited resources more rapidly and effectively than some much larger and better funded organizations.

In partnership with Hambantota Rotary Club (EMI), Prem's Village Fund helped almost 200 families to restart their lives and small businesses, by distributing the donations as small grants. 100% of the money donated was distributed to the Tsunami survivors: Nothing was deducted for costs or expenses.

Note: Janashakthi means collective or people power, in contrast to swashakti which means personal power. Janashakthi can also be spelt Janashakti. The Janashakthi Banking Movement is not associated with any other organisations which use similar names; such as the insurance company or the Indian political party.

Samurdhi Movement

The micro-credit unions in some areas of Sri Lanka have now been re-organised as Samurdhi, meaning prosperity. They receive some government support.

Grameen Bank

The pioneering Grameen Bank, was set-up by Professor Yunus during the 1970s in Bangladesh. It has been the prototype for most successful micro-credit unions.

Professor Yunus and the Grameen Bank were awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.

BRAC (formerly Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee)

BRAC is a Bangladesh national private development organization, set up by Mr. Fazle Hasan Abed in 1972. Initially it was established as a relief organization to help resettle refugees returning to Bangladesh from India after Bangladesh's Liberation War.

Subsequently it focussed on the long-term issues of poverty alleviation and empowerment of the poor, especially women, in the rural areas of Bangladesh.

BRAC devised the grass-roots, self-help structure which has been adapted and applied so successfully by other micro-credit and development organizations.

BRAC continues to thrive; working mostly with the landless rural people of Bangladesh; promoting income generation for the poor through micro-credit, health, education and training programmes.

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