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Self-help groups: creating capital together

Self-help groups are an incredibly effective way for people to lift themselves out of poverty

2017 Available in French, English, Portuguese and Spanish

A self-help women’s group in Malawi called Talimbika, which means ‘working hard’, gathers for a meeting.
A woman selling eels and other fish in Hsipaw, Myanmar. Photo: Andrew Philip

From: Entrepreneurship – Footsteps 103

Practical advice on how to run a successful business

A self-help group (SHG) is a group of 15 to 20 people who meet together each week to support each other financially and encourage one another. SHGs are an incredibly effective way for people to lift themselves out of poverty.  

Savings and loans 

SHG members are often the poorest and most vulnerable people in the community when they first join the group. They start by saving small amounts regularly, and then begin taking out small loans from the group at a low interest rate. Members often use the money to start or expand their own businesses. They also receive small-business training. 

‘The business provides consistent income for us. Being able to provide for my family means I do not have to rely on others for help any more.’ 

Sahra, Somaliland 

Supportive relationships 

Members of SHGs find they benefit from far more than just financial success. The groups focus on building strong, trusting relationships between members. Many groups are made up entirely of women, though there are some mixed groups.  

‘I can’t express in words what my group means to me. They are my sisters – we support each other in everything.’ 

Meseret, Ethiopia 

Self-help group. Illustration: Petra Röhr-Rouendaal, Where there is no artist (second edition)

Illustration: Petra Röhr-Rouendaal, Where there is no artist (second edition)


Belonging to the group helps members realise they have the ability and resources to improve their own situation. They gain new confidence and a voice. Many women report improved gender relations in their homes and communities. In Myanmar, Tearfund’s partner The Leprosy Mission is using SHGs to transform the lives of people with disabilities. 

‘Before, people with disabilities had to hide and we were alone. But now we can come forward and live among other people. We have self-respect.’ 

 U Soe Win, Myanmar 

 For more on setting up SHGs, see Releasing potential by Isabel Carter. Visit to download a free copy (in English).

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