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A savings group in India. Their hopeful faces reflect their bright outlook on the future thanks to the success of their livelihood activities and stability provided by their savings.


Trickle Up works in four of the poorest states in India—Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, and West Bengal—where almost 50% of the population lives below the poverty line, as compared to 26% nationwide. While India as a nation is experiencing tremendous economic growth, its prosperity is reserved for those with more education, a higher social status, or those located in urban centers like New Delhi, Mumbai, and Bangalore. In rural areas, livelihood and land ownership opportunities are limited for the women Trickle Up works with, and many are tribe and caste members who have faced generations of discrimination and isolation. Most lack access to resources like education and preventive health care, and as a result, adult illiteracy (40%), and child malnutrition are higher in these regions than in the rest of the country.

In India, Trickle Up works exclusively with women. We help them begin a journey of transformation for themselves and their familiesone that generates both near-term and lifelong positive change, moving them from chronic food insecurity to economic self-sufficiency. Our India program combines livelihood training, weekly mentoring, and a Spark Grant that grows a family's income. In addition, membership in savings groups effectively help women link to one another for mutual support and provides them a safe place to save as well as a safe alternative to moneylenders for accessing credit. Women meet weekly with field workers and again with their savings groups to learn how they can improve their family's health status, access government entitlement programs, and strengthen their livelihood activities. These efforts enable them to rise above, and stay out of extreme poverty.


Trickle Up has a field office in Kolkata, India where our team works closely with local partner organizations that deliver and monitor our programs to reach the very poorest.

Here's how the program works:

  • Financial planning: For the very poorest women, planning usually only extends to planning how to put a meal on the table. Trickle Up coaches participants and their husbands on how to plan their livelihood activities over the course of a year given their existing skills and the local market capacity.

  • Working capital: Trickle Up provides both a Spark Grant for investment in activities such as farming and animal husbandry, and a small, short-term stipend to help families meet some of their basic needs in the two-to-three 'hungry' months before these activities begin to yield income.

  • Savings Groups: From the start, participants work towards economic self-reliance by forming savings groups. In the groups, participants save weekly and take out loans to cover expenses like emergencies, school fees, and expanding their economic activities. The groups are self-managed and run for many years, even after the program has ended, eventually qualifying for group loans from banks. This plays a critical role in sustaining participants' progress out of poverty.

  • Training and mentoring: Formal livelihood training is coupled with weekly one-on-one coaching of participants to address challenges in the household as well as the daily running of economic activities. Building self-confidence is as critical an element for success as skills training. Developing confidence often takes time, especially among women who have never been allowed a voice because of their gender or caste, and for whom the daily struggles of survival have eroded all sense of hope.

  • Education on health and social issues: Education on social issues such as alcoholism, child marriage, and family planningdelivered through savings group discussions provides women with the resources they need to better advocate for themselves and their children and improve their quality of life. A health educator, who visits these savings group meetings as well as households, is critical in promoting health and hygiene awareness, and helping connect participants to government health services.

  • Networks: We actively help women break out of their isolation by encouraging savings group members to support and advocate for one another, and by linking families to government and other community programs and services that can provide them with supportive and lasting resources.

  • Partnerships: The program is implemented by our community-based partner organizations, who meet weekly with participants, supporting them and monitoring their progress out of poverty.


With funding from the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), Trickle Up was selected to begin a pilot project in 2007 that enabled us to test several innovations to the Trickle Up model. This pilot project served 300 ultra-poor women and was launched in partnership with our community-based partner organization, Human Development Centre. The project was designed to effectively target ultra-poor women, offer them a series of supports to move them out of a vulnerable state, and enable them to gain access to formal financial services. Starting with a Spark Grant and targeted training for creating a livelihood activity, women then learned the importance of savings, received valuable support to improve theirWomen in their savings group smile as they present their business ledgers to each other during their regular meeting. health, and joined a savings and credit group that provides emotional and financial support. These savings groups eventually linked with rural banks for loans, thus drawing them further still into the world of the less vulnerable.

Trickle Up learned a great deal from this project, and emerged with a better understanding of how best to serve rural, ultra-poor women. Since a lack of capital is not the only challenge they face, we increased the types of support we provide. We have also increased the size of the Spark Grant, and added greater flexibility to closely match the needs of each livelihood activity the women pursue. Several other elements were introduced to the program including regular household visits by a field worker and a health educator to help reinforce training messages, while also providing women with support as they nurture their growing livelihoods and continue their savings. The women also received a small subsistence allowance (stipend) for two months to help cover their families' basic needs during the ‘hungry season’ when no earning opportunities exist.

Beginning in 2009, we have expanded this model to serve all new and continuing participants we serve through our India program.

At the end of this 3-year pilot project in West Bengal, our participants reported that:

  • 93% are saving actively in their savings group.
  • 92% demonstrate complete knowledge and skills in managing their livelihood activities.
  • 90% are planning to expand or diversify their activities in the year ahead.
  • 82% have buffer stock equal to three months of household expenses.
  • 81% have accessed at least one government support program (21% have accessed two).
  • 75% made significant changes in personal and family hygiene. 
  • 74% are attending a primary health care center.
  • 74% have taken a loan from their savings group. (Among partners rolling out the program following the pilot, groups already show as many as 70% of participants taking out loans at the one-year mark.)
  • 63% have used their profits and/or savings group loans to successfully diversify beyond the original livelihood activities supported by Trickle Up. 


  • Households diversified their livelihood base by engaging in one extra occupation on average (from 2.3 to 3.4), reducing the vulnerability associated with weather, markets and other external shocks.
  • 84% decrease in the number of participants who were in debt to high interest charging moneylenders.
  • The majority of participants reported enagaging in collective actions, including advocacy to improve community infrastructure and to access health and other services.
  • 62% of women can sign their names, nearly doubling since the start of the program.
  • 74% of participants reported using public health services instead of unqualified local "doctors", up from 14% at the start of the program.
  • Institutional deliveries increased from 18% to 80%, reducing maternal & child mortality.

To learn more about Trickle Up's impact, click here.

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