Title: Together We Can: Assessing the Impact of Women’s Action Groups on Social Change in India

Duration: Dec 2014 – Dec 2017

Status: Completed

Funder: International Development Research Centre, Canada (IDRC)

In India, social norms have traditionally deprived women of power in social and economic spheres. Women living in rural areas and belonging to lower classes are particularly vulnerable to disempowering social pressures. Started in 1986, the Mahila Samakhya (MS) program mobilizes vulnerable women at the grassroot level, using a collective-action approach to help women become empowered agents of society. Today, MS is one of the world’s largest government funded women’s empowerment program, serving around 1.2 million women across 10 Indian states. Anecdotal evidence suggests that the process set up by MS approach has been effective in uplifting women’s social and economic status. However, rigorous evidence of MS’s impact on women’s economic empowerment is lacking. The process by which women engage with the economic aspect of the MS empowerment process and the outcomes of this engagement is also invisible.

In keeping with this background, the specific objectives of the project are:

  1. To evaluate the impact of Mahila Samakhya (MS) programme on economic empowerment of women.
  2. To raise awareness and influence policies towards women among the government functionaries, academics, media, and civil society.

There are two sites of study: Bihar and Karnataka. For both the states, the research framework and methodology to be used in the study is both quantitative and qualitative in nature. The methodology is in lines with the ‘q’ squared method which focuses in combining the exponential effects of mixed methods.

The Bihar Research Design is based on a cross-sectional study that examines the long, medium and short term effects of the MS program on social and economic change, across three districts in Bihar. The quantitative component uses a one-time survey to understand changes in the economic empowerment of women in three districts. The qualitative component is primarily in the form of an ethnography that uses methods of case studies, participation observation, and unstructured informal interviews.

The Karnataka Research Design is based on a randomised experiment to evaluate MS on women’s economic empowerment and citizenship, by examining the expansion of MS in the district of Haveri. The quantitative component is primarily in the form of in the randomised control trials (RCTs), the baseline of which has been completed and the qualitative component uses embedded ethnography that also uses case studies, participation observation, and informal interviews to inform the ethnography.


Project Contact: Niveditha Menon


CBPS GrOW Partners:

IFMR Lead 

IFMR LEAD is a non-profit research organization conducting high-quality scalable action research and outreach in the areas of development economics and finance. They are dedicated to leveraging evidence-based research to further economic and financial development of poor people living in India and other low-to-middle income countries. Their vision is to foster improved financial access, better legal and physical infrastructure, and targeted social services for individuals, households, and enterprises, to help them attain their socio-economic aspirations.


ERU Consultants Pvt. Ltd. 

ERU Consultants Pvt. Ltd, earlier known as Educational Resource Unit, is a research and consulting group that was established in 1996 with the objective of working in an interdisciplinary manner on education, public health and child development. Girls’ education is their passion and their unique strength and expertise comes from taking a holistic social development approach with a strong gender perspective. They have special expertise in qualitative research, impact assessment, process documentation, monitoring & evaluation.


Sunai Consultancy Pvt. Ltd. 


Sunai was found in year 2005 with the aim to provide monitoring & evaluation services along with related capacity building services in development sector. Since 2005, Sunai has implemented over 175 projects in sectors like Poverty Alleviation, Primary Education, Child Protection, Rural Development, Panchayati Raj and Livelihood. The team, besides the consultancy work, engage themselves intensively in a self- initiated intervention  that strengthens ward sabhas called Citizen Centric Capacity Building.