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Results Briefs October 20, 2020

Unleashing the power of women’s collectives for rural development in the Indian State of Bihar


With more than 12 million women members in SHGs, JEEViKA touches the lives of every second household in rural Bihar.

JEEViKA, Bihar

India’s JEEViKA program (literally translating to livelihoods), financed by the World Bank, is the country’s largest state-level program working exclusively with women from poor rural families across the State of Bihar. Between 2008 to 2020, the project has worked with more than 12 million rural women, organized into 1.03 million self-help groups, to include them in economic activities by giving them access to finance and markets and improving their health and nutrition practices. During the COVID-19 pandemic, women’s groups under NRLM, the national program modeled on JEEViKA, have been among the first to respond, making more than 168 million face masks, running over 122,600 community kitchens, and facilitating the delivery of $2.3 billion in financial assistance to more than 206 million women.


In 2006, Bihar, one of India’s poorest and most populous states, was contending with poor infrastructure and service delivery, and a complex political and social context. Limited inclusion of women in governance and local government institutions, coupled with their severely constrained access to economic opportunities, services and finance, made inclusive rural development an especially urgent and challenging agenda for the state.

Delivery of financial services was constrained. The number of bank branches was less than half of national average. Against an estimated rural micro-credit demand of $2.4 billion, the annual credit delivery in 2006 was only $8.4 million and vast sections of the poor were dependent on high-cost loans from informal sources.

Low-productivity subsistence agriculture was the dominant source of income for nearly 70 percent of Bihar’s population. Poor quality of producer organizations and value chains, inadequate capital formation, weak research and extension facilities, and low levels of social capital among the poor constrained opportunities to increase agricultural productivity and income diversification.

In March 2020, the Government of India announced a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19. This created significant challenges for small farmers and daily wage earners due to restricted mobility and market shutdowns at peak harvest season. Higher risks to food security and absence of banking services limited rural households’ access to funds, especially remittances. Limited awareness of COVID-19, coupled with a high influx of returnee migrant workers, posed significant economic and health risks. Floods in July and August compounded these difficulties.


The project initially focused on building strong institutional platforms for the poor through Self-Help Groups (SHGs) and commodity-specific producer groups. It invested in building the capacity of these groups for savings and financial intermediation, and supported development of credible credit histories for rural households that had not previously had a bank account. In addition to catalytic initial capital that spurred higher financing from commercial banks, the project introduced customized financial products to support productive livelihood investments and reduce vulnerability.

This institutional model later extended to support commodity-based producer institutions and enterprise groups. The project facilitated development of a community-based agriculture extension system, enabling large-scale adoption of improved agriculture practices. Commodity-based producer organizations collect, market and sell small farmers’ produce and use technology into various aspects of production and quality control for higher returns.

During the COVID-19 lockdowns, the project deployed the institutional outreach of JEEViKA to participate in awareness campaigns and women’s enterprise groups produced protective materials on a large scale, meeting market demand and maintaining a source of earning for themselves. The network of JEEViKA village organizations also helped in rapid assessments of the coverage and inclusion gaps in the Public Distribution System (PDS) under the National Food Security Mission (NFSM), and institutional links with government program such as work guarantee schemes were strengthened to include the most vulnerable households.

Specialized financial products addressed food security challenges during the pandemic. 17,300 village organizations procured food grains using the State’s Food Security Fund, benefitting over a million households. Photo Credit: JEEViKA, Bihar


Since 2008, the JEEViKA program has emerged as the state’s flagship program for rural development and poverty alleviation. The project has contributed to the following outcomes:

  • More than 841,000 women’s groups have bank accountsBetween 2016-2020, 1,085 digital banking kiosks run by members of women’s self-help groups have carried out more than $350 million in digital financial transactions.
  • Since 2009, more than 12,000 community-level professionals have trained 1.2 million farmers on improved practices to enhance the productivity of crops such as rice and wheat.
  • Between 2014-2020, more than 285,000 women small farmers have formed commodity-based Farmer Producer Organizations, while Farmer-level returns per unit of produce have increased by 15-20 percent due to higher margins and improved production practices.
  • Between 2014-2020, 2.08 million rural women have enrolled in public insurance schemes with a project-supported claim settlement system.
  • Since 2015, 131,000 rural households have backyard poultry investments under the project while 17,250 milk producers have market linkages through project-supported producer companies.
  • Between 2007-2020, JEEViKA has helped scale up the project approach to 121 blocks of six other states in India through a workforce of more than 100,000 community resource persons and technical experts.
  • Since 2016, the project has developed innovative community enterprise approaches (Rural Retail Marts) aimed at improving income levels of rural women working as small traders and women- owned catering enterprises to improve services at public institutions such as hospital canteens and administrative offices.
  • In 2018, JEEViKA was designated as the implementing agency for the government of Bihar’s program focused on ultra-poor inclusion and graduation, reaching 72,000 ultra-poor households to date.
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JEEViKA played a key role in supporting COVID-19 relief measures across the state.

20.7 million face masks were produced by JEEViKA women enterprises during the first three months of COVID induced lockdown in Bihar. Photo credit: JEEViKA, Bihar

    • Between April to July 2020, 58,000 JEEViKA village organizations undertook a state-wide survey to identify more than 2.4 million additional households to be included under the public distribution system of the National Food Security Mission with 1.7 million new ration card numbers issued to date.
    • Between April to July 2020, 17,300 Village Organizations undertook collective procurement of food grains, bolstering food security for nearly 1 million vulnerable households.
    • More than 50,000 women members belonging to returnee migrant households were added to existing or new self-help groups and are being supported through the full package of interventions under the project to help them develop income generating opportunities.
    • Women banking agents carried out banking transactions worth $38 million in three months, ensuring availability of cash in hand for the poorest.
    • 116 Custom Hiring Centres and 729 Village Tool Banks established under JEEViKA supported local provision of mechanization services during April-June 2020, enabling farmers to harvest crops despite lockdowns. Large-scale direct marketing of fresh produce to consumers was facilitated by JEEViKA producer institutions. More than 16,000 individuals under quarantine were served through community managed kitchens and catering services.

    1.03 million self-help groups

    organized by JEEViKA program, India's largest state-level program working exclusively with women from poor rural families across the State of Bihar.

    Bank Group Contribution

    In addition to the $453 million loan from the International Development Association (IDA) for the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Project (JEEViKA) and the Bihar Transformative Development Project, the World Bank team brought in lessons from successful implementation of similar approaches in the state of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, as well as global best practices. The Bank helped JEEViKA develop a professional human resource architecture for implementing the complex program and supported the project with technical assistance. The Bank team supported Bihar in identifying best practice organizations to provide technical service and partners for developing scalable models in the areas of productivity enhancement, value chains development, and enterprise promotion.


    The government of Bihar has provided $175 million in counterpart funding for the program and recognizes JEEViKA as the lead implementing agency for several other state- and national-level programs. The Bank has supported JEEViKA attracting strategic investments from several other leading organizations including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID), and Co-Impact to bring in high-quality technical assistance in agriculture value chains, nutrition and sanitation behavior change communications, digital financial services and Inclusion of Ultra-Poor. JEEViKA is supported by leading technical assistance organizations like the Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI), MicroSave, Digital Green, and Project Concern International (PCI) in implementation, while the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and University of Arizona are supporting monitoring and evaluation. 

    Moving Forward

    The Bihar Transformative Development Project (BTDP) is known as JEEViKA-II and has built upon the successes of JEEViKA-I, deepening value-chain activities and facilitating access to nutrition and sanitation programs. BTDP has successfully scaled up a new generation initiatives including community-led digital financial services, group-based service and trading enterprises and plugging difficult inclusion gaps by supporting focused programs.

    Over the next several years, the project aims to consolidate these gains and replicate successful models across the state. At the same time, the project recognizes increased vulnerability and uncertainty due to COVID-19 pandemic and is therefore addressing vulnerability and sustaining gains made thus far.  Some notable achievements that indicate sustainability:

    • JEEViKA is also the implementing agency in Bihar for the World Bank-supported National Rural Economic Transformation Project (NRETP) and successful lessons and best practices from BTDP are being replicated across multiple project states in NRETP, which supports the National Rural Livelihoods Mission of the Government of India.
    • The project is supporting highly vulnerable households and returned migrants adapting to new needs. Skill mapping is being undertaken to develop tailored financial and business development support for households looking to engage in local entrepreneurship opportunities.


    Chanda Devi, Samarpan Farmer Producer Company, Muzaffarpur, Bihar.

    JEEViKA has transformed lives of small farmers like me. Our company did a business of INR 5.1 million ($70,000), and generated profits of more than 10 percent over FY 2019-20.

    Puja Kumari, Banking Correspondent, Danapur, Bihar. Photo credit: JEEViKA, Bihar

    Puja Kumari, Banking Correspondent, Danapur, Bihar.

    During the COVID-19 lockdown, I supported transactions of INR 1.1 Crore ($110,000) within 4 months. More importantly, I helped thousands of families access cash in tough times.