A Self Help Group in Ruanda. (Source: Jakob Stundar

Helping people help themselves:
a solution to many problems

For over 10 years, we have consistently operated according to the principle of helping people help themselves. We are convinced that even the supposed weakest members of society have the potential to pull themselves up and make a decent life for themselves and their children – and that this is the key to sustainable development. In Ethiopia, Rwanda and Sri Lanka we started out with just a handful of self-help groups. Now, there are over 33,320 such groups in 24 countries, and they even empower entire civil societies.

Our self-help group work has grown to become a full-fledged movement, and you can be part of this by making a donation.

Behind this success stands an entirely unique concept. Via our partners, we provide the groups with comprehensive training that deals with economic, social and political issues. The groups work independently to create micro-credits that are used to establish businesses, and to find solutions to their problems. Here is an overview of how Kindernothilfe self-help groups work:


  • Step 1: Establishing groups

    The poorest families of a village or urban area are identified by the residents themselves, and the women in these families are invited to establish a self-help group.

    What we do: Working in collaboration with our local partners, the residents conduct a poverty analysis that allows them to determine who is the poorest among them: who has what job – who has how many possessions – who can provide for how many children. It is important that the women are in similar economic situations to ensure that the group is not dominated by individual members.

    What impact it has: For the first time in their lives, the poorest of the poor – who have often been excluded until then – have an opportunity to build a community.

  • Step 2: Creating a sense of community

    The women of the self-help group form a mutually supportive entity. They talk openly about their fears and their economic and social difficulties, and they learn to trust each other. They jointly search for ways to resolve their problems.

    What we do: Our partners train the women in areas such as team spirit, conflict resolution and democratic decision-making processes.

    What impact it has: The women gain self-confidence. They realise that they have potential and, by pooling their resources, they can shape their own future. They no longer feel like helpless victims of circumstances beyond their control.

  • Step 3: Saving money together and launching small businesses

    The women save money together and gradually accumulate a small amount of capital from which they can take out loans and establish small businesses. The loans are paid back and the capital, equity and investment opportunities continue to grow.

    What we do: Our partners advise the women on how to save money on a very modest income. At the same time, they teach the women about accounting practices and how to generate viable business ideas.

    What impact it has: The women gradually pull themselves out of poverty and their families’ living situations are permanently improved. The children go to school, receive medical attention and much more. This also lays the economic foundation for resolving far more challenging problems.

  • Step 4: Resolving economic and social problems

    The women capitalise on their growing economic strength to gain social empowerment. They analyse diverse problems in their immediate environment and resolve them. After six months, the self-help groups merge to form umbrella organisations, in which they forge collective campaigns that improve the living conditions of entire villages and urban areas.

    What we do: We train the women to analyse problems and their causes – and to develop individual solutions. Furthermore, the umbrella organisations are gradually trained to take over our responsibilities: resolving conflicts in the self-help groups, forming new groups and empowering them, etc. This allows us to slowly withdraw from direct involvement.

    What impact it has: There is an extremely wide range of possible impacts that includes reactivating wells, launching immunisation campaigns to reduce preventable diseases, expanding the electrification of city districts, reducing genital mutilation, taking measures to prevent domestic violence and much, much more.

  • Step 5: Becoming politically active to solve greater problems

    After four to five years, the umbrella organisations merge to form a federation that represents up to 2,000 self-help women, their families and their regions. The federations interact on an equal footing with political players, file suits against injustices, demand better living conditions and empower civil society.

    What we do: Our partners train the women to prepare them for political activities, and they arrange meetings between the federations and human rights organisations, so they can together tackle violations of people's rights. The federations increasingly plan and act independently. Eventually our assistance as facilitators is no longer required.

    What impact it has: The range of possibilities is enormous here, too. The women's issues gain political attention and the federations are so powerful that they can establish a water supply system for an entire region, for example, or force government agencies to make good on their promises to finance the construction of schools.

Nepal: "Since we became a group, a new world has opened up for us"

Nepal: "Since we became a group, a new world has opened up for us"

Thanks to her self-help group, Sita Devi Ram is earning money herself for the first time in her life, and this has changed her position in the family enormously.

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Rwanda: Self-help work in progress

Rwanda: Self-help work in progress

Many Rwandans are still deeply traumatised by the genocide. In particular widows and AIDS orphans tend to live in abject poverty. Self-help groups improve their situation.

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Self Help Group Approach Manual

Here you can download our unique concept for supporting self-help groups