Unified Help Desk (UHD) for women’s financial empowerment

Unified Help Desk (UHD) is a new Program with the goal of improving women’s access to financial services and social protection schemes


Empowering women in cotton communities

In Chhindwara India, women and men assume joint responsibility for most day-to-day farming tasks, such as planting, weeding, pesticide preparation, watering and crop picking/harvesting. Women account for 70% of cotton planting and 90% of handpicking labour[1]. Men meanwhile, are typically responsible for transportation and sales, and are the decision-makers for all farm-related activities. Lack of education and technical agricultural expertise as well as the need to conform to expected gender norms, confine women to low-value roles in cotton production. Consequently, women have little control over or access to profits.  

Recognizing the human, social and economic benefits of achieving gender equality, the Government of India reserves at least 30%[2]of their annual budget for schemes, programmes and development activities that promote the empowerment of women. However, it has proved challenging to engage rural women with these initiatives.  

Vrutti in collaboration with its sister organizations Swasti and Catalyst Management Services, with support from Visa Inc. and Gap Inc., is working to empower women working in the cotton value chain through the Advancing Women's Leadership and Access to Finance in Indian cotton program in Pandhurna and Sausar blocks of Chhindwara district, Madhya Pradesh. The program includes implementation of (a) Gap Inc.’s women leadership training program - Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement (P.A.C.E.), and (b) access to financial services and social protection schemes – facilitated through Unified Help Desks.


Unified Help Desk

Unified Help Desks improve women’s awareness, knowledge and access to government schemes. A two-person team manages the UHD across eight villages providing information on Government Schemes targeted at women, assisting with forms and sending the forms to relevant departments. Furthermore, the UHD team regularly liaises with government departments to ensure forms are processed correctly and address any problems related to the application process. This service is available to all women and their families. The UHD facilitators are available for consultation and advice at the Help Desk Counters two days per week. On other days in the week help desk facilitators visit individual households to further encourage uptake of the schemes. “Bank Mitra”, i.e. a person who works as a bank agent, accompanies the UHD facilitator once a week to speak to women and to explain benefits of the government schemes to them.

In August 2017, Vrutti established two Unified Help Desks in Chhindwara district, Madhya Pradesh. Here we examine the impact of a six-month pilot project on the uptake of government-backed financial services and entitlement schemes among rural women in cotton farming communities.


To date the UHDs have connected women in the eight project villages with five government schemes; 217 applications have been submitted of which 109 have been cleared.  Each application has a potential monetary value. If a woman avails of a scheme like widow pension, she is entitled for INR 1,000 (USD 15) per month. This translates to INR 12,000 per year. If we add up the monetary value of each application, the total value applications processed by the team is estimated to be INR 3,45,80,000 (USD 5,32,000).

Sn Product Applied Approved
1 Sukanya Samriddhi 42 21
2 Atal Pension Scheme 15 13
3 Pradhan Mantri Bima Yojana 143 56
4 Jan Dhan Yojana 16 13
5 Widow Pension 1 0
  Total 217 103



The success of the UHD in increasing women’s access to these schemes is evident when we look at the sharp increase in the number of accounts since its establishment: ten times more women enrolled in the program per month through the UHD. Information on accounts opened in Gangatwada and Pandhari villages under the Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana (SSY), for instance, show that over two years women under SSY had opened only 15 accounts. Whereas in the three months since the UHDs were operational, women under SSY opened 18 new accounts . This represents a substantial increase and demonstrates that the intervention is effective at improving rural women’s access to government schemes. In addition, the service can be delivered at nominal cost to the community making it very cost-effective. Furthermore, this model can be replicated and applied beyond government schemes to facilitate access to need-based services.  



Sukanya Samriddhi Account has been introduced through Government of India Notification No. G.S.R.863(E) dated December 02, 2014 and circulated to Banks by Reserve Bank of India vide their letter.  No.RBI/2014-15/494/IDMD(DGBA).CDD/No.4052/15.02.006/2014-15 dated 11th March 2015. Facility to open accounts under the scheme is now available at all SBI branches.

Objective: To promote the welfare of women.

A total of 15 accounts were opened in Gangatwada and Pandhari villages since the initial launch of the scheme in 2014. Through the UHD 18 Sukanya Samriddhi accounts have been opened over a three-month period in Gangatwada and Pandhari villages.




Vrutti plans to continue UHD services by charging a small service fee to meet the cost of services. Once the program is over, the Help Desk will provide some services that will be free and additional paid services that will be provided at very reasonable cost to women. Sustainability of the UHD can be further supported by encouraging the women to contribute by providing a voluntary donation to Vrutti once they successfully reach the goal they set out for.


Visa Inc. provided the funding for this pilot program and is committed to improving financial access across India through a variety of ongoing financial inclusion endeavors.