SKS began operations in the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh, part of the drought-prone, semi-arid Deccan Plateau and is one of the poorest parts of India. Almost half of the Deccan population lives in poverty and the region suffers from high rates of hunger and malnutrition. Currently, SKS is expanding into the neighboring states of Karnataka and Maharashtra, as well as Madhya Pradesh and Orissa.
The vast majority of the poor in the Deccan region are landless laborers or marginal farmers who draw their livelihood from subsistence agriculture. The average daily wage for this population is less than a dollar a day. Moreover, since many people subsist on rain-fed agriculture, they usually do not have consistent work year round. Their yearly income is not enough to provide their families with basic necessities like food, healthcare and education.
In addition to having to contend with such dire economic hardship, the poorest—many of whom are from the lowest caste, the “untouchables” or Dalits—also have to deal with the severe social discrimination that is part of the Indian caste system. For instance, Dalits are prohibited from drinking in the same tea stalls or drawing water from the same wells as upper castes. They are also forced to live in segregated neighborhoods within villages.
SKS currently only targets women both because they are the most marginalized and because they tend to use resources more productively than men. Social science research has shown that women tend to undertake small, manageable activities rather than risky ventures and that they invest the majority of their income into the household and for their children.