SWRK 748: Microfinance & Women's Empowerment in India

Since 2013, students from a number of Penn schools have traveled to India with Dr. Femida Handy during the winter break to study microfinance and its applications to their area of graduate study. For a great overview of the course, watch the video created by Lauren Hirshon and Jennifer Gillard in 2013.


Pre-travel course sessions at Penn
  • Tuesday, November 6, 7:00 – 8:30 PM
  • Monday, November 12, 7:00 – 8:30 PM
  • Monday, December 10, 6:30 – 8:00 PM
  • Wednesday, December 12, 6:30 – 8:00 PM
Dates in Mangalore, India: December 31, 2018 – January 9, 2019

Students will check out of the guest house the morning of January 10.


The application for this course is closed at this time.

Course Description

SWRK 748: Microfinance and Women’s Empowerment in India examines microfinance and its engagement with marginalized communities, such as those in India. It is designed to provide students with an understanding of the phenomena of microfinance and its role in poverty alleviation. By studying the use of self-help groups with NGO facilitation, their impact on women’s empowerment will be examined and understood through interaction with women engaged in microfinance activities.

Sample Itinerary for India Visit

This is a sample itinerary based on previous course arrangements. Speakers and excursions for 2019 will be finalized in the spring and may differ from previous years’ courses.

Day 1: Mangalore

Visit to Nitte University in Mangalore

Lecture: Economic and Social Development in India by Nitte faculty

Site visit to a local SHG in Mangalore to see how the SHG movement operates in an urban setting

Day 2: Nitte

Lectures: Lectures are given by Nitte College faculty and staff. Presentation topics have included Microfinance in India; Indian culture; and student life at Nitte College

Cultural exchange program and presentation with Nitte College students

Day 3: Nitte and Historical Sites

Historical sites visited vary, but past years have visited temple sites (Jain, Hindu, and Buddhist), local produce/flower markets, a student-run art show at a local arts college, and other sites with cultural and historical significance. The purpose of these visits is to introduce you to the vibrant culture and society of India.

Lectures: Overview of Indian history, culture, and caste

Day 4: Site Visits

Microfinance Initiatives and self-help groups – Past groups have visited a variety of SHG groups (e.g., jasmine growers SHG, mixed men/women SHG in a fishing village, eggplant growers SHG, etc.) and attended SHG meetings to see how SHGs operate in their communities and learn from SHG members and facilitators. These visits will occur across multiple days during the trip.

Day 5: Site Visits

Bank Visit – You will interact with bank staff and other stakeholders whose work supports and facilitates SHGs and learn about how banks are involved in the SHG movement.

Day 6: Site Visits

Microfinanced Rural Development Projects – additional site visits to SHGs. Past classes have also visited a local nonprofit/NGO school to learn about the role of education in the empowerment of women and girls and their families.

Day 7: Site Visits

SKDRDP Dharmasthala – You will visit the temple site in Dharmasthala, talk with representatives working with SKDRDP’s SHGs, and have a meal together at the temple.

Visit to elephant orphanage

Day 8: Site Visits and Nitte

Visits to Self Help Groups

Final Lecture, Group Discussion, and Reflections – You will share your reflections as a group and begin to brainstorm topics for your final paper/project.


Any Penn graduate student may apply for this course.

Students do not need to speak a foreign language in order to participate in this course.

Enrollment Requirements

People and elephants wading in the river in India
In order to participate in this course, students will need to:

Have a valid passport and visa. Note: students from non-western countries should allow as much lead time as possible for obtaining a visa, as processing delays have prevented students with citizenship outside the U.S. from being able to participate in this course in the past.

Prior to departure, students will need to submit the following paperwork to SP2:
  • Health Review Form
  • Liability Form
  • Registration in Penn’s Global Activities Registry

Costs & Fees


Students are charged regular course tuition from their home program from for this course.

Program Fee: $700

In addition to tuition, students are charged a $700 program fee to cover the cost of local guides, travel expenses for field visits, groups activities, and lodging and meals at the guest house.

Additional Expenses

(not included with the program fee)

  • Airfare from the United States (or your point of trip origin) to/from Mangalore, India
  • Visa Application Fees
  • Personal/Incidental expenses while in India, including souvenirs, snacks or other food not covered in the program fee, etc.
Billing and Financial Aid

This course is part of the Spring 2019 schedule and will be billed accordingly. Financial aid is applied to the Spring 2019 term.

SP2 Student International Travel Fund

SP2 students may be eligible to receive an award from the SP2 Student International Travel Fund to offset a portion of the cost of airfare if they have financial need. Students apply for a travel award when they apply for the course, and they will be notified of their travel award amount before they need to commit to the class. Students who receive this award will have it distributed as financial aid and it is posted to the student’s financial aid account in the term in which the course is offered.


Arrival and Departure

Students book flights that arrive in India and get them to Mangalore in order to start class on January 1. Students may wish to arrive early to adjust to jet lag; this is welcome but students are responsible for their own lodging prior to December 31. Flight logistics will be discussed in the first class session, but students usually fly to Bangalore, Mumbai, or Delhi (where electronic visas are accepted), and then make a separate reservation on a local airline for a flight to Mangalore. Students should not book early flights on January 10, as it can take 1-2 hours to get to the airport in Mangalore, depending on traffic.


Students will stay at Nitte University’s accommodations for the entirety of the course (check in on December 31 and checkout on January 10). Students will be expected to share a room, although a limited number of single rooms may be available and students may reserve these for an additional fee.


Most breakfasts and dinners will be provided at the Guest House and the cost of meals is included in the program fee. All other meals will either be on your own or in a group (such as during field visits), and students will be responsible for the cost of these meals (they are not included in the program fee).

Additional Information

MSW Program

This course fulfill a general elective requirement in the MSW program. It does not count as a clinical practice elective, macro practice elective, policy option, or research option.

MSSP Program

This course is pre-approved to count as an elective in the MSSP program.

Global Human Rights Certificate

This course is not pre-approved to fulfill any requirements for the Global Human Rights certificate.

Contact Information

Questions about the course


Questions about the online application, course registration, and travel awards
Questions about financial aid

Office of Financial Aid

Photos generously provided by Allison Russell.

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