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Palmyrah Workers' Development Society (PWDS)

About the Project
Project Name: 
Mainstreaming access to insurance services for rural communities
Type of Facility Project: 
Innovation Grant
País de operaciones: 
Asia and the Pacific
Project Thematic Focus: 
Insitutional models and business processes
Health - in-patient
Type of Risk Carrier: 
regulated insurance company
Type of Distribution Channel: 
Mutuals, community-based organizations
Non-governmental organization
Project Description: 

The project seeks to pilot a business model for mainstreaming access to insurance services for rural communities. Insurers are often dissuaded from entering rural markets due to small premiums, high transaction costs and non-viable delivery channels. The model proposes to identify, strengthen and leverage existing relationships and channels which build on trust and can evolve into a scalable business model. The model will test the efficacy of existing self help groups' federations as 'insurance service providers' by helping them build an insurance team to link between the communities and the insurers. Starting with health (identified as primary need), the project will develop the information and document flow within the federation-community system to provide low cost premium collection and claims servicing, which can evolve into a self-sustaining retail distribution providing relevant products to the low-income communities.

The servicing of the claims will be done either directly by the insurer or through a Third Party Administrator (TPA) designated for this purpose.

Consortium Members: 

The Centre for Insurance and Risk Management (CIRM) is a non-profit organization engaged in a variety of action research initiatives with insurers, NGOs and regulators to design and promote innovative insurance products and to improve knowledge on risk-mitigating mechanisms. CIRM is one of 6 specialized centres associated with the Institute of Financial Management and Research (IFMR).


The project targets rural families that work in the informal economy lacking access to social and health security. Their income is often at risk by health shocks that force families towards emergency loans and debt. PWDS works with rural communities including poor farmers and palmyrah workers, rural artisans, and marginalized communities such as Dalits, people affected by HIV/AIDS and indigenous communities. Beneficiaries live in the districts of Kanyakumari, Tuticorin, and Tirunelveli in south Tamil Nadu and are organized in self-help groups (SHG), comprising 355,356 families.

Lessons from the Project
Learning Agenda: 
  • What are the determinants of risk behaviour and demand for insurance?
  • What is the impact of copayments on the utilization of care? What are their implications?
  • What product characteristics are valuable to clients?
  • How can microinsurance be delivered cost effectively to the rural client through a retail distribution model?
  • How can the ability of local organisations to sell diverse financial services products and deliver quality service be tested?
Emerging Lessons: 
  • Constant engagement of the insurance personnel from the insurance company and their presence gives confidence during the enrollment and claims phases.
  • Endorsement from someone within the community who has received a claim has been a big hit.
  • At the beginning of the scheme, it is important not only for the IP but also for the IC to remain connected and involved specially at the time of claims to coordinate between the insured and the TPA since they have emerged as the first point of contact for the insured.
  • Responding positively to observations in the field and suggestions from field helps in building a connection with the community.
  • Involving local communities in the product development process and using a bottoms-up approach gives confidence to the people.
  • Educating clients and staff about document requirements can lead to improved claims performance.
  • Providing efficient and transparent service enhances the claims experience and builds loyalty for the insurance service provider.
  • Choosing the co-payment option shows that members are willing to self-regulate.
  • A complete understanding of on-ground conditions is critical prior to product and process development. 
  • Regular training of the IPs and ICs is critical.
  • Incentives structures need to take care of expenses.
  • Incentive mechanisms improve staff participation in enrollments
  • Use of mobile phones for enrollment has reduced policy issuance time.
  • Health care providers who are new members of the network tend to overcharge patients availing cashless facility. 
About the Organization
Tipo de vínculo con el Fondo: 
Innovation grantee
Country of Head Office: 
Region : 
Asia and the Pacific
Type of institution : 
Non government organization
Participation in Microinsurance: 
Distribution channel
Organizational Overview: 

Founded in 1977, Palmyrah Workers' Development Society (PWDS) is an NGO that implements community development projects in Tamil Nadu, India. PWDS seeks to improve the socio-economic condition of low-income communities by promoting community organisation, building competencies, linking with mainstream resources and services, and influencing local and national policies.

More about the Organization