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Mainstreaming access to insurance services for rural communities -- PWDS

About the Project

Project Name: Mainstreaming access to insurance services for rural communities -- PWDS
Type of Facility Project: Microinsurance innovation grantee
Country of Operation: India
Region: Asia and the Pacific
Sub Topics: Other channels, Sales, Product development, Demand, Health
Type of Risk Carrier: Regulated insurance company
Type of Distribution Channel: Mutuals, community-based organizations

Organizational Overview

Palmyrah Workers’ Development Society (PWDS), started in 1977, is a development support organization offering programmes and support services that facilitate sustainable community initiatives through community organization, awareness generation, capacity building, and policy advocacy in Tamil Nadu, India. PWDS uses an approach called MEALS -- Motivating and Mobilizing communities, Equipping them through skills transfer, Accompanying them with back up support, fostering Linkages with mainstream resources and Sustaining initiatives through community ownership, participation and empowerment. Their projects focus on income generation linking members to livelihood generating activities.


Project Description

The project aimed to link insurers to a large rural populace through innovative channels of retail distribution and outreach for servicing rural clients. The project built on the existing resources and infrastructure of the NGOs supported by PWDS to develop an economically viable business model. The project planned to distribute a cashless health product sold through Insurance Promoters (IP) and coordinated by an Insurance Coordinator (IC). The IPs are selected from the local communi...READ MORE


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.


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?

Project Status

Key Performance Indicators

Date of Launch: October 2009


July 2010

December 2010

June 2011

June 2013

Number of Federations participating





Number of Federations where product is launched




5 (multiple products introduced)

Number of insurance companies





Number of  launched products





Number of beneficiaries (Families)

16501 (6592)

17200 (7100)




Number of Insurance Persons





Coverage ratio





Claims rejection ratio




Incurred claims ratio




Project Updates
As of September 2009 Based on feedback received from members on interactions with 4 insurance companies, a partnership was finalized with Bharati Axa General Insurance Co (BAGI). A preliminary needs analysis was carried out with BAGI among the community to support product development. This created a feeling of involvement for the community. The analysis indicated a need for an inpatient hospitalization cover to cover the cost of illnesses that could not be managed at home. Two options of the ...READ MORE

Project Lessons

On the determinants of risk behavior and demand for insurance The engagement and presence of personnel from the insurance company improves the confidence of clients during the enrolment and claims phases. Training was provided to the ICs and IPs and joint calls were made to prospective customers. Claims meetings were conducted in the field where the insurer’s claims team explained the procedure for filing a claim and the logic of how and why a particular c...READ MORE
On the impact of co-payments on the utilisation of care and its implications Members’ choice of the co-payment option suggests that members are willing to self-regulate. Contrary to expectations, four out of five federations where enrolments were carried out by Bharati Axa General Insurance opted for the co-pay option, which shows that members are willing to self-regulate. Even in the fifth one, where both co-pay and non co-pay options were used, most...READ MORE
On effective delivery to rural clients through a retail distribution model Regular training of IPs and ICs is critical. The IPs and ICs carry the message of insurance. They therefore need to be aligned with the project’s objectives, and their skills need to be enhanced constantly. The insurance company initially provides the product knowledge and sales training, but this needs to be constantly reinforced at the local level. Incentives structures ne...READ MORE
On health care provider behaviour Health care providers who are new members of the network tend to overcharge patients using the cashless facility.  Though envisaged as a cashless scheme for the beneficiaries, almost 80 per cent of the claims were being paid as reimbursements, even at network hospitals. Patients were offered “loans” by the federations to help them make payments to the hospitals that could be paid back when reimbursed by th...READ MORE
Project page contributor/s:  Pranav Prashad and Alice Merry (the Facility)
Date of last update:  May 2014