Assisted by SPARC, Mahila Milan runs a number of programmes. These include:
- Milan Nagar, a cooperative designed to seek alternative siting for their housing;
- Opening bank accounts establishing saving schemes to assist women towards purchasing new homes
- Providing each family with essential food and clothing
- Dealing with crises, such as the provision of emergency loans, or assisting with police-related problems.
Mahila Milan was formed in the 1980s, when NSDF agreed to help create a sister organisation complementary to its own, to encourage more women to enter leadership roles in slum development and poverty alleviation, with the assistance of SPARC.
Mahila Milan was formed largely in response to a 1985 Supreme Court ruling that granted the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai authority to demolish household structures on the sidewalks of Mumbai. These were the homes of those known popularly as “pavement dwellers”. Many NGOs and community-based organizations planned mass action to confront these demolitions, however SPARC activists found that women from pavement settlements did not want confrontation and preferred to work out a way that the city was able to coexist with them. A survey carried out by SPARC between July and October of that year found that pavement dwellers were not transient populations, but people who had lived for over two decades in the city. This was documented and published in "We The Invisible", which detailed the background of these people from the poorest districts of India - victims of underdevelopment, communal violence, floods, famines and other crises. There were no evictions, and by March 1987 Mahila Milan was established to help poor illiterate women in each settlement understand the politics of why they cannot get land in the city for their house, and to develop a strategy to present to the city.
Mahila Milan have been active in advocating the earmarking of vacant land for the homeless, and designing strategy to help the poor into their own homes. The organisation became a model for other NSDF-affiliated organisations between 1985 and 1995, providing principles and frameworks to form the basis of discussions between informal settlements and cities. In 1995 the government of Maharashtra integrated pavement dwellers for the first time into the classifications of households entitled to land for relocation in the Slum Rehabilitation Act.
- The Worldwide Virtual Library on Microcredit and Microfinance: The Mahila Milan Credit Scheme
- SDI: India
- University College London: Department for International Development: Urban Government: Capacity Building: SPARC: Demolitions to Dialogue: Mahila Milan - learning to talk to its city and municipality