Purpose Self-help groups (SHGs) have widely been accepted by developing nations for their contribution to inclusive development. Despite its importance and the recognition of the same, SHGs and their members face several challenges. The purpose of this paper is to comprehensively investigate the inhibiting factors affecting the effectiveness of women SHGs. The paper also proposes a roadmap for all the self-help promoting institutions, such as banks, state and central government, and non-government organizations to address the challenges. Design/methodology/approach The study adopts an exploratory research design to undertake this applied research. It uses phenomenographic and interpretative approaches. Qualitative data have been collected from 24 members belonging to eight SHGs from the eastern Indian state of Odisha with the help of a semi-structured interview schedule. The result has been analyzed by using content analysis. Findings The study finds that SHG members in Odisha face several challenges in the form of financial bottlenecks, entrepreneurial obstacles, capacity-building impediments, mentor-ship challenges, socio-structural challenges and group dynamics. Research limitations/implications The study finds many unique and contextual inhibiting factors, which are valuable additions to the existing literature. At the same time, the result may not be applicable to other kinds of SHGs, such as Alcoholic Anonymous, as their nature, composition and deliverables are quite different from the SHG that the current study has taken into consideration. Practical implications The proposed roadmap would be useful to policymakers, non-government organizations and other agencies involved in the promotion and capacity building of SHGs operating in Odisha in particular and India in general. Originality/value The literature is mainly concerned with the impact evaluation of SHG programs. This study investigates the challenges faced by SHGs in a systematic way and provides a roadmap to address the same in a comprehensive way.