Business Today - - IMPACT WOMEN - By E. KUMAR SHARMA

FEW OUT­SIDE the In­dian mi­cro­fi­nance world know that Praseeda Ku­nam and her hus­band, Balachan­der Kr­ish­na­murthy, an IITian and Univer­sity of Chicago alum­nus, played a cru­cial role in the early years of SKS Mi­cro­fi­nance, which went on to be­come a be­he­moth in mi­cro-lend­ing, and was the first In­dian mi­cro­fi­nance in­sti­tu­tion (MFI) to get listed in the stock mar­ket. Praseeda joined Vikram Akula’s SKS Mi­cro­fi­nance, an up­com­ing MFI then, as its Di­rec­tor of Op­er­a­tions in Hyderabad in 2003. This was af­ter a four-year stint abroad, where she did an MBA and Masters in In­for­ma­tion Man­age­ment from Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity in St. Louis. There­after, she worked in Cen­tral Asia on a United States Agency for In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment (USAID) trade and in­vest­ment project, look­ing at fa­cil­i­tat­ing growth for small and medium busi­nesses. Af­ter work­ing with SKS for two and a half years, Ku­nam moved on to join ABN AMRO Bank to help MFI start-ups to build ca­pac­ity in fi­nan­cially un­der­served ar­eas such as north-east, UP and Bi­har. She and Bala – as her hus­band is called, then rus­tled up ` 8 lakh to set up Samhita Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment Ser­vices as a Sec­tion 25 com­pany. Samhita is a group of com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment in­sti­tu­tions em­pow­er­ing women of poor house­holds to lead a life with dig­nity and work op­por­tu­ni­ties. Oper­at­ing across the ru­ral heart­land of Cen­tral and North In­dia – like Baghelk­hand and Bun­delk­hand in Mad­hya Pradesh – with an em­pha­sis on re­mote re­gions, Samhita pen­e­trates into dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties for mi­cro­fi­nance of­fer­ings and in­come build­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, and then fol­lows up with so­cial ser­vices such as fi­nan­cial lit­er­acy, le­gal lit­er­acy, and health ed­u­ca­tion. To­day, Samhita works with 150,000 house­holds ex­tend­ing both fi­nan­cial and non-fi­nan­cial ser­vices.

Lately, there has been a huge fo­cus on the is­sue of women’s le­gal rights. “Eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment of women is not com­plete if they are not in a po­si­tion to make de­ci­sions on their own. For this, aware­ness of their le­gal rights and en­ti­tle­ments is fun­da­men­tal,” says Praseeda. Lever­ag­ing its mi­cro­fi­nance net­work, Samhita has trained around 50,000 women so far on the is­sues of le­gal and other pro­tec­tion avail­able un­der laws such as Pro­tec­tion of Women from Do­mes­tic Vi­o­lence Act, Pro­tec­tion against Sex­ual Ha­rass­ment at Work Place (Pre­ven­tion, Pro­hi­bi­tion and Re­dres­sal) Act and Pre-con­cep­tion and Pre-natal Di­ag­nos­tic Tech­niques Act. Praseeda is cur­rently pi­lot­ing a “Com­mu­nity Cat­a­lyst” pro­gramme wherein se­lected women from the com­mu­nity act as change agents for en­sur­ing real ac­cess to en­ti­tle­ments in­tended for the poor­est of the poor, some­thing ba­sic that of­ten does not reach them.

WHY SHE MAT­TERS She is work­ing hard to ed­u­cate poor women on their fi­nan­cial and le­gal rights PRASEEDA KU­NAM CO-FOUNDERANDCEO, SAMHITA COM­MU­NITY DE­VEL­OP­MENT SER­VICES

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