NUR­TUR­ING THE NE­GLECTED

VI­JAY­ALAK­SHMI DAS ONCE HAND- HELD THE MI­CRO­FI­NANCE IN­STI­TU­TIONS. NOW, SHE IS DO­ING THE SAME WITH FARMER COL­LEC­TIVES AND CHURN­ING OUT WOMEN EN­TREPRENEURS.

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

Many in the fi­nan­cial in­clu­sion space look up to her as the “mother of In­dian mi­cro­fi­nance”. Vi­jay­alak­shmi Das, 66, was af­ter all in­volved in hand­hold­ing some of the big­gest names in In­dian mi­cro­fi­nance in their ini­tial days, be it SKS Mi­cro­fi­nance (now Bharat Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices), Span­dana or Share Mi­crofin, among oth­ers. In the mid-1990s, sums of ` 2 lakh to Span­dana and ` 10 lakh to SKS meant a lot to them. The best part is that this led to banks agree­ing to lend to them. Af­ter this, they re­ally took off. To­day, these are be­he­moths, with each hav­ing loan out­stand­ing of over ` 3,000 crore and some lend­ing as much as ` 2 lakh ev­ery minute now.

Friends of Women’s World Bank­ing, or FWWB, In­dia, was, in fact, the first lender to over 200 such mi­cro-lend­ing in­sti­tu­tions in Ahmed­abad, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kar­nataka. Most of these en­ti­ties were driven by pas­sion­ate young men and women and structured as NGOs.

Vi­jay­alak­shmi Das, or Vi­jji, as she is called within the in­dus­try, has been at the helm of FWWB In­dia as its founder CEO. It is part of a global net­work – the Women’s World Bank­ing, which fo­cuses on giv­ing women ac­cess to fi­nan­cial ser­vices. While then it was largely about help­ing women col­lec­tives (such as self-help groups and co-op­er­a­tives) in credit man­age­ment, book keep­ing and gov­er­nance, to­day, at FWWB, she is do­ing the same by giv­ing small loans and ca­pac­ity build­ing sup­port to small and mar­ginal farmer col­lec­tives which are fi­nan­cially ex­cluded. These in­clude co­op­er­a­tives and/or farmer pro­ducer com­pa­nies.

In the last two years, it has been able to sup­port 80 farmer pro­ducer col­lec­tives across eight

WHY SHE MAT T E RS FWWB, In­dia, un­der her is help­ing farmer col­lec­tives cre­ate credit his­tory so that they can later tap banks and grow man­i­fold

states, as against four-five two years ago. Here, it is the first lender, much like it was with women col­lec­tives in mi­cro­fi­nance ear­lier. The aim is to help these farmer col­lec­tives cre­ate credit his­tory and start get­ting bank loans.

“This is a ne­glected sec­tor and we found that they need nur­tur­ing,” says Das. Also, this is not ex­actly like mi­cro­fi­nance; you have to do a lot of mod­i­fi­ca­tions to reach out to the needy. For in­stance, they need a com­bi­na­tion credit prod­uct that is both short-term and long–term, some­thing which banks do not have. Again, it is largely about women, as about 65 per cent of the work­force in small and mar­ginal farmer house­holds is women. They do not have the own­er­ship of the land and are, there­fore, de­nied ac­cess to credit. The other thing she is in­volved with at FWWB is build­ing en­trepreneur­ship among women.

“We want the mi­crobor­rower women to ac­quire busi­ness skills and grad­u­ate to be­com­ing en­trepreneurs. Last year, we trained 10,000 women in ru­ral ar­eas in busi­ness skills and hope to re­peat that this year too.” It could be a group en­ter­prise or a small busi­ness that will em­ploy five to 10 peo­ple and need work­ing cap­i­tal in the re­gion of ` 1 lakh to ` 5 lakh. It could be a shop or, say, a weav­ing cen­tre.

CEO, Friends of W ome n ’ s W o r l d Bank­ing, In­dia VI­JAY­ALAK­SHMI DAS

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