“Find your sense of pur­pose and am­bi­tion and go after it”

India Today - - EMPOWERMENT - As told to Ur­sila Ali

It was in board­ing school, when I was 10 and wan­der­ing off wher­ever I wanted to go, that I tasted in­de­pen­dence for the first time. I sup­pose that is use­ful for most things later in life, al­though not so much in school where I was a bit delin­quent and spent more time track­ing sea tur­tles, learn­ing to catch snakes with the Irula trib­als and climb­ing co­conut trees than study­ing.

In 2005, I was work­ing on my post­doc­toral re­search in neu­ro­sciences at Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health, US, when I un­ex­pect­edly got in­volved with mi­cro­fi­nance. My fa­ther, K M Thi­a­gara­jan founded Bank of Madura and later sold it to ICICI in 2004 (sign­ing a deal be­tween his non-profit and the bank). A de­bil­i­tat­ing stroke ren­dered him bedrid­den, and the op­er­a­tion un­rav­elled. Since ru­ral mi­cro fi­nance was a per­sonal un­der­tak­ing for my fa­ther, I de­cided to help out with the op­er­a­tions, with no clue as to what I was sign­ing up for. I would google bank­ing terms and it took three years of fire­fight­ing op­er­a­tion to over­come struc­tural chal­lenges in set­ting up Madura. Mean­while, my doc­trate con­tin­ued over Skype and oc­cas­sional travel be­tween the two con­ti­nents.

There are a few things I’ve learned along the way to make things work. First, if you are com­mit­ted to mak­ing it work and are on a bud­get, pri­ori­tise things that buy you time and free­dom over ma­te­rial stuff that will just tie you down. Sec­ond, put in the ef­fort to build sys­tems so that your house­hold op­er­a­tions work ef­fi­ciently and don’t need daily re­view. Third, talk to your chil­dren about your work of­ten so that they un­der­stand what you do, why you do it.

Tara Thi­a­gara­jan 45 Chair­man, Madura Mi­cro­fi­nance and Founder and Chief Sci­en­tist, Sapien Labs, US

April 2010

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