Poverty is very much part of a developing nationís fabric. India has more than its fair share of it and there are tens of millions of households living below the poverty line.
Numerous governments have won elections on poverty alleviation drives and programmes. Thousands of good-intentioned organisations and individuals have given away money in the hope that poverty would get eradicated. Neither good intentions nor ambitious programmes have really worked.
A few decades ago, the poor got a taste of microfinance. It opted to teach the poor to fish instead of giving them food. In numbers so few that they were hardly noticeable, the poor started finding a way out of poverty. Today, there are millions who are benefiting from it. And the regulators and policymakers are beginning to take note of it. The poor have over the years found ways and means of making microfinance work for them.
South India being the hub of microfinance, beneficiaries have for decades been using it to generate additional income, based on traditional occupations and enterprises. So, Lakshmi in Bhongir district of Andhra Pradesh chooses to buy buffaloes and Yellamma chooses to invest in a donkey and an iron box so that she can take forward her family occupation of being a launderer.
In other parts of India, the poor have been using microfinance to create microenterprises that are based on local skews.
Vaishali Patil from Vardha in Maharashtra was new to microfinance when SKS entered her locality.
She and two of her neighbours were, however, familiar and comfortable with the co-operative system. So, they each took a microloan from SKS and set up Ideal Grah Udyog where they made pickles, herbal food items, snacks and other food stuff. They engaged 10 women who would help them prepare the products at home. They also tied up with 10 Anganwadi teachers who would sell the products of Ideal Grah Udyog door-to-door after school.
Two other men would aggregate the demand from shop keepers and ensure supplies reached them daily. A successful enterprise was established. Today, Vaishali is happy she is an entity outside the four walls of her home and is able to provide employment opportunities to others as well.
Lilly Das in Cooch Bihar in West Bengal had undergone various vocational training courses from a local NGO. She wanted to make use of her skills to add to the family income. The NGO could not finance her dreams. Lilly joined a local microfinance group and established her micro enterprise making soft toys. She now sells the toys at exhibitions, weekly markets, stores and from home. She is able to earn anywhere between Rs 6,000-10,000 a month.
In Korba in Chhattisgarh, microfinance has a different flavour.
Anjum, a mother of three, makes beautiful jewellery sitting at home. In her spare time, she teaches others the secrets of her craft. However, she is unable to leave her children behind and sell her products. So, she engages her students for sales. They sell the jewellery among their friends in college and make some extra pocket money. An enterprise is born.
While Vaishali feels microfinance has helped her expand her horizons and given her an opportunity to dream big and play a more active role in society, Lilly is happy she is able to meet the additional needs of the family and help her husband.
Anjum is delighted her craft is appreciated and she gets to make an extra buck without leaving home. All women feel empowered and confident.
Microfinance is changing lives across the country. The poor are using the opportunity given by microfinance to create dreams for themselves.
They are carving out niches and at times paving the road. With hard work, enterprise and dreams, poverty can be eliminated. A few million have found the magic of microfinance. Many more are on the way to discovering its wonders.