The Women of Akbarpura.

A photo-essay on rural Microfinance and Microenterprise in Rajasthan

The Women of Akbarpura

It is getting to the end of the monsoons here in Alwar, which means the temperature of the air is just right, the sky a bright shimmering pale blue with giant cumulus clouds floating about. There is a slight smell of wood-smoke in the air, a smell that will probably stick with me and remind me of my time here. Alwar distict is not distinctly Rajasthan. Its proximity to Delhi, Haryana and Uttar Pradhesh has shaped a Mevati identity which seems to have absorbed several regional identities into one. Probably a little more time here and I could possibly make sense of this identity but for now I am here in the village of Akbarpur taking notes in my note pad.

I am sitting under a khejri tree (Prosopis Cineraria), revered for its shade and fodder in this region. Perched on its branches, in the early afternoon one might see a common hoopie, or rather hear it. Behind me the 23 women of Akbarpur Self Help Group meet for their fortnightly meeting. The women inside of the mud walled room are filled with a new found sense of empowerment: through their small self help co-operative they have successfully found a voice and a hand to change the society they live in and with that they have earned a reason to be proud.

The Women of Akbarpura
[Every fortnight the members of the self help group, money is collected from each member (usually 10 Rs from each member) which is adds to the corpus. Once the corpus is large enough NABARD gives out loans to members on the upto ten times the strength of the corpus. Loans are paid back at 8 percent rate of interest.]

The women of the village are part of novel scheme - the women in the picture have formed a self help microcredit group so that they can have a greater say in the welfare of their community. They meet every fortnight and collect money from each of their members on which they give out small loans - for a new buffallo or a water-pump, etc. In the 2 years the thirty or so women of this tiny village on the Alwar - Jaipur highway has a corpus of over 200,000 rupees (4500 USD)

The women of Akbarpura
[The group of women from the Mevat District in neighboring Haryana have driven all the way to Akbarpur to learn how to form a self help group of their own from the women at Akbarpura. For the next hour or so they had a long discussion on the mechanics of microfinancing, on how money should be saved, how loans should be dispensed, how to deal with defaulters etc. I felt I might has well have been in an office conference room in Bombay listening to suit clad MBAs rather than in village in rural rajastan in the company of very smart women in their colourful salwars.]

Microcredit—lending small sums to poor people to set up or expand small businesses—is an effective way to alleviate poverty. The poor cannot usually borrow from commercial banks, because they lack collateral. Loan sharks lend without security, but often at interest rates of 10-20% a day. Small time retailers who borrow from money lenders to buy a day’s stock often have to hand over most of their profits. Failure to repay can result in broken legs.

The Women of Akbarpur
[Since women are the sole-stakeholders in many microcredit schemes it also sometimes leads to their economic independence and hence social empowerment - which is doubly important in places like Alwar which has an otherwise dismal record at sex equality.]

Microlenders try to satisfy the poor people’s need for credit less brutally. Since the 1970s, organizations, such as the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh and Accion International in Latin America, have encouraged poor borrowers to form groups to cross-guarantee each other’s loans. In the Grameen model, one of a group of rural women takes out a microscopic loan, often as little as $25, to start a business. Only when she repays it can the next woman in the group borrow. Peer pressure makes sure that default rates are minimal.

[Source : The Economist]

The women of Akbarpura
[Microcredit works better than handouts for two reasons. First, it fosters enterprise rather than dependency. Second, a well-run microcredit scheme can be self-sustaining. Repayment rates of over 98% are common.]

Chai Wallah, Alwar District
[Zarina Begum's tea stall micro enterprise. READ BELOW ]

The business plans backed by micro financiers tend to be breathtakingly simple. Take Zaina Begum, a successful micro-entrepreneur in Akbarpura. Zaina runs a tiny chai stand by the Alwar-Jaipur highway usually catering to truckers and villager alike. The place cost almost nothing to build: roughly-hewn bamboo props up a ceiling of thatch and old dustbin liners and there are no walls to speak of. The menu is unpretentious. “We only serve chai and biscuits,” she says. By taking out a series of small loans from her local Self help group (SHG) and the NABARD Zaina was able to source her tea wholesale rather than retail. She now employs three people, has repaid most of her loans, and swaggers around town on a second-hand Luna.

If micro-insurance can be made to work, the Internet will ensure that the idea is swiftly copied which makes you think that globalisation is not just for the rich.

If you have 25$s and paypall account you too could become a global financier through KIVA, an internet service that allows you to finance unique small businesses in the developing world.

Kiva - loans that change lives

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Riot said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Riot said...

Kiva is currently in the process of starting up operations in India. As per Premal Shah, they are getting the final pieces in place. She didn't mention which microfinance institution they are planning to tie up with. I had suggested GrameenFoundation. It could be NABARD also.

Surya said...

Great post, Akshay.

Riot (I thought your name was Onemorereason?): good to know Kiva is going to start ops in India - was thinking of giving loans to Kiva, and then I hesitate because I can't choose the country and many of the journal updates are in Spanish. Do you have any more info on when they would start etc?

Akshay said...

Riot - that's great KIVA is well represented in South America, Africa and Eastern Europe but so well in Asia and India. Well I understand NABARD gives about 10times the corpus collected by a self-help group. I forgot to mention in the post that - this particular SHG is started by an NGO called IBTADA - may be your friend would like to get in touch with them and discuss the business model.

surya - thanks.
Kiva as said to Riot is doing some good work - I think they need to find a good partner NGO in India.

Riot said...

Surya / Akshay ,

I mistakenly referred to Premal Shah as She. In fact Premal is a He. Sorry Premal!

Premal's profile

Yes, I had a short name change :)
No, I don't know of a firm date yet.

Anandham said...

Akshay, That was a very informative post. These kinds of small help groups should grow in big numbers in the future & help the villagers especially women.

Akshay said...

thank you for your comment Anandham.
I feel is its very important to include as many people in a formal institutionalised banking system, an avenue by which rural India can save and grow capital.

Chandu said...


An awesome insight into microcredit as it happens in India.

I am really happy to be a visitor on this blog , and see your own evolution.Great pictures,great insights,indepth coverage of humanity to a real time coverage of the reality of a world vision,microcredit.

Go for it !! All power to you.

GreG said...

Wonderful photographs ! Congratulations, also for your IndieBloggies Award...

Musings.. said...

Hi Akshay.. I am so glad to read your post. I lived in Bangalore for many years and ALWAYS had mais who had drunken husbands who beat them up and forced them to work and hand over all the money to them.. I constantly encouraged them to start something on their own... like ironing clothes, stitching and was more than willing to make the investment... Somehow I failed..May be I was not convincing enough!!

Your mail is very heartening..


Pooja Aggarwal said...


I am curious - what camera do you use and what extra lenses, if any ?


savante said...

You know what :) Pink really is India's navy blue.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Julia said...

I love Kiva. I am glad its going to India.

Great blog, I'm learning a lot about India.

danny said...

Hi Akshay, loved your article and the pics that appeared in the HT weekend edition, HT cafe to be more specific, the Ferry Wharf review was amazing, your writing had the mumbaikar connection and i could almost imagine being assailed by sights and smells of the fish market, keep up the good work, and would like to meet you in person if can go through my blog, looking forward to a reply from you.bye and keep up the good work

Rajesh Anandakrishnan said...

Nice blog & Good photography.

India Unlimited said...

wow, you just made me very happy with this blog entry.

good, these are the kind of dreams i see for my women ..I want them selfsufficient and proud.