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

Indibloggies 06


I won !

Trivial Matters is now officially.

Best INDIPHOTOBLOG - Trival Matters

Thank you to all the 171 of you who voted for me in the category and other categories (Travel and Design) were I lost to far more worthy competition.

Children at Play

It makes me extremely happy to announce that I have been nominated in 3 categories (Photoblog, Travel & Design) at the Indibloggies 2006 bettering my 1 nomination in 2005 (Design). Firstly, thank you guys for nominating me and if you've got the sudden overpowering urge to vote for me PLEASE do so here.

Vote for me!

Thank you again. Also if you stay in Mumbai please do buy a copy of the Hindustan Times tomorrow (Thursday) - I promise you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Morning at Kashid

Update :

If you, like Twilight Fairy are wondering what the pleasent suprise I was referring to yesterday is ? Well, HT published a photoessay of mine today and it looks something like this.
You can read my Orissa posts here, here and images here.
Juggernaut Town