By AJ Ignacio | New York
According to the World Economic Forum, India was ranked 113 on the Gender Gap Index (GGI) among 135 countries. Women receive 34% less wages than their male counterparts for the same work, and as you go further down the social ladder, things get worse.
According to an Oxfam report, “When governments reduce their expenditures on essential public services such as education and healthcare, women and girls are the first ones to lose out on these services.”
One microfinance charity, Nandri, has made it their mission to push back against the gender gap with microfinance programs that level the playing field for small businesses in developing countries, particularly in India, where access to funding via traditional banks is much harder for rural communities.
It’s no secret that microfinance has been a game-changer for small businesses in India over the last decade. It has provided people with access to capital that they would not have otherwise had, and has helped them to grow and thrive when they may not have had any other options. And, this has made it possible for smaller businesses to find financial stability and education when otherwise they may have not been able to do so.
Nandri & the Power of Microfinance
Small businesses are only growing in India, and they are playing a vital role in the country’s economic development. Microfinance has evolved since its inception over two decades ago and continues to have the potential to transform businesses. Nandri has a focus on empowering mothers that are so heavily burdened in the cast social structure of India;
1. Mothers Self-Help Group program gives mothers an opportunity to share problems and develop supportive friendships. Groups of 10-20 mothers operate like a credit union. One mother will apply for a small loan and the others will decide whether she is a good risk. All of their savings are continually re-lent within the group.
2. Sponsor a Child program enables disadvantaged families to provide education for their children. The program sponsors and encourages more girls into education as well as provides emergency grants to keep children in education in emergency situations.
3. Income generation loan program which supports mothers to purchase a cow. The mother can earn an income from the sale of milk and cow dung and also use some milk for family nutrition. This serves as an additional asset to families who are agricultural labourers and find only seasonal work.
4. Third level education loan program which provides loans to families for college fees with repayment coming after graduation.
Since 1996, the charity has had a positive impact on the hundreds of thousands of women, children and businesses across India, creating jobs and opportunities for many people otherwise unable to do so.
Krishna Skandakumar, an M&A lawyer from New York, has recently joined the charity and has taken a seat on the board. “Nandri has already helped to change the lives of thousands of small business owners in India,” says Skandakumar.
“The organization has provided these small-business owners with access to capital and has helped them to grow and thrive. Nandri’s mission is to create self-sufficient communities by providing income generating loans to mothers, who, in most cases, are able to recycle the capital they receive from the organization to help other mothers,” Krishna explained.
Krishna, now 33, noted that throughout his career he has always been looking for ways to help local communities. “Never did I think that I would be able to help people who share my heritage.”
Growing up as an ethnic Tamil in Australia, he never really knew who Tamil people were. “This was a perfect opportunity to contribute where I knew I could have an impact.”
Empowering impoverished mothers
Nandri provides microfinance loans and makes other charitable contributions to over 5,000 mothers in Southern India. The charity also promotes financial literacy and education in these areas in an attempt to cultivate a culture of savings – not commonly found in these rural villages. What surprised Krishna the most on his most recent visit was the impact that the charity had in areas that typically aren’t served by microfinance charities.
“We visited a Tamil refugee camp which housed refugees from Sri Lanka,” Krishna recalls. “These people fled Sri Lanka at about the same time as my parents and had children my age, all of whom had lived their entire life in a refugee camp.” This hit home for Krishna, as he noted, “That could have easily been me, if my parents hadn’t been lucky enough to immigrate to Australia through Nigeria and Ireland.”
Krishna vividly describes one mother who invited him into her family home in the refugee camp. “She told me how her family fled helicopters to be detained on arrival after a short boat ride to India from Sri Lanka. Despite spending the last 30 years in a refugee camp, she still cherished life and had a smile on her face and welcomed him and the Nandri team with a cold Fanta and a warm embrace.”
The charity’s work has had a positive impact on the economy as a whole and has created jobs and opportunities for many people. Skandakumar is a true champion of small businesses in India and is grateful to be part of Nandri, who has made a lasting difference in the lives of those he has helped. Skandakumar is a strong advocate for the rights of charities and the people they help. He is passionate about making a difference in the world and hopes to use his legal skills to further that goal.
Opinions expressed by CEO Weekly contributors are their own.