Monday, August 27, 2007

Aavishkaar Goodwell gets money

Moneycontrol reports that Aavishkaar Goodwell has received investments from IFC, FMO and Deutsche Bank.

Aavishkaar Goodwell is a for-profit, private equity fund that invests in Microfinance institutions in India.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Micro credit for Scheduled Tribes and Castes

I learnt yesterday (reading The Hindu) that there is an entity called The National Scheduled Tribes Finance and Development Corporation (NSTFDC) set up specifically to aid in economic development of the Scheduled Tribes.

This entity is planning to "launch a new micro credit scheme to provide financial assistance to people belonging to Scheduled Tribes for undertaking self-employment ventures/activities."

Scheduled Tribes form a very small part of the population across the country (roughly 7%), with high concentration in Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa and Maharashtra. Tamil Nadu has tribes existing only in Nilgiris district in reasonable numbers.

It may be more useful if the counterpart for Scheduled Castes - National Scheduled Castes Finance and Development Corporation (NSFDC) embarks on an aggressive micro credit program to help Scheduled Castes come out of poverty.

As part of its operations, the entity claims it is "Providing Micro-Credit Finance to the target group through the SCAs [State Channelising Agencies]." The State Channelising Agency in Tamil Nadu will be TAHDCO - Tamil Nadu Adi Dravidar Housing & Development Corporation - which has multiple functions, and may not focus on micro credit aggressively.

Therefore, rather than just disbursing funds and acting as a grants agency, NSFDC should consider setting up a subsidiary MFI, a focused micro finance company which will provide micro credit only to Scheduled Castes across the country.

Future of 'phone ladies' of Bangladesh

In a detailed article, Richard Shaffer looks at the Grameen Telecom's Village Phones and where the project stands currently.

Grameen Bank is a micro-finance institution set up by Mohammad Yunus.
Grameen Bank (38%) and Telenor of Norway (62%) together own Grameenphone, a mobile phone service provider in Bangladesh. Grameen Telecom is a company owned by Grameen Bank.

Grameen Telecom provided women (dubbed 'phone ladies') in Bangladesh villages with a mobile phone handset and a Grameenphone connection, funded by micro loans from Grameen Bank. In countries like India and Bangladesh landline penetration is low, and non-existent in rural areas. Rented mobile phones provided a great service to people and good income for the phone ladies.

But soon, the mobile revolution caught on and most of the villagers could afford to buy a handset and a connection for themselves. This has impacted the phone ladies. Richard Shaffer finds that though the program helped several people come out of poverty, it is not true anymore, certainly not true in Bangladesh.

Grameen Telecom is however not entirely abandoning the program, and is looking at setting up kiosks - Community Information Centers - which
for fees of 42 cents an hour, will offer such services as online browsing, agricultural and health-care information, digital photography, video telephony via Web cams, and electronic access to government reports and forms.
Whether these centers will be successful or not, one has to wait and see.

In India too, the roadside PCO - Public Call Office - set up by Sam Pitroda under Rajiv Gandhi government, brought telecommunication to everyone, until mobile revolution completely demolished them. Today, PCOs still exist, but they generate a very meagre income for the operators. Rapidly falling telecom rates coupled with low cost mobile handsets have spelt a doom for the PCOs. In India too, there are several attempts at setting up rural information kiosks - both government and private ventures. To this day, every implementation has been a business failure.

N-logue kiosks are floundering. The company is not profitable and it is unclear when and how they will become profitable.

Government of Tamil Nadu initiated the project called RASI (Rural Access to Services through Internet), another utter flop. Villagers were supposed to get Government services delivered through Internet kiosks, set up and operated by women, funded partly by government grant and rest via micro loans. Several women were forced to take loans, but the supposed revenues never came in.

Central Government sponsored ICT kiosk project, currently being implemented by ILFS has a long way to go, and it is unclear how this venture will also succeed and be self-sustaining.

Some of these ideas are noble, but the implementation at the ground level is sadly pathetic.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A profile of Kotalipara Development Society

Business Standard profiles a West Bengal based micro finance entity Kotalipara Development Society (KDS) in this article. Hear the stories of Najima and Purnima.
Najima [a 25-year-old woman] took a loan of Rs 3,000 to buy a sewing machine from KDS. She had to deposit Rs 300 while taking the loan and had to pay Rs 75 per week till she repaid the entire sum.

“I have borrowed money four times from KDS to expand my business. The last time I borrowed Rs 15,000,” [Najima] said.


[Purnima, a 38-year-old woman] received only primary education and had to discontinue due to financial constraints.

“I make saris. But when I started off I had no money to buy fabrics or sewing machines. I borrowed Rs 5000 from KDS. I paid Rs 125 every week till I repaid the entire amount,” Purnima said.

Keya Sarkar: Hope and despair in micro-finance

Quotes from the article in Business Standard::
These last few months have been marked by deals in the microfinance industry never witnessed before. With $12.5m into Spandana (of which $10m came from JM Financial), $11.5m in SKS Microfinance (majority from Silicon Valley-based Sequoia Capital) and a whopping $27m in Share (of which $25 m came from Dubai based Legatum Capital), suddenly all MFI CEOs seem to be talking about raising capital and doing it quick lest they miss the bus.


Unitus India, which works with MFIs in what it calls a “partnership mode” (helping with grants, capacity building, etc) before investing in equity, has made three investments to date out of the 10 companies it has partnered. Unitus has put in two rounds of equity in SKS Finance (with which its association is over four years) and Bangalore-based Ujjivan Finance.


The disappointment over the last eighteen months, according to both Prasad and Farias, is that despite dealing with a cross-section of companies in the MF space they have not come across much of product innovation. “Attempts at product innovation have at best been half-hearted,” laments Prasad.

The other disappointment has to do with the policymakers. Despite a lot of discussion on the subject and mention of the sector in budget documents, on the ground not much had changed for MFIs or their clients.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


The Hindu has a review of this book - Indian edition brought out by Penguin Books here. It is pertinent to quote the last paragraph from the review here:
The book, first published in 1998, has just been published here in India. This is nine years too late. Perhaps, if it had come sooner we would not be seeing the Micro-Finance Sector (Development and Regulation) Bill 2007 in its current shape. The Bill seems to be a travesty of the original intentions of the micro-finance movement and takes a top down approach to supplying credit to the poor. Yunus has clearly specified a bottom up approach to make the scheme work “as intended”. The Bill, in the name of increasing the supply of credit to the poor, could actually put the deposits of the poor at risk and open the way for unscrupulous “charities” to manipulate the thrift market for their own ends. What this will do to the existing thousands of crores of deposits that self-help groups have in the commercial banking sector is anyone’s guess. One hopes a better assessment of consequences is made and more caution exercised before gifting the sector to so called micro-finance institutions. Please read the book Mr.Chidambaram.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Business shouldn't be Govt. Business - Yunus

Nepali Times has an interview with Mohammad Yunus here. Here is Yunus on privatised, free market economy...
What relationship do you advise a government to have with the private sector?

First, the only thing any government can do is have the humility to accept that it cannot change people’s lives, and that it can only help people who are changing their own lives. But most governments simply mess up people’s lives, something they are good at. My experience is that business should not be the business of government. Business should be in the hands of the private sector, which produces jobs and services. I define private sector broadly to include both businesses that make profits and do good for society at large such as by building schools, hospitals and the like.
Also interesting is Yunus' views on government run micro-credit program.
In Nepal, government promoted microcredit programs through five regional grameen banks, all of which failed. Is microcredit an area in which a government can play an active role?

I explained to your finance ministers that running microcredit programs through the government would never work. Things get politicised. Loans are given to friends and supporters, who do not pay back. Political supporters are hired as bank officers, and they do no work. I have seen this happen in every country where the government runs micro credit programs. So, the first principle is: no matter what sort of micro credit program you run, do it away from the government. Choosing partners such as NGOs or socially-oriented private businesses comes next. I define a socially-oriented private business as a business that can get its investments back from a socially useful venture but earns no dividend.