A new beginning

27 Feb

This blog took me the longest time to write. With a heavy heart, I would like to announce that we will be not be making new loans available online for funding by lenders. Repayments on the already funded loans will continue as usual.

It was not an easy decision to take.  Some of our supporters and also board members thought this was not the right decision to take.  We mulled over it for several months.

When we launched in 2009, we had no idea whether loans would get funded.  We have been most fortunate in having a community of lenders who have always stood up to the challenge and funded every entrepreneur that we have had online.  It has been miraculous in so many ways. The support of the lenders and our supporters from all over the world; and the impact we could make to make people’s lives has kept us going. To us it always seemed that we were falling short of the high expectations of lenders and our supporters, and we ought to do even more.

After the India microfinance crisis in 2010, we relaunched with loans from Sri Lanka in late 2012. We saw 2014 as the year where we would expand. But that was not to be despite our best efforts. We planned  to launch in India in partnership with a wholesale microfinance lender ( i.e. an organization that lends to microfinance institutions)  and  we spent several months working on a partnership with them, however the partnership did not fructify. We tried other alternatives as well, but those did not also work out.   It has been a big learning experience for us.

We do not see this as the end of journey.   We are launching a new initiative that focuses on basic literacy for the entrepreneurs.  It is an area that needs much work, but most governments focus on literacy amongst children and adult literacy gets far less attention.

We will be initially piloting this initiative in India and over a course of time we plan to launch this in other countries.  We will be sharing more details of our new initiative over the next few weeks.

And thanks once again for all your support. It inspires us to do more.

Update on lending to India

17 Mar

We launched lending to India last year but our experience has been that it is a lot more challenging than what we originally anticipated. Due to various bureaucratic roadblocks we are unable to send the funds over to the microfinance partner in India and we will be returning the funds we have raised.

To give additional background, the loan to a microfinance partner has to go through an approval process by the bank and the bank subsequently needs to submit an application with the Reserve Bank of India (the regulator for all banks in India). Only when the Reserve Bank of India gives what is called a Loan Registration Number can we start lending. We went through this process earlier and it took a fair amount of time.

Subsequently we learned that if there are any changes to the actual loan amount or disbursement date from what was there in the original application, the bank through whom we send the funds is insisting that the application form needs to be resubmitted to the Reserve Bank of India. The paperwork goes through the bank’s branch and then their head-office. We have been working with the bank but we are not getting any clarity on the expected completion date.

 As a result we are unable to send the funds over to the microfinance partner in India. Hence we will be returning the funds we have raised from lenders for lending to entrepreneurs in India. We had put in a lot of effort to make changes to our website to support lending and this is very disappointing for us and we are sure it is even more disappointing for lenders.

Over the next few months we will explore how we can make lending work in India.  Meanwhile there are more many more loans coming up from Berendina in Sri Lanka, so please do relend your funds to support Berendina in Sri Lanka where we are able to make a positive difference to people’s lives.

Thanks for your continued support.

Happy Thanksgiving from UnitedProsperity.org!

27 Nov

We would like to take this opportunity to express our deepest gratitude for your support and generosity that has made our journey possible.

This Thanksgiving we are pleased to announce the launch of two new initiatives that you could participate in along with your friends and family.

1)       Champion an entrepreneur:

We have launched a new feature – “Be the Champion” this week.   By championing  an entrepreneur, you as a champion take responsibility of fulfilling the entrepreneur’s loan.  Once you have chosen to champion an entrepreneur, you can promote the entrepreneur’s cause amongst your friends and family with several sharing tools and emailing capability available on the entrepreneur  page itself.

We invite you to champion the entrepreneurs of your choice with your family and friends starting this Thanksgiving.

2)       Support UnitedProsperity.org while you shop at Amazon:

Sign up for AmazonSmile and choose ‘UnitedProsperity Org’ as your charity. Amazon will donate 0.5% of your purchase value to UnitedProsperity.org. You will use the same account on Amazon and AmazonSmile. Once you have signed up for AmazonSmile and listed UnitedProsperity.org as your charity, please remember to begin future shopping sessions at http://smile.amazon.com.  You could choose to bookmark the URL http://smile.amazon.com for easy reference.

We hope these celebration ideas will multiply the joy of Thanksgiving.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

UnitedProsperity.org needs the help of all online microfinance lenders now!

15 Oct

Thanks to your support, we fully funded the previous loan to BMI that was approximately $80,000 in value. This gave us the confidence to sign up new partners in India and we also agreed to fund the subsequent loan of BMI of approximately $400,000 ($200,000 in guarantee) over the next one year.  

The last few months we have been working vigorously with our partners to have new loans on the website. As a result, we have a much bigger loan for BMI in Sri Lanka, we have signed up Prayas in India and we are in the process of signing up Mahashakti Foundation in India.  

In our journey we have met several milestones and also dealt with several formidable challenges along the way:

  • We launched in the middle of 2009 and pioneered the online guarantee model that doubles impact and builds local credit history for our partners.
  • The microfinance crisis in India paused our operations and we recovered by launching Sri Lanka in late 2012.
  • In August 2013, we launched the lending model in India because we could not work with the guarantee model due to the extreme caution shown by banks after the microfinance crisis in India.  We did not give up.
  • We have raised in-kind support for software development, marketing, website hosting and accounting.  

To grow above and beyond where we are today, we have three challenges:

  1. Run operations and raise funds offline for it:  Our operations are quite lean and our current monthly operating budget is less than $2000. We raise donations offline, and we find that donors are most often willing to donate provided we are able to show growth in families we have impacted.
  2. Expand partnership with banks and microfinance institutions: In our experience this is a relatively slow and bureaucratic process but with time we are confident of doing this.
  3. Fulfill loans online with the help of lenders: This is the most urgent need right now. If we are able to do this, we are confident that will be able to take care of the other two.

Overall we need to raise approximately $60,000 every month to support the entrepreneurs. To achieve this, we need many more new lenders lending on United Prosperity. Most of our new lenders have joined through our existing lenders who have encouraged their friends and family members to join.  So we need your help in encouraging other lenders to join.

There are several ways you can encourage other lenders to join such as giving a gift certificate, sharing on facebook / twitter, email your friends, share on forums. You will also find more ideas here: http://www.unitedprosperity.org/us/get_involved_individuals.

So please help us meet the unfulfilled need and encourage other lenders to join.  

Thanks once again for your support. 

Supporting the gay and transgender community in Kutch, India through Microlending

1 Sep

On August 15, India’s Independence day we launched online lending in India with our partner microfinance institution, Prayas.  Prayas works  in the Kutch district in the state of Gujarat. One of the unique initiatives of Prayas is towards the gay and transgender community in Kutch.

Until recently homosexuality was a criminal offence in India. The Delhi High Court decriminalised homosexual intercourse between consenting adults four years ago (July, 2009) and this new law is applicable throughout India, but homosexuality is still a taboo and is not socially acceptable in India. These communities are discriminated and if economically weak they are often treated badly as abnormal people. This community faces the challenge of poverty as well as strong social discrimination making it much harder. Prayas has taken commendable steps focussing on the gay and transgender communities in the Kutch district.

Prayas works with around 600 gay and transgender persons from Gandhidham & Anjar block of Kutch District. Prayas field workers have found that due to social pressure, the gay and transgender individuals do not come out openly. Because of social unacceptability and opposition from the religious communities; gay men especially in small cities are scared and often lead a double life. Under family pressures they get married and have children too. They tend to have partners with similar sexual orientation secretly and some of them also keep switching partners. They are exposed to serious health risks that are often not addressed because of the lack of knowledge.

Prayas is  working on  two major areas with the gay  and transgender community:

1) Providing education on safe sex practices to avoid HIV & sexually transmitted diseases

2) Improving their economical condition with microlending programs

Prayas is developing and delivering educational programmes for the gay and transgender community  by forming a social community called  “PANJO”. The biggest challenge is to identify gay men and make them join the community. Fear of social discrimination, isolation and rejection from parents keeps them disinterested in such causes. To solve this problem Prayas  has enlisted a few gay volunteers  who encourage other individuals to join the community. You can see pictures from some of their HIV- AIDS awareness programs here.

Prayas is also encouraging them to improve their financial condition and helping them by providing microloans. With the commitment of not disclosing any identities, Prayas proactively approaches and lends to female members of the gay person’s family.  We are sure that the unbiased social focus and dedicated approach of Prayas and your support will bring a positive change in the lives of this socially excluded community of Indian society.  Let us come together to support this community  and many others on http://www.unitedprosperity.org.

More loans from Sri Lanka and re-launching in India

2 Jun

We are excited to announce that Berendina with whom we have been working over the past few months has got a significantly larger loan approved from their lending bank. This would mean that we will have many more loans from Sri Lanka on our website.

On top of that we are excited to announce that we will be launching in India with an online lending model. Many of you may wonder why we are launching a lending model when we have pioneered the guarantee model and when there are other organizations that have already proven the lending model. The reasons are simple:

We have learned that the guarantee model shows dramatic results when there is a certain degree of stability in the local microfinance market. If the stability is not there, banks are unwilling to lend to local microfinance institutions even with a guarantee.

Thus in several countries international lending may be the only viable model before banks are willing to step in and lend to local microfinance institutions with or without a guarantee.

There is a lot of work to be done to ending poverty. There is an urgent need for several organizations to be involved in fighting poverty at local and international levels. No one can do it alone.

The lending model is a means for our generous lenders to support communities where we are unable to make the guarantee model operational.

Over the last few months, we have been working with two microfinance institutions, Prayas and Mahashakti foundation, who will be our first set of partners in India. We are at the final stages of the paperwork and once we get a loan registration number through the Reserve Bank of India, we hope to have loans online in the next few weeks.

Prayas works in Kutch, Gujarat and Mahashakti foundation works in Orissa. Mahashakti foundation is also a Kiva partner.

While all this has been going on, Richaa Pokhriyal who has joined us as Project Manager out of New Delhi, India has been working with the team at Josh software to make changes to our website to support both the lending and guarantee models.  Richaa is the first salaried team member for UnitedProsperity.

We would like to thank our supporters who have stood by us through our long and at times tortuous journey. We are here because of your generosity, patience and resilience. Thanks once again.

Sri Lanka field visit

17 Feb

This is a post by Gautam Rege of Josh Software.  Gautam Rege and Sethu Ashokan are the co-founders of Josh Software in Pune, India.  Josh Software is one of the experts in building software with Ruby on Rails. They have graciously agreed to support the ongoing development of the United Prosperity website on a pro bono basis. They also volunteered to do a field visit to Sri Lanka to see how their contribution is directly impacting people’s lives.  They no doubt live up to their company’s name Josh that stands for enthusiasm and passion in Hindi. The post by Gautam Rege follows.


_______________Blog post on Sri Lanka visit by Gautam Rege _________________

In the first week of February, Sethu and I were on a field visit to Sri Lanka that was organized by Berendina Micro Finance Institution (BMI) and UnitedProsperity. Little did we know what’s in store for us but we have come back home changed and inspired.

The visit agenda was to study the impact of the micro loans that Berendina provides to their customers and to see its impact. UnitedProsperity has been involved in providing the micro guarantees for these loans.

We arrived at Dickoya branch near Nuwara Eliya in the morning. A 4-wheel drive was required to scale treacherous uphill and winding roads. This branch services about 4000 micro-loans and is managed by just 6 Microfinance officers. After a brief presentation on what they do, we set off to meet the people who have been helped by these loans. The clientele varied from a house-wife whose has stared a business of incense sticks, to a person who has setup a shop, to a person who has purchased a cow for this small dairy and even a plantation worker who has built his own toilet! This post later contains some photos and videos about these people and the loan impact. What I shall talk about here is how this impacted us and what I felt was wonderful about this entire setup.

Berendina has been around for more than 25 years and their meticulous approach to doing good as a non-profit is seen in their actions. They have an innovative way of providing loans.

  • 3 beneficiaries form a group
  • 10 groups form a cluster
  • 30 clusters are managed by 1 branch officer.

This way 1 branch officer manages about 900 customers! There are regular cluster meetings where the money is recovered on a monthly basis and the group is responsible for their re-payment. This encourages the group to work together and support each other, even on repayment. In some cases to ease the process, BMI also gives loans to co-operative society as a bulk loan.

But Berendina doesn’t just stop there – they also have a Berendina Development Services (BDS) that is targeted only for improving the quality of life. One of the innovative approaches is about giving coupons for training camps – “Livelihood training”, “Entrepreneur accounts management” etc. These coupons are part of the loan and can be redeemed for training or they can get the cash value back in the case of unused coupons. This enables people to not just avail loans but also get some vocational guidance, education and knowledge. To my knowledge very few microfinance institutions anywhere in the world have implemented such a program.

The plantation worker story is an awe-inspiring one. BMI is the only Microfinance institution that supports plantation works whole-heartedly. Plantation workers are those who have been working for all their lives in tea plantations and are considered very high-risk customers for repayment. Their living conditions have traditionally been very poor. BMI strives to improve their quality of life by providing toilet loans, health camps, eye-checkups and even cataract operations all free of charge as part of their BDS initiatives.

Lets meet some of their customers:

Here are some memorable photos:

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The Berendina office, which houses Kishore, the Branch Manager and his 6 Branch Officers.

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Parthiban – the Hero of the day. He has received the entrepreneur award from Berendina.

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The old and the new hygienic changes that Berendina is bringing about. The plantation workers earlier had common open toilets as opposed to the new private clean toilets.

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The Happy Shopkeepers – Srikumaran and Bhuvaneshwari – their lives have changes after the loans they got from Berendina.

We also interviewed several clients and here is video of our interviews: Berendina visit video

We were also highly impressed by the transparency, dedication and commitment of the Berendina team. Travelling with them through the long day in a tough terrain, we were amazed to see that their energy level never flagged and they seemed to be going on an on like an energizer bunny.  This visit has energized us even more to do our bit to ending poverty.