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Empowering Women Through Microfinance

26 Apr

I recently got invited to a panel discussion on ‘Empowering Women Through Microfinance’. This panel is being held at 7:00 PM on the 28th of April at UCLA Anderson School of Management at Los Angeles. It is being hosted by the Yale Club of Southern California.

The panel has some outstanding speakers – Jessica Jackley, Co-Founder of Kiva.org; Dean Karlan, President of Innovations for Poverty Action & Professor of Economics at Yale University; Jon Yasuda, West Region Vice President of Opportunity International and Eric Weaver, CEO of Opportunity Fund.The panel will be moderated by Professor Robert Spich from the UCLA School of Management.

Lisa Kant, who is organizing the event sent me a brief note sharing the fascinating and thought provoking questions Professor Spich may ask.

-Why do microfinance organizations usually focus their assistance on women?

-Is focusing on women the most effective way to fight global poverty?

-Are there other tools, instead of or in addition to microfinance that add to women’s empowerment?

-What are some of the biggest problems or challenges with the microfinance industry today?

-Which parts of the microfinance chain are most inefficient? What are the best ways to address them?

-What changes need to happen in order to improve the microfinance industry as you see it?

-How do you respond to criticism regarding negative impact on individuals and high interest rates?

-What types of environments can benefit the most from microfinance? The least?

-What are some of the other areas that microfinance channels can be used in: (such as healthcare, education, social)?

-How can technology help? Hand held devices? Cameras? Mobile banking?

-How do you test that microfinance is working? What Statistical methods do you use? What do you think the role of analysis should be in philanthropy and microfinance?

-What does the future of microfinance look like? 5 years from now? 20 years from now?

I am really looking forward to hearing the views from my co-panelists. It is going be an excellent education opportunity. If you are around Los Angeles and have not yet registered for the event, please do so. It is not too late.

Professor Bhagwan Chowdhry from the UCLA School of Management will be delivering the keynote address. He has recently embarked on a project called ‘FAB – Financial Access at Birth’. The goal of FAB is to ensure that every child born in the world starts life with a deposit of US$100 in a bank account at the time of official birth registration.

The stated benefit of FAB account is “Relatives, private donors, other social organizations could design plans in which regular payments are made to FAB accounts to provide for education, training, immunizations and health-care.”

I think the potential outcomes from the successful execution of this campaign are mind boggling in areas ranging from poverty reduction, health, education to better governance and accountability. If every child born has a bank account various governments and related agencies can directly send payments to the bank account of the child bypassing several intermediaries. This has huge potential to reduce corruption and leakages in delivery of public services. Readers of this blog may recollect a similar point made by Nandan Nilekani where he recommended money reaching the beneficiaries directly and the beneficiaries exercising choice on how they would use the money. To quote Nandan Nilekani “1)Money in your hands – direct subsidies. In the form of cash to an account held by each citizen, which would replace the creaky indirect system of ration shops and subsidized rice/fertilizer/kerosene. 2) School vouchers, which give poor students the option of attending either private or government schools. These two alone would bring more cash into the hands of citizens, and give them access to markets.  And it would as a result, create more pressure towards better infra that connects markets, and less red tape in education.”

The FAB campaign is a Big Hairy and Audacious Goal (BHAG). Interestingly if we look at some of the BHAGs, when we have tried to achieve those goals in all earnestness, we have made remarkable progress on many of them. Congratulations to Professor Chowdhry.

I will also be presenting in two microfinance classes taught by Prof. Chowdhry – one for undergraduates and the other for MBA students. Recently I also took a couple of classes at Santa Clara University and at Berkeley. It is most invigorating talking to students who are so invested in the future and have a strong desire to make the world a better place. I am eagerly looking forward to these classes over the next two days.

Discussion on “Models of Microfinance”

29 Oct

On Wednesday, October 21, Columbia University’s NetImpact Group hosted a discussion at Lerner Hall on “Models of Microfinance”. Accion was represented by Erica Dorn, Coordinator of their Kiva partnership; Kiva was represented by Sierra Visher who is Kiva’s translation team leader; Grameen was represented by Daniel Brodhead, Communications Director; and I represented United Prosperity. Sara Smolley, NetImpact’s head, opened the event with some remarks about the importance of microfinance, and Nevin Shetty, Co-Coordinator of United Prosperity’s New York Chapter, moderated the panel. There were about 50 to 75 people in attendance, most of whom were students though there were some working folks in the audience, too. 

The panel discussion highlighted some differences between the various organizations: Kiva, Grameen, and Accion were all supporting lending in the United States while United Prosperity’s focus is on those living in absolute poverty in developing countries. In addition, United Prosperity exclusively provides guarantees while the other organizations tend to have a focus on micro-lending. Kiva and United Prosperity tend to rely more on volunteers while Grameen and Accion had larger full-time staffs. The discussion also touched on topics including the rapid growth of the industry, challenges to expanding microfinance, and the potential of cellular technology in expanding opportunities for the poor. 

I’d like to thank the United Prosperity’s New York Chapter and Columbia’s NetImpact group for organizing a terrific discussion!

New York Chapter’s first happy hour!

5 Aug
Hemant Wadhwani and Cindy Yang

Hemant Wadhwani and Cindy Yang

Nevin Shetty and Ashok Parameswaran

Nevin Shetty

Praveen Srikanth and friend
Praveen Srikanth and Siddharth Dandekar
Anthony, Nevin, and friends

Katie Wold, Suzie Sagues, Nevin Shetty, and Anthony Winslow with dollar bills to show how a $10 guarantee turns into a loan of $20 or more!

Rita Bagai, Kanika Marwaha, and friends

Rita Bagai, Diti Sangoi, Kanika Marwaha, and Amar Patel

Kristi Polsdam, Aditi Shah, and a friend making a guarantee!

Kristi Polsdam, Aditi Shah, and Siddharth Dandekar making a guarantee!

Krista Mar, Matt Neimken, and Sara Smolley
Krista Mar, Matt Neimken, and Sara Smolley

I am happy to report that the first happy hour organized by United Prosperity’s (first) New York Chapter was a successs! Despite torrential downpours, over 30 people came out to learn about United Prosperity and spread our message.

Everyone had a terrific time.  Nevin Shetty and I said a few words to the group about why anyone who is passionate about sustainably eradicating absolute poverty should get involved with United Prosperity.

A special thanks to Columbia University’s Microfinance Working Group for co-sponsoring the event, to the Leela Lounge for hosting it, and to Lisa-Marie Gil and the other New York Chapter organizers for their outstanding job in organizing it.

We look forward to organizing many more events. Please join us one facebook as well : http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=100842699351

Launch of operations

28 May

I am pleased to announce the launch of operations with Ajiwika, a microfinance institution (MFI), and HDFC Bank as our partners in India.

 

 It took us a year to sign the partnership agreement with HDFC Bank, but it is well worth it as HDFC lends to both large and small MFIs unlike most of the other banks that lend to only a few large MFIs.  Many of the MFIs United Prosperity will work with in India will be working in the less developed states of India and our partnership with HDFC will be crucial in making sure that microcredit reaches the people who need it the most.

 

We also signed our partnership agreement with Ajiwika, an MFI working in the state of Jharkhand.  Ajiwika is the first MFI in Jharkhand State in India. Ajiwika is operating in one of India’s poorest regions where over 80% of potential clients are un-served and where only a few MFIs operate. From my interactions with Ajiwika over the last one year I have been impressed by their commitment to social goals and their willingness to put the needs of the poor entrepreneurs first.

 

Looking back at the last 20 months in setting up United Prosperity, I am proud of our various achievements. Building a complex website in a very short time, putting together the legal documents for partnerships with banks and MFIs, analyzing the regulatory aspects in the US and website terms, setting up the partnership with HDFC bank, working with Ajiwika to upload and create entrepreneur profiles on our website, setting up the basic accounting processes – each of these tasks came with their own challenges.

 

I would like to thank each of our supporters – Cognizant, UC Berkeley Law School, O’Melveney & Myers, Hanson Bridgett, Tempus Law, NetSuite and Books2Taxes for their early and sustained support.

 

We are extremely fortunate to have a great team of nearly 50 people with experience, expertise and dedication to work with us and advise us. We would not have been at this point without their timely and invaluable contributions.  

 

I greatly appreciate the initiative of our first partners, HDFC Bank and Ajiwika, in adopting the unique guarantee model of United Prosperity.

 

I would like to thank our numerous well wishers who have used their personal and professional connections to help us in this endeavor and my wife Shubha, who has been a constant source of support and encouragement.

 

Thank you very much once again.

 

 

Social Enterprise Panel and Digital Vision Showcase at Stanford University

24 Feb

This Sunday, we attended the ‘Social Enterprise Panel and Digital Vision Showcase’ at Stanford. The event was a part of the Entrepreneurship week at Stanford and we were invited by our advisor, Neerja Raman, to showcase United Prosperity.  The event consisted of a panel discussion followed by showcase of several new interesting social enterprises. The panelists had interesting things to say about the challenges of starting a social enterprise and I agree with several of their conclusions.

 

We had several enthusiastic visitors for the poster presentation and it was a great opportunity to explain United Prosperity’s unique guarantee model. I had the pleasure of meeting David Geilhufe, Philanthropy Program Manager at NetSuite (one of our supporters), as well as Gaurav Gupta, who is building a facebook application for us. It was also great to re-connect with an old friend of mine, Shankar Raman, who is an enthusiastic champion for United Prosperity.

 

 

David Geilhufe

David Geilhufe

Gaurav Gupta

Gaurav Gupta

 

 

Bhalchander and Chiradeep

Bhalchander and Chiradeep

Shubha, Bhalchander and Chiradeep

Shubha, Bhalchander and Chiradeep

One of the interesting presentations was by Driptech, a venture started by a recently graduated Stanford MBA and a few students from the Engineering School. Most drip irrigation systems are fairly expensive and are not viable for small and marginal farmers.  Driptech has pioneered a drip irrigation system for $20. Since most land holdings in countries like India tend to be small, I think this product has immense potential. The challenge is going to be to make the system available to millions of small farmers.Also check out pictures of the other poster presentations.