Tag Archives: Berendina

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.

Bhalchander

_______________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:

_MG_3082 _MG_3079

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

_MG_3109 _MG_3107

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

_MG_3112 _MG_3110

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.

_MG_3104 _MG_3100

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.

Update on signing a new partner

21 Apr

In the last post I mentioned that we are working on signing a new partner in South Asia. As a part of the sign up process, the new partner Microfinance institution (MFI) needs to fill an extensive evaluation questionnaire which we then assess. We also take third party reference checks, review their financials and also assess the commitment of the MFIs’ senior management to the mission of ending poverty. We also need to find a bank that is willing to make a loan based on the guarantee. Signing up the bank is one of the toughest aspects of our guarantee model.

We have been making good progress with an organization in Sri Lanka called Berendina Microfinance Institute (GTE) Ltd. One of the most interesting aspects about this organization is that apart from providing microloans they also provide business development services to their clients and they are able to do it sustainably through the usage of coupons.We took a third party reference check about the organization and the feedback we received is that Berendina is a very progressive microfinance institution.I am told that they are very professional, have a good long term vision and have good loan products. Their challenge is access to funding.

Berendina has recently approached a few banks to see if they can lend to Berendina based on a guarantee. Berendina has never borrowed from a bank previously so this loan would be the first of its kind. At present one bank is evaluating their proposal and a decision by the bank’s lending committee is likely in the next two to three weeks. From what I understand from Berendina, if the loan gets approved this could be the first loan to an MFI in Sri Lanka from a bank. We are cautiously optimistic that the approval would come through and I will be posting an update on this over the next few weeks.

Meanwhile in India, the Reserve Bank of India which is the Central Bank and the regulator for the large for-profit MFIs has yet to publish its revised regulations for microfinance. Thus the uncertainty amongst banks and MFIs in India continues. As a result there are virtually no loans being made to MFIs from banks. It is nearly seven months since the crisis emerged in Andhra Pradesh state in India and if clarity on regulations does not emerge quickly it will be an increasingly uphill task of reviving the confidence of banks in lending to MFIs especially the smaller and more socially oriented MFIs. While banks will not be much affected if they do not lend to MFIs as microfinance constitutes only a small percentage of the total loans they make, the biggest losers are going to be millions of low income families and especially those who are poorer and in the more remote regions.

I sincerely hope that the government and the regulators in India show the urgency and determination in laying out appropriate regulations for microfinance in India. This is the absolute need of the hour.