With microfinance catching up in India, what has been its impact at the grassroots? A visit to Sita Devi Foundation, a Delhi based NGO working in the field of livelihood
Step One – Experiencing urban poverty
Poverty is strange. If you are leading a comfortable life in the metropolitan, poverty seems so distant. And yet, the next minute as you stop at a traffic signal and roll down the car window, it is as real to you as existence. Social organisations in the metros face dual challenges of pursuing a social cause in the face of insufficient or no help and support from the majority.
NGO Sita Devi Foundation operates in Central Delhi. I decided to visit them as they work for a cause close to my heart – microfinance and entrepreneurship development. It is incredible how a little amount of ‘seed funding’ can do a lot of good to the way people live their lives and what they do with the opportunities that come their way. In fact, as I discovered, financial assistance could even enable people to create new opportunities. Sita Devi Foundation, is dedicated to serve the needs of the poor through disbursal of small loans and other endeavours such as mobilizing the community, supporting community based entrepreneurial programmes , etc.
In the heart of Delhi, Paharganj, I discovered a world where things were not as easy as they seemed on the outside. I walked on perfectly clean, moderately crowded, mundane city streets of Delhi to reach the office of Sita Devi. From there, I was led to much less cleaner, extremely crowded for their size and buzzing with activity streets surrounded by small brick houses on both sides. Women could be seeing washing dishes, washing clothes, sewing garments or simply chit chatting. Suddenly, from a Delhi of high rise buildings, I seemed to have reached a much humbler setting where life was defined by the everyday chores and responsibilities. I also discovered how poverty could be challenged, only with a little bit of courage and a million shining stars called dreams; dreams nurtured by NGOs such as Sita Devi Foundation.
Step Two – Identifying and solving the Problem
They say money attracts money. You definitely can’t create money out of thin air. Those who are caught up in the vicious cycle of poverty have very little to start with. To break free from this cycle, external help is required. In a nation such as ours, the rich can’t turn their backs or shut their eyes. Every person has to do it.
In the slums of adjoining areas in Paharganj, I met Savitri, a forty year old woman with a family of seven. She explains that her children are studying and that she helps her husband, a vegetable vendor. I ask my questions quickly, knowing she has household chores to do.
Noticing, she explains, “Today I don’t have to work. It’s a national holiday.” Of course, October 2nd! But that doesn’t relieve her of the washing and cleaning at home. The family’s economic troubles sourced from not having enough money to buy vegetables from the ‘mandi’ for selling during the day.
No money. No stock. Not enough sales. Not enough money. No savings.
Savitri’s family was stuck in this vicious cycle and could not escape poverty. What helped them? “Our problems ceased when I became part of the Amar group of SDF. They gave us small loans, which we used to buy more vegetables. Soon we could start saving much more and could send our children to schools,” she explains.
There are many others like Savitri who have found opportunities to grow in their trades because of these token loans.
Ramkumar, a cobbler, with a small stall in one of the street corners can’t be happier. I ask him what brings a smile to his face and he narrates without hesitation, “I come from Raibareilly. I have 6 children out of which 4 are studying. Due to some health problems, I had to close down my stall for many months. When I came back, I found that the shop had been run down; I did not have the necessary equipment to start all over again. It was then that I joined Neeraj group of SDF and availed their loan facility twice. Using the loan amount, I have been able to increase my income by about Rs. 1,500 per month!”
Leader of the Neeraj Group Radhakrishna has a similar story to tell. With loan assistance, he is able to stock a larger variety at his snack shop, thus earning about Rs. 2,500 to Rs. 3000 more per month.
What do these figures translate into? It gives these people much more confidence, hopes of a better future for their children and a better standard of living.
Step Three – How is SDF doing it?
Small loans and entrepreneurship building lead to livelihood generation, meaning attack on poverty!! Sounds perfect! But is it, really? How is the change happening at the grassroots? Rakhi Singh Vidaya, Director of Sita Devi Foundation and her husband started the foundation back in 2002 with a view to give back to the society. They started as a charitable movement to support school going, underprivileged children in terms of contributing school bags, stationery, necessary food items, etc.
Soon, they felt an urge to formalize the movement and give it a new meaning. Identifying livelihood as a major area of concern for the family unit, they decided to experiment with the microfinance model in their area and added to their Board, a host of accomplished persons.
“In the initial days, we had simple criteria of forming joint liability groups (JLG) for giving out loans: Below 55 years of age, most members should be in the same trade, should live close to each other, and should not be blood relatives. We formed the first group in Anand Parbad area.. The motto of JLG was to convert members to individual entrepreneurs,” explain the directors. With the expansion and growth of Microfinance, the society has been able to form 60 groups so far. In their upcoming plans, they hope to establish many more self-help groups for women. Over the next 12-months SDF will focus on creating the social and institutional base for sustainable improvement in their livelihood, empowering the 80-poorest women of the Paharganj Slums of Delhi.”
Read more at www.sitadevifoundation.in
What you Can Do
1. Make a Donation : A small amount donated can go a long way in implementing the Microfinance programme for women in Paharganj
2. Volunteer with SDF. Write to sitadevifoundation[at]gmail.com