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Meet the Professor Who Quit Teaching Shakespeare in the US to Empower Rural Women in Kerala

Through his micro financing model, he is not only empowering villagers but also giving them an opportunity to earn better livelihoods.

This once male dominated community in Palakkad, Kerala, where villagers were struggling to make ends meet, is thriving today with women entrepreneurs and school going children. All thanks to Dr. Prabhakar and his strong desire to bring change.

Dr. Prabhakar was well settled and leading a successful life as an English professor in the US. But when he returned to Palakkad, he saw the poor living condition in villages and the lack of livelihood options.

At the same time, he saw immense potential in the villagers, especially the women.

The women are more empowered and can even send their kids to school.
The women are more empowered today and can even send their kids to school.

“When I came to Kerala I thought there is an urgent need for intervention here. I was highly impressed with Mohammed Younus’ model of the Grameen Bank. I stayed in the villages with him in Bangaldesh for six months to learn about the micro credit model. I wanted to replicate that here in Kerala. I knew it would be a challenge but I wanted to do it,” he says.

In 1996, Dr. Prabhakar started the Society for Rural Improvement (SRI), a non profit organization, to provide socio-economic support to poor rural women.

Dr Prabhakar (second from left)
Dr Prabhakar (second from left)

He realised the only way to empower women was to provide them financial freedom and stability. Through his model, he started giving collateral free loans to the women. He chipped in Rs. 2 lakh from his own pocket and started giving micro credits.

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“We don’t micro manage the women. We give them the liberty to use these funds whichever way they choose. Some of them open tea shops, some open small businesses, etc. We are not trying to become managers, but facilitators,” he says.

When asked about the risk of giving credits without collateral, he proudly says that he has 99% payback rate. Of course, identifying the beneficiaries is a crucial process, which involves researching the people, their

Of course, identifying the beneficiaries is a crucial process, which involves researching the people, their needs and requirements.

here has been a drastic change in the condition of the villages in Kerala after Dr. Prabhakar's interventin.
There has been a drastic change in the condition of the villages after Dr. Prabhakar’s intervention.

“We identify those people who are living in remote areas where there are no facilities, or women who have abusive husbands or a family to support,” says Dr. Prabhakar.

The loans model has been customised according to the needs of the women. The minimum loan provided is Rs. 10, 000, which the women can repay on a weekly basis.

Dr. Prabhakar provides collateral free loan to the villagers.
Dr. Prabhakar provides collateral-free loans to the village women.

The one-on-one relations with the beneficiaries and regular communication is what Dr. Prabhakar believes are the success mantra of the model. Another USP of this micro credit loan model is the low interest rate, which is around two percent less than the market.

SRI allows weekly repayment of loans. And along with this, there is also a voluntary saving system to inculcate the habit of savings among the women.

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Vellamma, a 40-year-old lady from Poovancode village took a small loan of Rs. 5,000 for cow rearing.  She repaid her loan within a few months and got another loan for goat rearing. Her business gradually expanded and she then took a loan of Rs. 20,000 to buy a machine for producing arecanut items.

She now has two more women working with her. Vellamma is just one example of hundreds of women who have turned into entrepreneurs due to SRI’s intervention.

SRI's unique micro finance model has empowered many women to start their own business.
SRI’s unique micro finance model has empowered many women to start their own businesses.

In addition to the very helpful micro loan facility, SRI also works on various other initiatives. It runs a women’s canteen called Vanitha. The canteen is owned and operated by the rural women and provides healthy food at affordable prices.

SRI is also about to establish a BPO (non-voice) Center in Kerala to be operated by rural girls.

“Selected rural girls, mostly second generation of SRI Beneficiaries, with minimum qualifications of Class 10, will be trained in basic English grammar, data entry skills, customer service, professionalism and personality development before being assigned as BPO operators,” says the SRI team.

Though SRI has come a long way since it started operations, it hasn’t been an easy journey. From various political and society pressures to lack of trust from the villagers, Dr. Prabhakar and his team encountered many difficulties. But they didn’t give up.

“My mission is to empower more women and free them from this male dominant culture,” he says.

If you want to know more about SRI’s work, check out their website.

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