Archive for February, 2008

25,000 artisans across eight states work as proud entrepreneurs, thanks to one man’s vision

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

I first heard about Jaipur Rugs Co from the ‘Rural Business Hubs’ team at CII. But, when I finally made the trip to Jaipur and met them, it blew my mind.

Mr N.K Chaudhary, of Jaipur Rugs

N.K Chaudhary, M.D, Jaipur Rugs, is one of the most unassuming and modest persons I have met. But, his dreams for rural artisans have been anything but small.

New designs being developed
From modest beginnings in the late-90s, his ‘Jaipur Rugs Company’ has built its entire business model around having village artisans work as entrepreneurs. Today, 25000 artisans- mainly women- engage in weaving or reeling as a home-based occupation. Jaipur Rugs Co provides ‘door service’ to these artisans by delivering raw materials, providing training and quality checks, arranging financing for looms, and picking up the semi-finished carpets and rugs.
The scale and efficiency of this outsourced manufacturing model is astounding, and clearly a win-win arrangement for the company as well as artisans. Weavers across eight states( Gujarat, Rajasthan, UP, Bihar, Jharkand, Orissa, West Bengal and Nagaland) earn 80/- to 100/- per day. Before Jaipur Rugs Co came into the picture, they could typically earn just about 30/- with middlemen pocketing most of the margins.

Product ‘finishing’ after it comes in from weavers

With his belief that “enabling is more important than charity”, N.K Chaudhary is committed to adding 5000 looms and engaging 30,000 more artisans in the near future.
An important outcome of my trip was that we got his agreement to try out the same model with urban poor, by working with us in Delhi.

How Nachiket Mor and his team are trying to to bring about a paradigm change in the social sector

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

Overarching visions, massive scale, and rapid execution have been the hallmarks of India’s 21st century corporate giants. None typifies this better than ICICI Bank, whose transformation into India’s leading consumer bank and mega financial institution will remain a case study for times to come.
So, it isn’t surprising to see the same spirit underlying a brand new institution that is being spearheaded by Nachiket Mor, and which aims to bring about a paradigm shift in the social sector.
By putting together a slightly-complex structure of organizations( ICICI Foundation, IFMR Trust, Network Enterprises Fund, CSO Partners, etc), Nachiket and his team are aiming to create an enduring focus on sustainable development, via the ‘for-profit’ route. Their firm belief is that sustainable development cannot be achieved via recurring grants to NGOs or others, but only through a combination of low-cost products; debt and equity funding; and tools, know-how and market linkages.
At the heart of this strategy is their current effort to develop complete solutions for as many as 14 different verticals like Crafts, Dairy and Foods to fascinatingly interesting ones like Rural Tourism, and Rural BPO. By working as ‘market-makers’( i.e. creating linkages between supply chain and market demand) in each sector, they hope to massively impact livelihoods and enterprise development in each of these areas.
While many of these verticals are still work-in-progress, it was great to see the progress in the established ones like Foods, where the team’s efforts are enabling fruit farmers in Himachal’s Bhuira village to scale up their operations by accessing more markets for their jams, marmalades, preserves, and chutneys.
There’s truly a serious effort on here to bring a paradigm shift in the social sector. If anyone can make it happen, this team can.

Satya and Dyan’s brave efforts to create a sustainable model for low-cost housing for the poor

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

During my interactions with various people trying to innovate in the social sector, I’ve met lots of interesting people. High energy levels, minds buzzing with ideas, and passion seem to be the common denominator. Satya( V. Satyanarayana) and Dyan( Dyan Belliapa) fit this description aptly.
Alumnus of School of Planning, Ahmedabad, Satya and Dyan have decided to give up a mainstream career in order to focus on low-cost housing. Their firm, Aarusha Homes, hopes to be a facilitator-cum-consultant that aggregates housing demand among the poor, and also help low-income groups in many other ways.
Despite meeting him early morning on a cold winter day, Satya was bubbling with ideas for what can be done to provide innovative housing solutions to the residents of re-settlement colonies in Delhi who have just 12 sq.m each.

Going forward, I am quite sure that we’ll have a lot to do with Satya and Dyan.

Intellecash’s adopts the McDonald’s model with ‘microfinance-in-a-box’ to reach out to untapped geographies

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

Vineet Rai( of Intellecap & Aavishkar) is one of the most interesting people I have met in the social sector. His fertile mind has been responsible for a Social VC Fund( Aavishkar), a leading Microfinance consulting firm( Intellecap), and now a unique franchising model to take microfinance to every nook and cranny of the country( Intellecash).
Simply put, Intellecash is ‘micro-finance in a box”!
Through a franchising model, Intellecash offers to help local entrepreneurs set up a micro-finance business. What it offers in ‘a box’ is tools, training, processes, and hand-holding. When I met Vineet, his team- led by Chris Mitchell- was living inside Holambi Kalan( North-West Delhi), in order to hand-hold the Delhi-based microfinance institution, Aajeevika, which has engaged Intellecash.

 Chris Mitchell and the Aajeevika team

Apart from Delhi, this franchising model is underway in Maharashtra, HP and Mizoram.
The Intellecash hypothesis is that micro-finance has yet not focused on the really-poor states of North & East India. To be able to do so rapidly, only a leveraged model like franchising can deliver.
While the jury is out on the eventual success of this ambitious plan, Intellecash is busy identifying interested entrepreneurs who may be keen to take the franchising option to run micro-finance ventures in their local markets.
Given my firm belief in leveraged, outsourced models to drive reach in a vast country like India, I would place my bets on the Intellecash strategy.

Microfinance won’t work in an urban context. Right?

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

Since early-2007, when I started spending time with NGOs, and in the field, I’ve been repeatedly told that micro-finance won’t fly in an urban setting. Many reasons have been proffered – that SHGs can’t be formed due to group heterogeneity, that peer pressure is not strong enough to guarantee repayments, etc.
So, when Vineet Rai( CEO of Intellecap & Aavishkar) introduced me to Aajeevika, which works at Holambi Kalan and Bawana, in Delhi, it was nice to see this myth being broken.
At Holambi, a resettlement colony in North-West Delhi, Aajeevika has over 1500 ‘loan-members’, across 150 ‘centers’. This approach bypasses the traditional rural SHG model completely, and has a zero incubation period. Prospective members are administered a ‘Group Recognition Test’ to determine whether group dynamics within the ‘center’will work out fine. Starting with loan sizes of Rs 1500/- to 2000/-, these gradually increase to sums upwards of Rs 5000/-.
I had the opportunity to spend time with several ‘centers’.

Each ‘center’ has a fixed, weekly time for its meeting, and members adopt all its rituals, including punctuality and an ‘oath’( where they re-affirm their commitment to each other, and to repay any loans taken).

Opening rituals at a ‘center’ meeting


At one of these ‘centers’( “AHP2018”), Center Manager Madhuri discussed loans that various members wanted;  Rajvanti wanted Rs 8000/- for building her house, Malti for her vegetable shop expenses.


  One interesting encounter was with Kunti Devi who wanted Rs 5000/- to buy a machine for her husband’s welding shop. I had the chance to talk to her husband, Dileep Sharma, as well, and ask him about his feelings regarding his wife’s use of microfinance to fund his business. It was nice to see him being completely open about this.

Kunti Devi and Dileep Sharma

MFIs like Aajeevika completely recognize that members will often use these loans for non-productive or consumption-linked purposes. For instance, Rajvanti had earlier taken a loan for building a house, but used it meet expenses relating to her son’s illness.

All in all, it was nice to see one more myth being broken. Innovations and progress in the social sector will require us to demolish many more myths ruthlessly.

Gates Foundation-backed ‘Khushi Clinics’ show how social initiatives can be scaled up professionally, and in a business-like manner

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

2008 started off on an interesting note as I spent January 1 checking out  ‘Khushi Clinic’ at New Delhi’s Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar on the outskirts of the city. A joint initiative by Gates Foundation & TCI Foundation, Khushi Clinics are a great example of what happens when a business icon focuses on social change.

Khushi Clinic at Delhi’s Transport Nagar
While the focus is on HIV/AIDS amongst a specific high-risk group, viz. truckers, what’s different is the Microsoft-like approach to planning( thorough!),scale( nation-wide!) and results( metrics!). Through a partnership with TCI Foundation, 17 truckers’ ‘halt points’ across the country are being targeted under this initiative.
At the Transport Nagar I visited, the ‘Khushi Clinic’ is positioned as a general health clinic for truckers, while simultaneously emphasizing behavioral change with regard to their sexual practices. Tucked away in the heart of Transport Nagar, the clinic- which operates for 8 hours – offers free consulting, and medicines on cost-to-cost basis.  High-quality, standardized communication via films, street plays, etc promote safe behaviour and condom usage. Innovations like ‘Khushi passport’ – which each trucker carries- ensure that medical history is seamlessly transferred to other ‘halt points’ in the country.
As yet another example of how a successful business practice has been transferred to the social sector, it was fascinating to see how nationwide presence has been achieved by using the best-available, local ‘channel partner’. In the case of Delhi, the ‘Khushi Clinic’ is run by the highly-competent Deepa Bajaj of Child Survival India( CSI).


Deepa Bajaj and her ‘Khushi’ team

During the time we spent with Deepa, it was evident that the original vision of Khushi Clinics has been completely internalized by Deepa, who in turn, evangelizes it with equal passion and commitment.

Outreach programs for truckers

Results are meticulously tracked. For instance, Nov’07 saw 1600 footfalls, of which 2/3rd were STI cases.
Watching all this, it is reassuringly clear that social initiatives can be scaled up professionally, and in a business-like manner.