Friday, 31 January 2014 00:00
For the past 15 years Prof. Govindarajan has been bringing down scholars from the US. In 2013 the group of 60 American professionals had the opportunity to meet a beneficiary of microfinance. Here he relates the incident:
The lady who met these executives was Shantha. Her story is at once heart breaking and inspirational. Shantha lost her parents when she was six years old. If you lose your parents when you are six years old and you are in a village, it means it is a death sentence and essentially you have lost your life support.
Her siblings wanted to get rid of her and got her married young. Since she got married young, she was illiterate and had two kids when she was 20. Imagine when you have two kids at that age and when your husband is not supporting you, it is so easy to give up.
But Shantha did not give up. She happened to watch a TV program where Dr. Mohamed Younus was talking about a self-help group and microfinance. She thought it was a great idea and created a self-help group and during the 14 years she had been in that self-help group, she managed to put her son through college. He went on to become an engineer. She also put her daughter through college and she is a teacher now.
When the meeting took place in Chennai, it was first time Shantha had been there. Imagine someone who stayed in a village suddenly coming to a 5-star hotel in the city and meeting 60 Americans? You would feel so intimidated. But she was confident and comfortable around this group.
Shantha only had Indian Rs. 1,500, which was around $ 30, probably an amount one would spend on breakfast at a hotel. With that $ 30 she changed the lives of two people; one is an engineer and the other is a teacher.
At the end of her conversation with the group, I asked these American executives to ask this simple question. With $ 30 she was able to transform the lives of two people. Shantha is illiterate; whose fault is it that she is illiterate? Is it her fault? If her dad knew about microfinance, Shantha would have been an engineer; she would have been a teacher because she is very smart.
The American executives couldn’t believe how confident she was, how intelligent she was and how articulate she was. My point is, why is that Shantha is an illiterate person? Poverty is not caused by poor people; poverty is imposed on them. So that’s what the $ 300 house concept means to me; it is about allowing access. Shantha is not begging for money from you, she wants a sense of dignity. She says ‘give me an opportunity’.