Milaap’s Journey: Women Entrepreneurs Who Rewrote Destiny Share on Facebook Share on twitterShare on gmail

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An Earnest Vision

June 16, 2010 was an overcast day. The rains were incessant. They flooded cities, lashed at villages. But the ‘Sakhis’ of rural Osmanabad and Solapur, in Maharashtra, India, strode down the dirt roads, selling their Sakhi Retail reading glasses, solar lamps, smokeless stoves, and water filters to fellow-villagers. They would earn a bare Rs. 1000 that month, repaying their local lenders at steep rates. Money was often short. But today, the Sakhis were optimistic.In distant Singapore, a bus trip and 2 airplane flights away, 2 intrepid young men, Sourabh and Anoj, were championing the Sakhis’ cause at the Singapore Management University. To a motley audience of over 50 people who had braved the floods in the city, just to come listen. “The Sakhis are our pilot project. We have seen their work. They serve their people despite the paltry returns. Give them what you’d spend on a pizza. Not as a handout. As a loan. See the magic they’ll work with it,” they urged. (Mayukh, the 3rd founder, would soon join.)They shared their vision, “It will be a new kind of charity. Charity with NO donations, but loans. You will be repaid. A crowdfunding platform that connects the world to the working poor in India. To help them build small sustainable businesses. To help transform entire impoverished communities.” Ambitious words. Earnest words.

A Modest Beginning

At the end of their presentation, the founders waited. They were hopeful, and anxious at the same time. They didn’t want to let the Sakhis down. They had worked hard on this plan to help the Sakhis. They had devised a solution, working with the Sakhis and their representatives – a branch of Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP), a trusted non-profit in the region. They conducted rigorous interviews. And they shortlisted 20 Sakhis who would use the loans well.

20 was a modest beginning. It was a small step towards the growing impact Milaap’s lending community would one day make possible. So they waited with fingers crossed and bated breath.

People Had Faith

They did not have to wait long. At the end of that day in Singapore, many among the audience made loans on the spot. Many pledged their support. Their own friends had faith, and gave generous loans to fund the Sakhis – complete strangers. Captivated and curious about how things would work out. They put up a blog that shared their message. Word spread. The loans began to pour in. In a little over a month, the first shortlisted Sakhis were funded.Loan papers were drawn up. Soon, 20 rural women-entrepreneurs received their loans from Milaap’s first ever lenders. Ranging from Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 15,000 per Sakhi, the loans helped them increase inventory and scale up business. Loans from real people who wanted to make a difference meant no more stifling interest rates.

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