P.N. Vasudevan (more widely known as Vasu), managing director of Equitas in India, takes a different approach from that of Fonkoze and Bandhan. He does not target the poorest clients, but rather all those who are excluded from the financial system. He locates his branches in urban and rural areas with the largest concentrations of poverty, and then seeks to provide a range of services in a financially viable way that helps build an ecosystem that increases the chances for clients to succeed.
Vasu stresses efficiency, centralization of all credit decisions, and data entry. “Any decision that does not have a client at the other end should not be done at the branch,” he says. After each group meeting, credit officers update the records of client attendance and payments by sending a text message to the head office.
Equitas also employs one social responsibility officer (SRO) for every 10 branches, whose job is to develop a deep understanding of the needs of the clients in the area and, based on that understanding, help devise programs that help clients succeed. Through this, Equitas has developed 50 training centers, 4 full schools for the children of clients, 20 grocery stores that sell basic goods at lower costs to clients, a skills development program that serves 360,000 clients, and a healthcare program that benefits 1 million clients and family members.
Equitas recently entered into an agreement with Apollo Hospitals in India to provide telemedicine to its clients through a computer with a webcam and medical testing equipment in each office. For the cost of 50 rupees (US$ 1), a client can receive an assessment from a highly qualified doctor who can also prescribe medicine, with the electronic records of the visit stored on the hospital’s system.
Vasu suggests that a focus on the client’s success as the ultimate objective helps an MFI stick to its mission. He states that when clients
have a desperate need and are not in a position to bargain with me, I am in a superior position, so can I use the position for my authority? Is it fair on my part to do that? That’s the whole question: not that I am not helping others, but, in the process of helping others, can I be unfair to [them]? That is the question and I think people are not looking at this from the right perspective. They keep on saying again and again, “I am helping,” without any concern whether they are doing it in a fair and justifiable manner or not. And I think that’s where all these problems have come from. If I am meeting a need by giving a loan to [a client], no problem. But, am I being fair in the process? I need to be sure I am not misusing the strength I have in relation to the position of the client. That’s the question I don’t think people are really looking at.
Visit Equitas’ website to learn more: http://www.equitas.in/.
Photo 1: PN Vasudevan
Photo 2: Giorgia Bonaga
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Table of Contents
- Executive Summary
- Reaching Fewer
- The Promise of Mobile Technology
- The Psychology of Scarcity
- Developing Appropriate Products
- Conclusion and Recommendations
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