- Chaitanya Nadkarny, Rang De President

If you are tuned into Rang De’s Facebook page and Twitter feed, you know that we made it to the final list of social innovators in Bihar and Maharashtra State Rural Livelihood Missions programs.  The Bihar Innovation Forum awarded Rang De the third prize in the Financial Services sector – something to be really proud about given the credibility and track record of all finalists in this sector.  So why are we at Rang De so excited about these missions and in particular, working in Bihar?  What does it mean to you – our social investor – to our Field Partners and to the borrowers?

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If Bihar were a separate country, it would have been among the 12 most populous countries in the world.  It has some of the worst HDI figures in this country (and hence also in the world).  A whopping 53.5% of its people live below the poverty line. Nearly 80% of Bihar’s rural population do not have access to modern toilets.  Over 65% of Bihar households have one or more member who has migrated out in search of livelihood.  Where 85% of its people depend upon agriculture, the average land holding is around 1 acre, possibly the lowest in the country.

Yet today, Bihar is also the most exciting place for social innovators like Rang De.  Bihar will likely show the way forward to many states on how poverty and deprivation can be tackled effectively.  There is a reason behind this.  The past 10 years have seen an extensive focus on poverty reduction, livelihood promotion, etc.  The Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society (BRLPS), called “Jeevika” is the nodal organisation that is driving these efforts, ably supported by the World Bank.

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In its first 5 years, Jeevika focussed on local innovations, helping them scale up and measure impact.  The current round of the Bihar Innovation Forum (BIF-II) sought innovations across the country in 10 sectors – Agriculture, Off Farm, Livestock, Rural Energy, Skill Development, Financial Services, ICT, Access to Services, and Access to Entitlements.  Nearly 70 innovators were selected as finalists after an extensive search and due diligence. Rang De was selected as a finalist along with 6 other innovators in the Financial Services sector.

So what does this opportunity provide?  BIF-II gives Rang De a unique opportunity to design new loan products with built in flexibility and customised for specific purposes.  This overcomes the limitations of other government run schemes that tend to be inflexible and hence not as effective.  We could work with other innovators across the sectors in helping credit reach the most needy and designed to have maximum impact.

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Working with Jeevika itself has been a uniformly enriching experience.  Every member of Jeevika that we met – from the CEO, to the village level workers, to the “Young Professionals” cadre – the commitment, the energy and willingness to learn, collaborate, support and partner has stood out.  The manner in which events were organised and run by their staff is truly world-class – no corners were cut, no stone left unturned to make each event a success.  It is no surprise therefore that the first few years of the Bihar Innovation Forum saw the adoption of SRI (System of Root Intensification) to significantly raise agricultural productivity, an expansion of access to electricity through micro-grids using renewable sources of energy, a massive increase in school enrollment, running the world’s largest school based deworming project etc.

Rang De is super excited to be joining hands with all other finalists of the BIF-II and play an important role in Bihar – a true game-changer of an opportunity!