Debanjana and Parikshit, Rang De chapter members in Kolkata, recently completed a field trip to Sandeshkali (near Kolkata). Here they write about their experience and share some important observations.
The evolution of Rang De over the past 5 years in particular has ben staggering but its presence in Kolkata was absent. When we first decided on initiating a Kolkata chapter, it felt like a good idea to understand the model right down to the grass root level. And thus the idea of visiting one of the fields with one of Rang De’s Kolkata based field partners was born.
We met Chinmoy Naik, who, along with Antony Mondal, took us to the village of Sandeshkhali, a fair bit outside the realms of Kolkata and the urban living ways. En route we talked about how the field partners actually work on the evaluation processes and how the loans are sanctioned. They told us that the primary industry where the loans are usually sanctioned are fisheries, which was an obvious choice given the vast popularity due to abundant access to fresh water in West Bengal.
Our first stop was to meet a SHG called “Rani” which comprised of around 10 women who were individual owners of fisheries. They saved a nominal amount every month in a bank account in the name of the SHG and lend it amongst themselves whenever the need arises at an interest of 2% a month. This seemed quite high to us given the fact that personal loans of such menial amounts usually don’t cost this much from banks. This is when we got to know that banks do not offer them personal loans and apart from this the only source of borrowing that they have is through village money lenders who charge as high as 5% per month against collateral of gold. This is where the impact of Rang De became evident where the loan rates are fixed at 10% flat a year, with a fixed monthly installment that needs to be paid. Chinmay da told us that they usually disburse a loan of Rs.5000 — Rs.8000 per borrower just to ensure that they are not over-burdened. Each borrower has a Rang De card which is where the payment details are mentioned. It was indeed surprising that not one has ever failed to meet the repayments. On further questioning, we found out that the members of the SHGs divide the liability amongst themselves. So when the borrower fails to meet the dues, the fellow SHG members chip in to ensure that the payment doesn’t default; a noteworthy initiative by the field partners in this regard. It was immensely satisfying to know how these borrowers actually benefited from the loans made by Rang De. Apart from the low interest rates, they were able to buy all the necessary accessories and supplies needed to set up their fisheries and even though it did not cover the entire amount, they did feel that it was adequate enough to make a substantial impact on lessening their burdens and worries.
While we went on the road again we were pointed out a series of personalities, starting from cycle repair shop owners to vegetable vendors who received Rang De loans. The diversity of borrowers and the small impact that was created has helped these people come a long way and it was evident from the way they spoke about it.
Our next stop was a household that was run by a single mother and her children and they were into the business of building cement pillars for construction purposes, another Rang De beneficiary. They made cement pillars of fixed sizes which the local households used to provide support to their mud (Kachha) houses. These poles are also used to fit street lights, which is a recent development in that area. The nature of the business was starkly different and we were quite surprised by the inventiveness of the family. They also sold many of these pillars to villages in Sunderbans which is quite far off. Needless to say, the Rang De funds helped her in expanding her business when the demand was booming but they ran short of funds to cover for the additional costs.
We soon headed for lunch at the KSDF office where we had some delicious homemade food, and also got a chance to look into the Rang De record books. KSDF had a brilliant operations setup where they maintained the books for all the borrowers on a weekly basis, and for so many years, they did not have a single defaulter.
After lunch we headed to another village SHG where the primary occupation was leather products. Suppliers from the city provided these villagers with raw leather which they made into wallets and other leather products, at a very small margin. The Rang De funds were used to buy machinery and raw materials but somehow the villagers here felt that the nominal amount did not suffice their needs. The prospects for this industry seemed pretty bright to us as the margins were high and the risk was primarily bore by the suppliers. The demand for semi-skilled workers is still strong here as the market still is at a very nascent stage.
The field trip was actually an eye opener for a person who has never stepped out of the comforts of city life and the impact that menial sum of Rs.100 could garner, was starkly underlined here. The fluency of Rang De’s model is extraordinarily accurate and impactful, let alone the motive behind the whole thing. Awareness about such an organization made me believe that a lot can still be done to move the bottom of the pyramid and a small push is all it takes to make a difference.