When Anika Pande, quit her job at a leading finance company in Bangalore to work for an NGO in rural Odisha, she did not know what to expect. Today, after spending nearly two years working and living in a remote village in Gajapati district of Odisha, her learnings are immense.
Anika is deeply passionate about social work, but about the initial months working in the field, she says “I knew I wanted to help, I didn’t know how to identify the problem”. And the problems were manifold. Gajapati district is part of the Naxal affected region in India and is one of the 100 most backward districts in the country.
A majority of the people in the village where Anika worked relied on subsistence agriculture, which is heavily rain dependent and does not offer enough opportunities for all villagers. Owing to this, young men in the village had migrated to neighbouring states in search of employment. In such a scenario, the challenge Anika faced was to provide the people in the community with an alternative source of livelihood.
When she was looking for avenues or sectors which were financially viable, Anika noticed that the people in the local community went foraging for produce in the forests surrounding the village.
“I noticed that they source honey naturally, from the forest. Honey is commercially viable, so I thought why not turn that into an enterprise?”
After consulting with the villagers, Anika decided to set up an apiary unit. Almost immediately, there were numerous challenges that she faced: the villagers had to be trained in apiary culture, market linkages had to be developed from scratch, but the most important roadblock of all, was finance.
Setting up a small scale apiary enterprise would require capital. Anika went ahead and informally began crowdfunding money for the project “We got people to finance the project, I even tapped into my personal network to raise the money” Anika raised the money on a hunch that selling honey would be profitable. Her hunch turned out to be right. Nearly a year and half after setting up the apiary unit, the rural entrepreneurs are now beginning to taste success.
Over the course of setting up a social enterprise from scratch, the most important lesson for this finance professional was learning the importance of money.
“When we think of 8 lakhs in the city, it doesn’t amount to a lot. But that amount literally has the power to change lives.”
For the local community in the village, wilfully neglected by mainstream financial institutions, the capital Anika raised and the guidance she provided allowed them to set up new avenues of livelihood. And as a result of her intervention, incomes have risen by nearly 30%. By selling the produce directly to the consumers, the people have managed to cut out the middlemen and are reaping the benefits of the work they do.
When Anika heard of Rang De a few months back, she was astonished by how much the Rang De model and the issues it is addressing resonated with her own experiences in the field.
“I have seen that people in rural areas do not get loans; banks hesitate to lend here because simple things like the collection of money and disbursal is a challenge in areas without financial networks” Anika says, before continuing “It makes sense to invest with Rang De because of the sheer impact that your money has.”
Anika, who is now a Rang De social investor and heads the organisation’s Bhubaneshwar Chapter, wholeheartedly belives in the work being carried out by the organisation.
The experience of working at the grassroots has taught Anika two very important realisations. The first being the power of finance in transforming lives, especially when delivered through the right channels, into the right hands. The second is discovering the fearless entrepreneur in her who is ever ready to take on challenges. At Rang De, we are proud to be associated with passionate and committed people like Anika, who are working towards bringing about lasting change.
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