“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller
It was 6 am on a Saturday morning, and our group of Changemakers had gathered for a little adventure – their first field trip to meet our borrower community near Mysore. Along the way we chatted, getting to know each other and why we’d chosen to be there that day.
Madhur has grown up living in tribal villages all around India. She’s got an experiential understanding of the grassroots and is keen to leverage her professional experience in Operations to support livelihood activities at the grassroots. Karthik, a young and enthusiastic Changemaker, was really curious to understand the impact his loans are creating.
Deepjyoti, with his mind of an analyst, had come to truly understand how we can augment our impact beyond creating access to micro credit. Lakshmi, Ashok and Ankit have all been Changemakers with Rang De for a very long time and had been looking forward to a field trip.
When we reached Mysore, we were joined by Mr. Mahadevaswamy and Ms. Jayshree, members of the Vivekananda Institute for Leadership Development (VILD), our impact partner in the region. VILD is working with the communities in and around Mysore, providing them with sustainable livelihood opportunities. One of their programs includes access to microcredit, which is where Rang De fits into the story.
Mahadev ji captivated us with the story of SVYM (VILD’s parent organisation). A story which began 30 years ago with a few doctors in a tribal village somewhere in Karnataka. As we listened on, I realised how we were all a small piece of a story that had started so long ago and had involved the hard work and commitment of so many people. Mahadev ji himself has had his whole career centered around rural development, with a specialisation in starting up Self-Help Groups.
We arrived at the first village, and had our first round of conversations with the community. One of the first people we met was Jayamma, a tiny lady with a magnificent spirit. I couldn’t help but admire the sheer confidence with which she shared her story. She’d taken a loan to buy a cow and increase her income by selling milk. When asked if she was making a profit, she laughed heartily and said, ‘Of course! How else would I be paying back the loan?’
I watched her closely as she stood in front of the camera for a picture, with no reservations and such dignity and grace as she stared straight into the lens. It was an amazing reminder that micro credit is effective because of the spirit of the beneficiaries! The members of the community we met oozed resilience – a determination to seize the opportunity and really uplift themselves.
Another conversation with Ravi Kumar in another village, reiterated this. He shared that earlier he’d had a lazy attitude, wasn’t motivated to do too much. But ever since he got his first loan from Rang De and realised the opportunity it presented, he’s been on his toes, trying to get the maximum from it. He appealed to us saying, “Give me access to more credit. There is so much I want to do and can do.”
We wrapped up our trip with a visit to the SVYM office (our impact partner), and we were blown away. The office had a serene feeling, and the people exuded sheer discipline and a commitment to the cause. In the office, we watched a video about the work SVYM has been responsible for over the last 30 years, which was another reminder that we are a small part of a bigger picture.
The cherry on the cake was our closing session in the office of Dr. M.R. Seetharam, the President of SVYM. Among the many insights he shared, what stood out to me was the reminder that there is so much still to do, but if we come together, we really can do it!
And then we were back in the bus, soaking in reflections from the day, our curiosity now transformed into inspiration. What more can we do? How can we serve the community? How can we add value with our work? How can we augment the work that is already being done? We decided then to meet again and dig deeper into these questions, come up with some solutions and find a way to leverage our time and skills to support the community we visited.
The field trip was a beautiful experience of how all the moving parts come together. There are the Changemakers, people of good intent, doing their bit to power change; the impact partners, the committed lot working at the grassroots; the beneficiaries, taking ownership of the opportunities, seeking to learn and leverage microcredit to the best of their ability. And behind the scenes is Rang De, a platform seeking to connect all the dots.
Text and photos by Chandni Sawlani
Chandni Sawlani is a member of the Empathy Team at Rang De. She visited the Vivekananda Institute for Leadership Development, our Impact partner in Mysore, Karnataka in August 2018