The Pilot | Milaap

The Pilot

On 24th July, 2010, Milaap executed its first series of loan disbursements in Solapur, Maharashtra. We concluded our pilot project, and deposited in the hands of Solapur's Sakhis, small loans ranging for Rs. 15000 to 30000 to support their businesses. With us were present Rajesh Badakh, CEO of Sakhi Samuday Kosh, and Upamanyu Patil, CEO of Sakhi Retail Private limited,both of whom oversaw the disbursements along with us.



We are amazed and slightly shell shocked about the whole thing.

Let us go back a little in time. We started the actual pilot two months ago. We set up the blog, and asked for contributions. I never expected the sum to be made up in such a short while, but it was. There were numerous minor complications, threatening a postponement of the disbursement. Then (as usually happens), the formalities were suddenly concluded. We cancelled other appointments and made it to Solapur. And not until the money actually was disbursed, did I realise that the money was given by some of my own friends, making loans to people they barely knew, trusting only in us.

Thank you all, so very, very much. I can only imagine that some, if not all, of you wished you were there to see the money change hands. This is our attempt to convey what happened.

At the SSK office, Upamanyu Patil and Rajesh Badakh are having a quiet late morning tea. Some of the Sakhis are already waiting outside Rajesh's office. We had some difficulty finding the place, thanks to the recent rains. When we arrived, we interrupted a discussion about how products sell depending on the weather.

SRPL deals in socially appropriate goods for rural areas. Products range across things like solar water heaters, solar lamps, to smokeless stoves fuelled by bio-gas pellets. Mr. Patil observes that they always end up selling a great deal during the monsoon. Thanks to the rains, it makes eminent sense to have a water purifier. Thanks to the rains, there will be load-shedding of electrical power. Thanks to the rains, it will be cold, dark and wet. The sales are huge. He jokes that the money arrived just in time. True enough, its been raining cats and dogs in Mumbai for the past two months. Suddenly I am struck by a very dashing image of a saree-clad Sakhi striding across a wasted dirt road carrying socially appropriate goods. Obviously, the good cheer in the office is somewhat infectious.

We goover the loan papers. Each Sakhi is given a detailed form with a notarised stamp. This in itself is a precious detail. That loan statement carries much more than the pledge to repay a small sum of money. It is testimony to the fact that this is not a charity.

The two men seem obsessed over the details, complaining sometimes about even slight delays in repayment. They fuss over the plan and make sure it is manageable. Their attention to detail seems almost ritualistic.

When all the Sakhis arrive, we go upstairs for a loaning ceremony of sorts. Rajesh, Patil, Sourabh and Anoj preside at a table, the Sakhis seat themselves in chairs around the table. Admonishments flow from the table to the chairs. I watch on, wishing they would disburse the loans already. The Sakhis, of course, listen with infinite patience.

Finally the introductions are all made and everyone at the table takes turns to disburse the loans. It reminds me of the prize ceremonies in school. Only then we would snark, now the applause was genuine...

But all is not over. We speak to some of the Sakhis, who had to leave, who relate their early experiences in self help groups (much like the ones already profiled earlier in the blog). We then leave ourselves.The deliberations are still going on upstairs, however. Are perhaps still going on, nearly a month after the event is over.

Thank you all again. It has been wonderful. There is so much left unsaid here...I can only hope this has given you all some inkling of how it felt to be there.