June 16th started like any other day in Singapore. Except for the grey clouds which always seem to crowd over the sea. It's not very unusual for it to rain in the mornings, except when I woke up, it looked like evening. Two hours of incessant downpour later Orchard Road was flooded. That place has always been swank, but to think of how it would've caused damage to the basement shops had me very afraid. The cab driver who dropped me to SMU was oblivious to this big event, and when I told him, he suddenly had the light-bulb moment - all the traffic jams were explained.
June 16th was an equally important day for us. That's the day we kicked off our Pilot for Milaap. The event was an opportunity for us to present our idea, our structure, our operations to people and also for financing 10 women entrepreneurs in rural india. Â We had picked SMU as the location, because of it's central location and quick access to the city. Moreover the facilities offered are indeed fantastic.Â
The event was attended by more than 50 people from all domains. Despite the floods and traffic jams, people had put in the effort to come and support us. The people who turned up early were entertained by our pictures from the field.ÂAfter a few glitches and hitches, we began. Young Anoj led the presentation and Sourabh served as the assistant. We started with an overview of the project, going into specific details and differences between traditional micro-finance and Â the credit-plus approach that we are adopting,Â our motivation and our business model.Â We also explained the specifics of Sakhi Retail, and how these women sell socially relevant products and services such as smokeless cook stoves, water purifiers, solar lights, biomass fuel, etc. in their villages which otherwise have little access to clean water, electricity etc. OurÂ videos, albeit not edited to perfection, did their job of striking the right notes among the audience. It's always interesting to see people's reactions when they spot that the videos and pictures were taken on the field and not stock footage. Â In a way, you could spot many in the audience having their own light-bulb moments.
It all led to an interesting Q&A session. Apart from the expected discussions on accountability and how this structure would ultimately help, there were also questions about whether we favour the women entrepreneurs more (no!) and whether we only plan to stick to this area in Maharashtra (no, again!)Â
Afterwards, we revealed the profiles of the 10 women, and let people decide for themselves who they want to fund. Some pledged while others paid at the event towards the loans. While we didn't reach the target we were expecting to, the response was quite encouraging, and with the feedback we realize that we are on the right track.Â
So yes, we file this event under "Success" and are raring to go.Â We'd like to take this opportunity to thank the Microfinance Society of Singapore, for organizing the event, and also to our friends for their help and support.Â
One more thing - we have decided since that our pilot will include 10 more entrepreneurs, and that still leaves us with more loans which need to be funded.Â If you're reading this, please spread the word around, wouldja?