Milaap's Journey: Women Entrepreneurs Who Rewrote Destiny | Milaap

Milaap's Journey: Women Entrepreneurs Who Rewrote Destiny

An Earnest Vision

June 16, 2010 was an overcast day. The rains were incessant. They flooded cities, lashed at villages. But the ‘Sakhis’ of rural Osmanabad and Solapur, in Maharashtra, India, strode down the dirt roads, selling their Sakhi Retail reading glasses, solar lamps, smokeless stoves, and water filters to fellow-villagers. They would earn a bare Rs. 1000 that month, repaying their local lenders at steep rates. Money was often short. But today, the Sakhis were optimistic.In distant Singapore, a bus trip and 2 airplane flights away, 2 intrepid young men, Sourabh and Anoj, were championing the Sakhis’ cause at the Singapore Management University. To a motley audience of over 50 people who had braved the floods in the city, just to come listen. “The Sakhis are our pilot project. We have seen their work. They serve their people despite the paltry returns. Give them what you’d spend on a pizza. Not as a handout. As a loan. See the magic they’ll work with it,” they urged. (Mayukh, the 3rd founder, would soon join.)They shared their vision, “It will be a new kind of charity. Charity with NO donations, but loans. You will be repaid. A crowdfunding platform that connects the world to the working poor in India. To help them build small sustainable businesses. To help transform entire impoverished communities.” Ambitious words. Earnest words.
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A Modest Beginning

At the end of their presentation, the founders waited. They were hopeful, and anxious at the same time. They didn’t want to let the Sakhis down. They had worked hard on this plan to help the Sakhis. They had devised a solution, working with the Sakhis and their representatives - a branch of Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP), a trusted non-profit in the region. They conducted rigorous interviews. And they shortlisted 20 Sakhis who would use the loans well.

20 was a modest beginning. It was a small step towards the growing impact Milaap’s lending community would one day make possible. So they waited with fingers crossed and bated breath.

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People Had Faith

They did not have to wait long. At the end of that day in Singapore, many among the audience made loans on the spot. Many pledged their support. Their own friends had faith, and gave generous loans to fund the Sakhis - complete strangers. Captivated and curious about how things would work out. They put up a blog that shared their message. Word spread. The loans began to pour in. In a little over a month, the first shortlisted Sakhis were funded.Loan papers were drawn up. Soon, 20 rural women-entrepreneurs received their loans from Milaap’s first ever lenders. Ranging from Rs. 10,000 to Rs. 15,000 per Sakhi, the loans helped them increase inventory and scale up business. Loans from real people who wanted to make a difference meant no more stifling interest rates.[gallery type="rectangular" ids="4594,4593"]

A Year Later...

Every single Sakhi repaid 100% of her loan. The lenders, who had taken such a leap of faith, were thrilled! Boosted by their loans, the Sakhis had taken more orders, grown their inventory. No longer stifled by heavy interest rates, they earned more from each sale. They saved.They invested their savings in their businesses. And they surprised everyone! Every Sakhi from Milaap’s pilot project had started earning almost FOUR times her original income.Kamal, from the village of Dargahalli, was a reluctant participant in the Milaap pilot. A local lender once offered her a loan. Captivated by the possibilities, she had taken the offer. Her family reeled under debt at an interest rate of 24%. She mistrusted loans. A year into the pilot, she was saving for her children’s education, and for a rainy day.Ruksana was saving enough to send her children to college. “I am so proud of her,” beamed her doting husband.And the BIGGEST achievement came from Shaila Patil. She used her savings to setup her own Sakhi Retail store. Her potential unleashed, she turned her Rs. 15,000 loan into a Rs. 77,000 income. [gallery type="rectangular" ids="4599,4597,4598"]

It Was Not Just the Women

There were more amazing surprises. The women’s communities were doing better too! When Shashikala sold more smokeless Oorja stoves and bio-fuel to her fellow-villagers, it wasn’t just her who made a profit. Once people started using these stoves, they had fewer respiratory illnesses. They saved on their fuel expenses. And when Shashikala started selling water filters, the people in her village used their fuel savings to buy the filters from her.Over a year, with access to clean drinking water and reduced smoke, the community had improved in health. And Shashikala had fixed her roof, saving regularly for her old age.[gallery type="rectangular" ids="4602,4601"]When a medical entrepreneur Sakhi was able to stock up on testing equipment and reading glasses, the rural folk in her vicinity flocked to her. Soon, with clearer vision, they were working faster at their carpentry, and sewing. When a Sakhi brought more solar lanterns to her village, the word spread. They can now work past sunset. They earn more. Their children study better. They save more on fuel expenses.Milaap’s pilot was a success! The sustainable small businesses they had set out to finance with affordable loans had, indeed, improved the lives of the Sakhis. They had, indeed, in a small way, transformed the rural communities involved. Milaap’s first lenders, who had reached out to complete strangers in an act of faith, spread the word. Non-profit partners signed up, allowing Milaap to extend its reach across India. [caption id="attachment_4604" align="aligncenter" width="800"]Folks around the village flocked to this medical entrepreneur Sakhi Folks around the village flocked to this medical entrepreneur Sakhi[/caption] 

The Concept Grew Wings

It soared across India. Milaap‘s lenders grew in number. And so did the people seeking this opportunity to uplift themselves out of poverty. Mothers like Lalfakzuali in Mizoram, to the north-east, rewrote not just their own stories. They grew their businesses, hired other women, and changed their lives too. In West Bengal to the east, artisans like Monowara were able to make beautiful ‘jori’ embroidery by the light of their solar lamps - bought with loans from our lenders like you. They now earn more, working past sunset, while their children study beside them.To the south, in rural Tamil Nadu, mothers like Saroja and Nagarani took lessons in basket weaving and many other trades. You opened your hearts to Karnataka’s former Devadasis like Mahananda, who had been discriminated against for years. These mothers setup their own small businesses. Today, their children attend school. Their families have begun to access basic sanitation, clean water, better health - projects that are also supported by Milaap’s lenders.More recently, as Milaap journeyed west, its lenders empowered women entrepreneurs from Gujarat. The Milaap community also joined efforts to revive Gujarat’s artisan crafts. Beautiful garments embellished with traditional patchwork, embroidery, bead-work, and block-printing came to life. And the artisans have slowly begun to prosper.As more underprivileged rural women entrepreneurs sign up for Milaap loans, across India, the Sakhi story repeats itself - families begin their journey out of poverty. And communities benefit, in so many little ways. [gallery type="thumbnails" ids="4608,4622,4619,4621,4620,4610"]

It's Been Four Years Since

This June 2014, Milaap celebrated 4 fulfilling years. Of working with lenders like you, who provided loans with faith in the resilience of India’s working poor. Of championing the empowered poor, who grasped at the opportunity offered, and rewrote their destiny, building their little sustainable enterprises. Of the small transformations they brought about in once-forgotten rural communities across India. Of a vision, given wings by the success of those strong, brave women entrepreneurs in rural Maharashtra, the Sakhis (literally, women-friends).There are so many women still waiting for a chance, a little help, to realize their potential, and change their lives. So many people like you who want to make a difference to the less fortunate. So spread the word. Be their champion. Let’s carry this movement through another 4 years, and more! [gallery type="thumbnails" ids="4626,4624,4625"]

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