Guardian Microfinance, Thirucchirapalli It doesn't look like one, for sure. It looks like an urban housing project (or colony, as it's called in India) with residents living in genteel poverty. Clean, without the pervading, noxious smell that identifies a slum far more quickly than any display of squalor.The area is Gorimedu. With us are two Guardian field operatives, Mr. Senthil and Mr. Selvan, showing us the ropes. The people in the area are warm towards the two men, and all of us are at ease. It is obvious that Guardian has sown much good-will here, but how? Guardian was incorporated in 2007, mainly for catering to the water financing in the region. In that respect it is a successor of sorts to Gramalaya, which has been involved in water development for nearly two decades. Guardian is more specialised, concentrating essentially on watsan (water and sanitation) financing.Mr. Paul Sathianathan, executive director of Guardian, is an ex-government employee who understands all too well the need to promote products that fufill the populace's specific needs, and the importance of developing achievable repayment schedules. Hence the niche concentration. Since its incorporation, Sathianathan and his team have sent members to other, established micro finance initiatives for training and exposure, and have also developed strong community bonds in their area of influence.
Paul Sathianathan, Executive Director, Guardian MFIThe organisation has gradually put the basics in place through small operations catering for nine blocks in Trichy district. It can justly claim to have a firm grasp on the needs of the people, the relevant financial structure, and is ripe for replication and scaling up.Take for instance, its understanding of local conditions. The second site of the field visit, Wannarapettai, is an area with a low water table, making surface level taps costly.Guardian developed a beautifully simple solution: a concrete tank dug down to the water table level, near the water connection of each household, which supplies water to the house and serve as an open storage tank as well. The people involved in the building of the structure are also familiar with its working, reducing the time required for later replications.
Low water table tank at Wannarapettai.Which brings us to the main focus of Guardian. The organisation is obsessed with standardisation. Any innovation, be it in the solutions for water issues, or for the financial repayment schedules, are implemented across the board, so that once the innovation is in place, subsequent occurences are solved by a paint by the numbers process. As Ramya, one of the credit officers remarks, "initially I would ramble, explaining everything I could to the groups that lined up for loans. Now I finish haranguing them in a matter of minutes, I know what is relevant and what is not, and they follow the instructions to the letter,"The processes set in place by Guardian run on well worn grooves. Their field operatives are well known, well respected; their solutions, often innovative, appear almost prefabricated, so natural, so familiar do they become thanks to the standardisation proces.Later in the evening, we participate in the Longest toilet queue event, set in the Cauvery Bridge. It is an event organised by water.org, to celebrate World Water Day, and Guardian, along with other affiliated initiatives, rouse up a queue exceeding 500 people. They are perfectly disciplined, not disturbing traffic throughout, and disperse with equal reserve. Later, we learn more about the credit situation and water.org's involvement with Guardian.
Longest toilet queue, surely?