Luckshmi Sivalingam is a Program Officer for Grameen Foundation’s Solutions for the Poorest program.
Before joining GF, I interviewed fifty clients of a Nepal savings and credit cooperative as part of an impact assessment. I saw that particularly for those living in extreme poverty, the solution to changing their situations can’t be limited to providing access to microfinance’s traditional product: an enterprise loan.
Nearly all the clients I spoke with said that if they’d undergone appropriate skills development or received training on value addition for the goods and services they were selling, then their microenterprises could have generated the additional income required for them to progress out of poverty.
The Solutions for the Poorest team at GF is joining a small but growing group of microfinance practitioners that are looking at how the industry can better meet the needs of the very poor. One approach we are testing couples livelihoods support with microfinance in a financially sustainable manner, contributing to what has been termed the “double bottom line.”
Solutions for the Poorest has partnered with BASIX/The Livelihood School India, a pioneering livelihood promotion institute, to design an integrated and sustainable methodology to provide financial and non-financial services to the extreme poor—individuals that BASIX wouldn’t typically serve through its everyday microfinance activities. Also, my colleague, Malini, and I recently travelled to Calcutta to visit Bandhan’s Targeting the Hard Core Poor (THP) program. THP targets female-headed households, like Shahida Bibi’s, with no or very erratic opportunities to make income. The program provides these women with the skills and assets required to jumpstart a microenterprise. Supplemented with confidence-building measures, this support cultivates a seemingly limitless entrepreneurial spirit.
Shahida, her seven children, and her disabled husband survived on just $2 a week. Shahida was a housemaid, but without any productive skills and regular income, she wasn’t considered creditworthy by other MFIs. THP provided her with four goats to help generate a more consistent income stream. This income has allowed Shahida to provide for her family while also nurturing the habit of saving. In eighteen months, she sold one goat for $43 and diversified her income stream by buying chickens, selling eggs, and later selling coconuts and vegetables to her neighbors. Shahida has now grown into a real business woman, generating a weekly income of Rs. 2,000 (about $42 dollars). She’s already planning for additional ventures.
Addressing the issue of global poverty in a holistic and practical way has made the past month’s immersions in Solutions for the Poorest initiatives an intellectually stimulating and inspiring experience for me. I look forward to continuing our work to propel the bottom billion into the next billion.
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