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A Shopping Mall as a Classroom

>> The following is a post from guest blogger, Rajul Bharti, an Analyst for Accion’s Dialogue on Business training program based in Gujarat, India.

With the Month of Microfinance upon us, I wanted to share a story about the power that financial education can have on its students.

Last month, the staff of Accion’s Dialogue on Business (DOB) entrepreneurship training program wanted to find a way to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8 with our students. We started our thinking along traditional lines of celebration, like a ceremony to congratulate our entrepreneurial students, maybe accompanied by a traditional dance and a snack, but our initial brainstorming didn’t prepare us for the inspirational events that unfolded…

We ended up asking the women themselves how they wanted to celebrate. After all, this was a day to celebrate their independence, so it seemed only fitting! These women—all microentrepreneurs trained by DOB in stitching, tailoring and embroidery work—typically work from home and earn somewhere between 500 and 1500 rupees a month (just U.S. $10–30) just through their embroidery and tailoring projects.

To our surprise, the women chose to do an exposure visit – a field trip for the women to experience something new to them – an idea that we had only briefly considered. One of the most active women in the group strongly supported the idea, but she needed someone to care for her young baby in order to participate. When all the other women offered to take care of the baby in turns, that settled it—an exposure visit it was!

When the discussion began about where the group would go on their exposure visit, one of the women asked about the big glass buildings in the city. We soon realized that the woman was referring to the many shopping malls that dot the landscape of Ahmadabad City.  Many of the others had also noticed the malls before, but had always thought they were exclusively for rich people and that they would not be allowed to enter.  We decided that this would be a perfect place to visit: we wanted to show the women that these malls are inclusive urban spaces created for everyone—and that they were welcome just as much as anyone else was.

The group in front of the entrance of Alpha One.

The group in front of the entrance of Alpha One.

We picked Alpha One, a mall with special wing called Ranino Hajiro that houses a handicraft and traditional ethnic market. We wanted the women to see how some of the products that they help create now are refined and later sold at an outlet like this one. This would allow the women to see just how far their skills and growing enterprise could potentially take them.

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Indian microfinance and music

posted by Alexandra Shaw, ACCION International

This February, I traveled to Bihar in India to interview clients of Saija Finance, an ACCION partner microfinance institution. The people I met ranged from women fish sellers who started work at 4 a.m. to men who pedaled wagons loaded with luggage 30 kms a day. All worked hard, determined to improve their lives and create a brighter future for their children. And each was succeeding with a little help from microfinance. In this video clip, Asha Devi and Sushma Devi, clients of Saija, talk about their mosquito net and dairy businesses and the difference that access to financial services has made in their lives.

In the second week of my trip to India, I visited clients of Swadhaar FinServe, an ACCION partner in Mumbai. My goal was to re-interview some of the people whom ACCION had met two years ago, to see how they had fared with their loans and businesses since then. Sangita Achrekar, papad maker, was my first stop. Two years ago, Sangita had withdrawn a small loan from Swadhaar to buy more raw materials to make and sell more papads. Her business is expanding thanks to ongoing support from Swadhaar. Here is a short clip of my walk with two loan officers into the Kerwadi slum where Sangita lives and runs her papad business. Nearby on my walk, locals blasted music in preparation for a marriage. Enjoy the sound! 

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Lots to see in Lagos

Posted by Alexandra Shaw, ACCION International

Christian is a client of ACCION Microfinance Bank in Lagos, Nigeria. He sells dried fish, a staple in the Nigerian diet that serves as the basis for popular dishes such as spicy egusi soup. He works in a market where more than 30 other vendors sell the same fish. Asked how he differentiates himself and he cites his superior customer service.