The next generation of microfinance

Ever heard of the Honey Bee Network? It’s a brilliant organization dedicated to collecting and spreading information about grassroot-level innovation happening in the remotest of locations in India and around the world. It was founded by Prof. Anil Gupta who teaches at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. Till date, the National Innovation Foundation (NIF), which works closely with the Honey Bee Network to take these innovations mainstream, has in its database 1.4 lakh inventions from over 500 districts in the country, and has filed 220 patent applications. From scooter-powered flour mills (the Aamir Khan-invented scooter we see Kareena Kapoor riding in the final scene of the movie 3-Idiots was actually invented by 49-year old Jehangir Painter in Jalgaon town in Maharashtra) to an exercise-cycle-cum-washing machine, we have seen several such simple yet very useful inventions. I am writing about the Honey Bee Network to emphasize a single point that has largely gone unnoticed. The underprivileged poor in India do have a mind. There is intelligence, ability and the willingness to create. And, slowly but surely, microfinance institutions in India are tapping into this ability. Though the focus of the microfinance world has been on providing loans and creating simple micro-enterprises, the primary reason why the concept works is because they are tapping the minds of the underprivileged in India.

Our cover story in this edition of The Smart CEO aims to uncover the future of the microfinance industry in India. To gather a first hand perspective, we discussed the sector with several entrepreneurs, investors and industry specialists. Samit Ghosh, the founder of Ujjivan Microfinance helped us understand the operational aspects of the sector. From managing people at the branch level to strategies that are formulated by professionals in the corporate office, we take our readers through the nuances of running an MFI. We also chatted with Sandeep Farias, founder and MD at Elevar Equity and Venky Natarajan, managing director at Lok Capital to understand the workings of MFIs from an investor perspective. As in most other sectors, everything from interest rates to multiple lending attracts a lot of conversation and debate, but there is general consensus on one aspect. MFIs are now an integral part of the financial system in our country. Innovation and technology driven operation models will play a key role in shaping up the future of the sector.

As always, the Starting Up and Growth Enterprise sections feature a range of dynamic companies from various sectors.  The story of The Loot, the Mumbai-based multi-brand discount retail chain, that offers a discount all year round, is a lesson for early-stage entrepreneurs on establishing a sound differentiation in ones product or service. Over the last six years The Loot has scaled up to 145 outlets across India, maintaining an annual growth rate of over 55 percent. The other startup we’re featuring, the IDG Ventures-funded Ozone Media is an online advertising network that connects advertisers with web-publishers. Their analytics driven strategy to target ads to relevant online audiences has helped them consistently maintain a three-digit percentage growth over the last three years.

Also featured in this edition is the story of Vardenchi Motorcycles, founded by Akshai Varde. They cater to a niche audience, selling fully customized Royal Enfield motorcycles under the brand name, Vardenchi. Over the last four years, Varde has hand-built over seventy motorcycles completely redesigned to suit an individual customer’s taste. Varde’s business journey is a case of an ambitious young entrepreneur following his passion and striving to ensure the passion can be converted into a sustainable business venture through sound planning, sheer dedication and hard work.

We hope you enjoy reading this edition of The Smart CEO.

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