In 2006, Muhammed Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work–that’s when two people stumbled upon the concept of microcredit. They read about microcredit from an Indian perspective and realised that interest rates in the space were exorbitant—it hovered anywhere between 36 and 40 per cent annually. They read media reports on the plight of borrowers of microcredit in Andhra Pradesh who committed suicides because of their inability to pay loans. They thought microcredit was indeed a powerful tool to help people come out of poverty and the two decided to do something about it. That’s how Ram and Smita’s Rang De was born.
Andhra Pradesh’s Ramakrishna NK and Bangalorean Smita Ramakrishna created India’s first micro-lending platform in Chennai (now based in Bangalore) on Republic Day in 2008 to connect the haves and have-nots in a manner that keeps the community’s best interests at heart. To provide affordable microcredit to the poor was, and remains, Rang De’s key objective. Rang De now collects social capital provided by over 8,500 socially conscious individuals across the globe and ensures that it reaches the borrowers at low costs.
In October, Rang De partnered with OnePlus on an online campaign entitled ‘The Power of One’ where 25 lucky social investors (individuals who have contributed to the loans of rural entrepreneurs) were selected each day and awarded a OnePlus 2 invite. Similarly, the top 250 contributors got invites and the highest contributor got a chance to spend an exclusive dinner with musician Raghu Dixit. The global technology startup brought in Rs. 5,82,200 in the five-day campaign.
Smita said they carry out field trips with social investors, many of whom belong to their corporate partners, and organise Rangdezvous, a quarterly gathering held at the offices of a corporate partner where they feature inspirational individuals who are making a difference to rural India.
“We aim to support social innovation through the hands of socially conscious individuals and have chapter groups in Pune, Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata, Delhi, Jaipur, Dubai, UK and the US,” she said. “These individuals have set up online campaigns to help spread the message of Rang De— Ripudaman Pachauri and three of his friends went on an east-to-west coast road trip in the United States in September; IIT alumni Siddharth Agarwal carried out a campaign ‘Walking Back To My Roots’ last December where he attempted to walk 600 km through Rajasthan in extreme winter conditions, raising Rs. 38,700 for rural entrepreneurs; the Pune chapter raised Rs. 1,58,600 in a barefoot 21-km marathon carried out by members of the Pune chapter in October.”
She added that earlier, their focus had only been on providing microcredit to small-scale businesses such as tailoring, grocery and dairy sellers among others. Now, they have begun work in the sectors of agriculture, waste segregation, handicrafts and artisan work.
“We aim to grow deeper and wider in the coming years, touching a million lives by 2020,” Smita said.
Talking about rang De’s impact, Smita said that their pool of social investors has grown considerably with 1,619 individuals joining them in 2015, contributing Rs 1.66 cr this year.
“Many of these are a result of our various outreach programs and initiatives with corporate partners that, together with our online funders, have impacted 8,131 rural individuals,” she said.
Smita shares the experience of a corporate volunteer, who after two field visits, was overwhelmed by the impact that a small deed has on rural farmers and is determined to strengthen the fight against poverty.
Mobin Daniel, 26, works with Ernst & Young as an advanced associate and has been part of the Bangalore chapter since February. Having gone on two field visits, he found the whole experience of working with Rang De as a corporate volunteer an inspiring one.
“We just see the profiles of these borrowers online but when I actually went there and saw the people from the village near Mysore that we were investing in, I was amazed by the work that Rang De does,” he told Rang De. “Going for a field trip gave me a lot of information about your Rs 100 and what kind of an impact it makes somewhere in India. All the farmers come to meet you. You don’t even know the person but your Rs 100 goes there and the family situation changes, the entire society’s way of thinking changes. I am hoping to grow the chapter in Bangalore in 2016 so that we can get more people involved from the corporate sector to help in the fight against poverty.”
Having disbursed Rs. 40 crores as low cost loans with interest rates lower than the lowest prescribed by India’s central bank, impacting over 41,000 low income households across India, Rang De aims to reach a stage where Rs 5 crore worth of loans are given to rural entrepreneurs every month, Smita said.
“We have over 8,500 socially conscious individuals who operate as social investors and we are looking to grow that amount rapidly in order to bring about a holistic change in the social change landscape,” she said. “We want as many people as possible started on this road that our country needs more of us to walk on.”
She added, “In terms of our CSR initiatives, we have agreements with a number of corporates to implement campaigns that aim to inspire social change through the Rang De platform next year.”
All images are courtesy of Rang De.