You cannot grow up in India without knowing of suffering. Poverty is sown into the fabric of our country. It is vast and does not discriminate. It surrounds us from the beggars on the street to the women and men who take care of our children, clean our houses and drive our cars. Our wealth gap widens everyday while resources for the poor shrink. There is a disconnect between the rich and poor in our country that runs deeper than money. After all, more money can just mean more problems.
Those born into privilege feel a sense of helplessness witnessing so much destitution which then hardens into indifference. It can be difficult in our busy lives to identify one meaningful avenue to contribute to the development of our society. As a result, those of us with comfortable lives try to separate ourselves from the uncomfortable. It is difficult to see pain in others because we are designed to identify it as our own or empathise.
The call of the hour is for platforms that can bridge the ever-widening class gap in India.
In 2008, social entrepreneurs Smita Satish and Ramakrishna NK recognised there was a necessity to create user-friendly avenues that allow people to make simple and smart investments in their country. They wanted to eradicate poverty in India by adapting the microfinancing model developed by Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus to tackle poverty in Bangladesh. It is a model that empowers everyone in society by enabling small businesses to flourish. To release low-income households from the clutches of exploitative money lenders and banks, they must be provided with fair opportunities for growth.
When poor people in India are paying interest rates of 45%(APR) or more, access and affordability to credit becomes a critical area for helping people overcome poverty.
And so, RangDe was established by Smita and Ram online as the first social peer to peer lending(P2P) platform in India. Their mission has been to empower entrepreneurs from disadvantaged backgrounds by giving them access to low interest loans and credit that will allow them to create sustainable livelihoods. Rang De, as the name suggests, adds colour to a bleak situation by creating a bridge between rich and poor communities. Through this channel, social investors are connected with entrepreneurs who can then borrow peer to peer personal loans. This social enterprise disrupts our view of poverty as reflecting deficiencies to an issue of accessibility that can be rectified through collective effort.
Rang De allows for the same loan to be recycled once it is paid back with below market interest. This is a most effective feature that allows a continuous flow of money to-and-from poor entrepreneurs. Suppose I chose to invest Rs. 500 towards helping a village woman buy a sewing machine and materials, I will not only get back this money with interest but can also allow it to be recycled automatically to someone else in need. With virtually no loss to the investor, they play a crucial role in allowing others to have the same opportunities as them. On the other hand, there is a world of gain for the entrepreneur who is uplifted through their own hard work rather than a handout.
The process empowers both the social investor and entrepreneur by ensuring dignity and integrity in their interaction.
Imagine your dhobiwalla. The only way for him to unload the weight of the clothes on his back is to return them to their rightful place. While he has to carry this heavy weight, once he’s distributed all the clothes across houses he is relieved of this burden on his back. Privilege is carrying the weight of having access to opportunities everyday — it must and can be distributed for everyone in our society to have access to building the life they deserve. Even if we each took the money we already spend on a weekend meal, it would go a long way to impact poor entrepreneurs across the country.
Through this model, the borrowers step away from poverty and toward becoming the agent of their own life.
When I was 14 years old, I too wanted to be a part of something bigger. I knew we all had the capacity to contribute to the cause of ending poverty in India, regardless of age or financial capacity. When I interned with Rang De as a copywriter, I got to read hundreds of stories about people across our country who yearned for better lives. Today, I continue to see the world through the lens Rang De gave me — big issues can be overcome through small efforts. Whether it is spreading the word or becoming a social investor, we all have a part we can play in the microfinance movement.
I urge you to go to rangde.in to start investing in fellow Indians today. Be a part of something bigger. This is your opportunity to be the change you want to see in the world. Your country needs you. Invest in your India. Rang de!