In my recent trip to visit microfinance programs in India, I had the opportunity to meet with a number of microcredit borrower groups in both urban and rural environments.
One of the most interesting experiences I had was observing the personal confidence and empowerment of women who were engaged in ongoing microfinance borrowing. I met with a number of borrowers who had been borrowers for 3, 4 or more years. This means that most of them were on their 3rd, 4th or later loan cycle (as loan cycles are typically 1 year). These women were demonstratably excited to have us “foreigners” sitting down with them at one of their weekly center meetings. After they finished their formal/normal business or interacting with the microfinance loan officer, we had the opportunity to ask them questions through a translator. They were very eager to respond to our questions … telling us [proudly] about their businesses, their challenges, what they were able to do with their profits, their new business ideas, what they would do with larger loans, etc. We were talking very much like peers–business person-to-business person–which I really enjoyed.
I contrast this with another group of borrowers I met with who were about 6 weeks into their first loan cycle. This group was very shy and would not offer us much in response to our questions — even just simple ones about their needs, their families, etc. Now part of this is probably attributable to how early they were in being able to leverage their loans and drive results. I wondered if some of this was cultural … were we meeting with women who were poorer, of a different religion or other cultural differences which would account for this difference in response? The loan officers assured us that this group was almost identical in their background to the other groups with the exception that they were newer to microfinance.
I had heard about how microfinance empowers women. Now I have seen it. The loan officers we met with say that they see this again and again as women grow in their confidence and self-worth as they continue to run their businesses, pay back loans and earn additional profits which they then get to invest in their families and to further expand their business efforts. But there’s nothing better than experiencing this firsthand!
Have others out there found similar or different experiences?