Ever thought how a bare minimum amount of Rs 100 that you spend on that cuppa cappuccino or that mug of beer could be invested for a noble cause? This Bengaluru-based husband-wife duo did and is burning the midnight oil by working tirelessly for their venture, India’s first micro-lending platform, Rang De.
City-based Smita Ramakrishna and Ramakrishna NK aim to address poverty in India through microcredit and they have popular names like Raghu Dixit, Waheeda Rehman, Nagesh Kukunoor and others as brand ambassadors.
No mean feat this. Not even baby steps we think; rather, a giant leap, that’s seen the day of light through a network of field partners and social investors working to improve business, education, health and environment of the impoverished communities. All this is being done by harnessing the power of the Internet.
They are actively bringing about social change with their unique model, where social investors get an opportunity to make a meaningful difference to other people’s lives.
Co-founder and chief impact officer Smita Ramakrishna who holds a Masters degree in social work and has worked for oganisations in India and UK (Oxfam and Oxfordshire City Council) shares, "We are working towards grassroot socio-economic growth to give Indians from all walks of life an opportunity to get involved in development. Our borrowers pay interest ranging for their collateral free loans. Investors get a nominal return of two per cent per annum, but many donate that back to Rang De. We give credit support to people to start a livelihood, scale up an existing business, educate them, empower women, restore traditional art and craft and improve farming. We’re presently working in 15 states (including Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Manipur)."
Ramakrishna NK, an engineering graduate from Guntur and a 2011 Ashoka Fellow who has prior experience in the technology space with leading IT firms, reveals where he got the capital to initiate this humongous project.
"We invested the founding capital of £6,000 with our own savings. Soon we had social investors through whom we crowd-sourced funds online, besides Tata Trust, ICICI Foundation, NABARD and the World Bank. We have also received support from many corporates," says Ram who was a consultant for Vignette Europe Limited, UK.
So how did he get the idea, we ask and Ram shares, "Muhammed Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize and that’s when we stumbled upon the concept of microcredit. We realised that interest rates in the space were exorbitant and borrowers in Andhra Pradesh had committed suicides because of their inability to pay loans. That’s when the idea of Rang De was born using microcredit to help people in need." They have collected social capital provided by over 9,400 socially conscious individuals across the globe reaching the borrowers at low costs.
"We don’t want people to donate, but to invest and our repayments have rarely defaulted," states Smita. And when they’re not living their passion of giving back to the society, Smita adds, "I like doing pottery and yoga, while Ram loves running and swimming."