Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Challenge of Inclusive Growth

During my recent visit to Vijayawada I was struck by how beautiful and prosperous the city seemed, despite serious crop losses following the late and heavy rains last year. During my visit to self help groups (SHGs) on Thursday I found out why Vijayawada had triumphed: a lot of hard work.

Interacting with weavers from Atmakur. 
I met groups of women who had borrowed micro loans (between Rs 8,000 and Rs 15,000) from Costal Local Area Bank. (Coastal lends directly to the SHGs and is able to charge just 13 per cent, much less than the micro finance institutions.) Some of the women used the loans to buy buffalos, some for tailoring supplies and a few others to open small shops including a telephone. But they all had one thing in common, they worked long hours every day to build a better life for themselves and their families.

In the village of Atmakur, weavers showed me how they made the beautiful silk and cotton sarees for which the region is famous. I even had a chance to sit behind a loom and try to add a row of thread myself.  Its clear that this is hard, physical labor and I could not imagine how tiring it would be during summer, when the temperature rises as high as 49 degrees. But the weavers were proud of their artistry and independence. Their self help groups had given them pricing power and they had forced buyers to increase what they paid significantly. I can’t wait to have the cloth I bought made up, and I will think about the loom at which I sat and the women I met when I wear this cloth.

The older women I met spoke proudly of their children and many younger women said their earnings were dedicated to educating their sons and daughters. There were mother of several engineers, an MBA graduate and numerous IT workers among the women I met.  In one village, I met a daughter who was visiting her family.  She was employed by a major bank (I didn’t have time to ask her about her employer’s microfinance activities.)

Interacting with women from Self Help Groups

I feel as though the one day I spent in Vijayawada area gave me a greatly improved understanding of how the less privileged are dedicating their energy and initiatives to improve the lives of the next generation. This helps build my confidence that India can meet the challenge of inclusive growth.

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