BJS is a brand new partner to Kiva, posting their first loan in October of this year, but they have been operating since 2006. BJS believes that providing loans to the underserved is critical, and leads to self-sufficiency, but supplementing with education, health/hygiene training and skill development ensures economic stability. As the organization grows, so do their social services, which they started offering a few years ago. They have arranged everything from eye exam camps and cancer screenings to financial literacy training and jute handicraft sessions for their clients. They even set up an informal school last year for children of migrant workers aged 3-12. There are a large number of migrant seasonal workers, particularly in the brick kiln sector, who live in temporary sheds. The “BJS Siksha Niketan” school provides an opportunity for children of these workers to receive an education instead of going to the worksite with their parents. Besides basic education and skill development, the children are taught values such as sportsmanship, co-operation and discipline with the goal of transitioning into a formal education environment.
One of the most valuable services for clients is Financial Literacy Training, which started last year. As of October 31, 2013 more than 1,700 BJS borrowers have benefited from this educational seminar that is now held monthly among all 10 branch offices of the organization. I had the opportunity to attend two such training sessions- one about 50km from Kolkata at their Baduria branch, and another at the Maynaguri branch in the remote Jalpaiguri region of West Bengal, 750km north of Kolkata.
Both sessions were very well-attended, challenging the room capacity. The women were engaged throughout, nodding their heads, laughing and sharing their own stories. The two-hour session includes a Powerpoint presentation along with videos depicting different money management scenarios. Each lesson is designed to help them use their loan more effectively. It teaches them practices such as earning, spending, saving, borrowing and investing. Just a few hours of financial basics can make a difference in their future success. Receiving the loan is only the first step.
The training materials are provided by ISMW (Indian School of Microfinance for Women) and topics include:
• Fundamentals of financial planning
• Mature borrowing
• Smart savings
• Wise spending
• Intelligent investments
I also had the opportunity to attend the filming of a new video, which will be added to the training program. It features people dressed in animal costumes, which will attract the attention of the rural population- especially those who are illiterate or semi-illiterate. The filming was done under a beautiful banyan tree in a village about 60km outside of Kolkata. There was quite an audience of locals standing behind the two-camera set-up. They watched attentively as acclaimed local director, Biplab Das Gupta, moved in and out of the scene providing notes to the actors. The animals used exaggerated gestures against a musical script of Bengali rhyme. The story begins with a mouse receiving a huge amount of money unexpectedly. The family then spends the money quickly and irresponsibly, leaving them in the same place as before they received it. Following is a motorcycle accident in which the mouse’s son is hospitalized and they can’t cover the expenses, so a money lending fox shows up offering an outrageous and exploitive loan. The lessons become clear.
More than 80% of Financial Literacy Training recipients have expressed their appreciation for the program and found the information to be invaluable. BJS has been able to offer this training free of cost due to third party assistance, but the money flow is inconsistent. Kiva’s 0% capital enables BJS to cover more of the costs themselves, and become less dependent on outside funding. This ensures the continuation of this and other programs, as well as the opportunity to develop new ones.
The relationship between BJS and its clients extends beyond the initial capital investment and repayment plan. They are committed to the socio-economic development of impoverished women, so offering non-financial support moves them closer to that goal. By choosing a BJS borrower through Kiva, you’re not only providing a much-needed loan, you’re also supporting programs that make their money go further, and improve their overall wellbeing. More bang for your buck- who doesn’t love that?
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Shelley is a native Californian who graduated from California State University, Chico with a BA in Communications. After college she backpacked through Europe (as one tends to do) and got her first taste of international travel- her eyes had opened. Upon returning to the States, Shelley entered the production and post-production world, working on-set for independent feature films, followed by a gig as a video editor at a small ad agency. An itch to explore the world returned, so she spent a year teaching English in Japan, learning new business practices and etiquette (always use two hands when presenting a business card!). After Japan, she continued traveling through Southeast Asia where she was confronted with true poverty for the first time. It was an experience she never forgot, and it eventually inspired her first Kiva loan in 2010. Most recently Shelley managed digital marketing at IMAX, where she was responsible for the online promotion of both mainstream films and documentaries. The latter afforded her the pleasure of working with a number of non-profit organizations while overseeing the creation of websites and overall digital/social strategies. But it was while watching- not marketing- a few moving documentaries about the empowerment of women in developing countries that inspired Shelley to vacate her office and step into the field. She is thrilled to help open a new branch in India.