The Mega Micro Inst – Dhan Foundation
For the last 15 years or so whenever i visit Madurai for Business or pilgrimage, i make it a point to visit the temple of Social action and entrepreneurship – the Dhan Foundation, founded by my classmate Vasimalai (with me in the photograph).
In the initial years i could see his energy, his vision, the founding principles. But the scale and breadth of his initiatives were still not totally manifest. Much like a Sachin Tendulkar after the first 3-4 matches for India. So every once in 3-4 years i was catching up or when he was in Delhi. A slightly late morning flight back to Delhi gave me 35-40 minutes time to catch up with Vasi and
the opportunity to refresh and update. But this time it was truly astounding in the meganess of what has been achieved. A few samplers:
i. Micro finance was their start point. It has spread to several to liberate them from the money lenders usurious nature by pooling resources. By now the SHGs have a corpus of over Rs 600 cr and levered funds from banks of over Rs 1100 cr. Supporting some 11-12 lac beneficiaries.
ii. I used to see some water bodies here and there as samplers but i dont think the numbers were in high 3 digits back then. Now the score is over 4000 water bodies and tanks revived. And work on several cascade of tanks, individual tanks and systems in progress.
iii. Community insurance which leverages some of government schemes together with self resources benefits some 17 lac people – mind boggling. It covers not just what the govt and insurance companies cover but old age life insurances beyond 50 and 60, funeral expenses (a dignified death is as important in our society as in several African communities), medical, crop, cashflow, etc. Members pool their resources and divide the risks and is an out and out community based initiative where the role of Dhan is capacity building and help in scaling up.
iv. They have several initiatives for removal of poverty on sustainable (perhaps irreversible) basis. A unique scheme where the target beneficiary him/herself have to come and declare that they are out of poverty – not based on some criteria determined and remotely declared. It has been running last 10 years and covers some 900,000 families and so far over 248,000 of them have declared themselves to be over the line. Initiatives differ from place to place and person to person and based again on individual capacity building. There is healthcare initiatives, orphanage, and sanitation too.
v. Starting from 2-3 districts, the foundation is working today in several states (14 if i recollect right) and 19 districts within Tamil Nadu and RBI which has assigned them 25 village for some finance related intervention. It has over 800 staff and over 3000 community workers. It has a university, training over 15 people per batch aiming to train them in social intervention initiatives. The effort started with Tata’s substantial contribution but is self sustaining now (guess anything else would have been against the spirit with which Dhan runs) and concentrates not just on skill building thru case studies (a la IIM Ahmd of which he is an alumni) and theories… ‘most of our efforts are aimed at bringing about mind set change and imbibing appropriate and functional attitudes’.
If only the Govt locates a few such foundations India will be very soon done with the business of poverty removal and the cottage, SME and Mega industries that thrive in their name on the oxygen of siphoned off funds which have to perpetuate the very thing they are trying to get rid of so that they stay relevant.
I must confess that what keeps taking me back again and again to Dhan is an incident in my first visit. He (Vasi) had despatched me to one of his SHG groups and me and a colleague had an interview with the leader + some members of local SHG from the dis-advantaged section (if things are not misunderstood, from ST community). It took all of 2 minute to get impressed with her confidence she exuded and the grip and depth on the subject. It was extra ordinary work by Dhan i thought and it has attracted me over and over again and each time something more happens to be impressed with has taken me there the next time.
What has enabled you to reach such extraordinary levels i dared to ask this time. In fact this time the scale was far too striking and hence almost compulsive in my ask. ‘We do not run anything. It is all community based initiatives by the beneficiaries themselves. And we insist they contribute financially also to the schemes. Our role is only capacity building and I believe we have acquired some expertise in scaling up’ was the rather humble reply from Vasi,of whose orgn 5 case studies have been put out incl one in Harvard’s website.
(Numbers are as recollected based on today’s conversation. You may want to check the website). Next time you are in Madurai, please make Dhan Foundation a part of your pilgrimage. I will assist you in whatever way. You will be better off for it.