Nearly 10 years ago, urban microfinance was practically nonexistent in India. The reason? Potential investors and entrepreneurs believed existing models of group lending that were effective in rural communities couldn’t be replicated in urban communities.
We carefully studied the landscape in India. By combining our knowledge of the sector with on-the-ground surveys and pilots in urban slums, we were convinced that urban microfinance in India was as scalable – if not more scalable – than rural microfinance. We have always believed that with the right product, focus and passion, coupled with relevant approaches and aligned investors, new markets could be catalyzed. With that in mind, in 2006, we set out to establish a strong urban microfinance industry through equity investments and grants to early-stage, high-potential Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) including early innovators Ujjivan and Janalakshmi. Today, the urban microfinance market in India has an estimated seven million clients.
With the success of urban microfinance, we’ve shifted our focus from vanilla group credit products to specialized credit services that help to enable financial inclusion (individual small business loans, education loans) and savings related products. We’re also promoting digital financial services because they increase access and inclusion while reducing costs. Our urban financial inclusion investments are made against three primary criteria. First, a client or customer-centric approach with a focus on developing a range of products (including microsavings, MSME loans and micromortgages) and services to meet customers’ needs. We also look to organizations with the ability to scale and cost-effectively reach an increasing number of clients. Finally, the strength of the institution’s and entrepreneur’s commitment to its double bottom line – not just financial growth, but positive impact on the quality of life of its clients.
In addition to receiving much needed capital, our partners have benefitted in multiple ways: achieving greater market recognition, within and outside India; gaining access to a network of investors, advisors and influencers; and finding the patient and socially-focused voice of the foundation very valuable in achieving a double bottom line.