BWDA Finance Limited: Driving Financial Inclusion for Underprivileged People

Mobilization and circulation of finance is the primary requirement of development of an economy. In the current scenario, financial institutions are the robust pillars of progress, economic growth, and development of the economy. Financial Inclusion is one of the fastest growing socio-economic sectors in India that aims to provide financial services at affordable costs to the underprivileged people. Access to safe, easy and affordable credit and other financial services for the poor and vulnerable groups are the key factors in accelerating the growth and reducing income disparities and poverty.

With the vision to develop poverty free, prosperous, equitable and sustainable society, BWDA Finance Limited (BFL) works for the financial inclusion of low-income households. Bullock-cart Workers Development Association (BFL’s parent NGO), was one of the pioneers of the Self Help Group (SHG) movement in Tamil Nadu. It was founded with the primary objective of rendering selfless, dedicated and yeomen service to bullock cart workers, laborers, rural artisans, poor and needy women and children in the regions of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Pondicherry, and Andaman & Nicobar Islands. BWDA believes in the holistic development of its beneficiaries. Presently, BFL undertakes microfinance operations while BWDA focuses on the development activities and projects.

Distinctive Financial and Capacity Building Services

BFL offers market-oriented financial services and other credit plus services to improve financial inclusion and access for low-income households, who are marginalized and unbanked. BFL facilitates access to a bouquet of formal financial services such as savings, credit, remittance, pension, and insurance. BFL primarily provides services to beneficiaries through the SHG model. Additionally, it caters to JLGs (Joint Liability Groups) as well as individuals.

BFL offers various loan products to meet the credit requirements for livelihood activities, income generating programs, microenterprises, education expenses, medical expenses and consumption needs of the client. It also facilitates water credit to ensure safe drinking water and hygienic sanitation to its beneficiaries. The Widows and Destitute Welfare initiative links the most stigmatized women in the society to skilling and credit to set up and run their own microenterprises.

BFL firmly believes that financial inclusion i.e. delivery of financial services at affordable cost to low-income segments of society and the linking of the poor to mainstream financial services coupled with the capacity building are the key factors of empowerment. BFL spreading its roots in BWDA facilitates for holistic development of beneficiaries and works with BWDA to contribute in 14 out of the 17 United Nations’ sustainable development goals.

An Ingenious Leader of BWDA

“Without hard work, no fruit can be expected”

Dr. Joslin Thambi, the Founder and Managing Director have been a model of hard work, simplicity, and perseverance for the society. BWDA had its humble beginning in 1985 with a cycle, a typewriter, Rs.2500 and a passionate 28-year old who wanted to empower the marginalized people. Hailing from a family as the 8th child, whose prime breadwinner was a bullock-carter and experiencing the turmoil first hand, Joslin wanted to work for the empowerment of bullock-cart workers. His contributions are well balanced, shaping the underprivileged society with holistic development. Today, through various initiatives, Joslin’s efforts have empowered 5.4 million beneficiaries.

Successful Journey over the Years

Bullock-cart Workers Development Association (BWDA) was established on 2nd October 1985 by Dr. Joslin Thambi and was registered in 1986 under the Tamil Nadu Societies Registration. In 1988, BWDA started forming Self Help Groups (SHGs) of bullock cart workers’ families to build self-sufficiency and facilitate poverty alleviation. In 1992, BWDA started working with other low-income households and also linked SHGs to local banks to meet their credit needs for managing their livelihood and income-generating activities. Later in 1999, BWDA started direct lending to improve access to finance to empower the underprivileged in Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, and Andaman & Nicobar Islands and to supplement loans from banks.

In 2003, BWDA acquired an NBFC, renamed as BWDA Finance Limited (BFL) to streamline its financial inclusion operations. BWDA resumed lending activities under the Business Correspondent Model in 2012 in partnership with Yes Bank. BWDA works as the BC of Yes Bank, IDBI and SBI to facilitate financial inclusion of members. BFL has two well know institutional investors, SIDBI and Dia Vikas and caters to member needs through direct lending and an esteemed business associate partnership with SBI.

Making the World a Better Place with its Strong Initiatives

BWDA has a member base of 36,221 Self Help Groups and JLGs with 6,09,559 members. BWDA has facilitated credit linkage of INR 1386.78 Crores to 1, 29,212 groups with 15,34,723 members. The B-WASH (BWDA Water Sanitation and Hygiene) Program has developed 8767 toilets and 2829,935 water connections by facilitating water credit of INR. 3514.41 lakhs.

Empowerment is collective and it is done through empowering the women of the family first, followed by children and other household members.  BWDA and BFL are working for the holistic development of the household. Financial inclusion caters to members’ financial needs. The company’s health programs create awareness, access to basic health services and dedicated access for TB. The company’s child welfare program rescues children in danger and creates awareness on child protection through the Childline initiative, provides summer learning avenues for rural children. BWDA’s BWaaSH programs provide access to low-cost water credit for development of water connections and toilets.

BWDA’s education initiatives offer formal education through two schools and two colleges. Furthermore, the company’s senior citizen program empowers the aged people. Women empowerment programs offer capacity building, widows and destitute welfare, livelihood development, microenterprise development, access to fair priced goods.

BWDA’s relief and rehabilitation program supports low-income households in dire situations like floods, fires, and other natural calamities. The animal welfare program caters to the needs of our member’s livestock. There are also many other programs that address almost all requirements of our beneficiaries.

Converting Challenges into Opportunities

The social development and financial inclusion sectors are fast evolving and largely driven by disruptive innovations. Staying relevant to the funding institutions and matching the needs of the beneficiaries and their adaptability to the disruptive solutions are challenges for the company. Further, data analytics and digitalization is becoming important and keeping the human component relevant is imperative. Also strengthening of the human capital (staff and beneficiaries) to match these innovative delivery methodologies involves resources and time. Many international donor institutions, seek to work with larger players resulting in lack of support for medium and small institutions. Finding the right people with passion and service mind is a challenge, as they hail from different backgrounds and their mindset has to be molded in a way that is appealing and upholding the basic belief of the institution.

BFL has been certified as an NBFC – MFI, which equips BFL to reach out to more banks and financial institutions; which will help serve our beneficiaries better. BFL also has plans to expand to other states. The needs and adaptability of beneficiaries differ based on demographics, local status quo, social and cultural factors, income attributes etc. Rolling out a program requires a clear understanding of the social dynamics and good relationship with the opinion leaders and other members in the PRI hierarchy. With over 33 years of grass root level presence, BFL has a very good grass-root level relationship and a clear understanding of member needs. BWDA Self Help Groups have even celebrated their 20th and 25th-year anniversaries. BFL in partnership with BWDA is looking towards expanding its work to smart agriculture, climate change, and resilient livelihoods. The company has a dynamic Board, a zealous Managing Director, a highly experienced and passionate senior management team and a proficient staff team. BFL has been giving focused effort towards knowledge and innovation for beneficiaries.

Believe in Customer Satisfaction

BFL offers market led customized products for beneficiaries. There are no hidden costs, no wishy-washy terms, and conditions, no partiality based on caste or religion or other factors. It offers a bouquet of financial services to meet all needs of members coupled with a whole ambit of development initiatives.

BFL is transparent and adopts proper client protection principles to ensure that all terms and pricing is clearly communicated to members. BFL adopts all guidelines of the regulator to the letter to create a conducive environment for its beneficiaries.

Dynamic Future of the Company

With “25 by 25” slogan, BFL will facilitate the financial inclusion of over 25 lakh households by 2025. BWDA Finance Limited, currently an NBFC – MFI aims to become a Small Finance Bank to cater better services for beneficiaries. The company is dedicated to implementing innovative solutions to cater to the needs of beneficiaries.

BFL will explore new methods to ensure sustainable development and address the existing issues of the poor. BFL programs will be aligned with the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Progressing forward with a positive approach, the company’s new programs will be initiated in additional areas such as climate change, smart agriculture, clean energy, food security.