Shikhar Microfinance: A Microfinance with a difference

Shikhar came into being with a vision to build an organization to cater to the people who, due to their social location, did not have access to resources and institutions to fulfill their needs and aspirations. Shikhar wanted to bring to these people, an alternate source of borrowing, to help them develop a sense of entrepreneurship which would free them from the clutches of the loan sharks and local money lenders. The envisioned end result of this was to instill in them a sense of self-reliance, self-confidence, resilience and facilitate this institutionswhich meant to serve them.
At the time of inception, Shikhar actively probed into areas that were “financial blackholes”,Obviously, those living in these areas were mentally and physically scarred and their lives spoke of their traumas. No financial institutions made investments in these black listed areas. However, Mr. Chakrapani knew that his vision for Shikhar had to take shape from these neglected spaces and thus, Shikhar Microfinance began its journey. Shikhar has managed to lay the foundation of urban microfinance in a country where there exist vast disparities in economic levels.
A Benevolent Leader                                                                  
Since his childhood, Mr. Chakrapani was exposed to the grassroots, owing to his father who established numerous schools to ensure all the children received a primary and secondary education. It was in these schools that Mr. Chakrapani and his three siblings completed their schooling. Mr. Chakrapani says that he owes his humility to his early school days and he is still connected with his school mates and those with whom he herded animals. It is in the company of these people that he can imagine the impact of microfinance.
He did his masters in History, then finished his degree in law after which he got his Licentiate in Teaching. While working as a consultant, he got introduced to the concept of micro credit and in the following year, the seed of microfinance began to germinate in his mind. Backed up by his strong Gandhian ideals, he enrolled into the Entrepreneurship Development Institute in Gujrat, India, to study Social Entrepreneurship, against the Institution for Development Studies in Colorado. With this experience, he began federating SHGs and helped in designing self-financing health schemes and self reliant cooperatives in various states.
Apart from leading Shikhar Microfinance, Mr. Chakrapani also takes care of his second brain child, ‘Sewa Ashram’, which aims to rehabilitate the poor and destitute in the NCR. It focusses on enabling the destitute to live and die with dignity. It also runs learning centres in various other slums for under privileged children, enabling them to attend formal schooling.
Over the decade, Shikhar has aided thousands of families to grapple with poverty. It is amazing to see an ordinary man like him and his colleagues use ordinary methods, to create extra- ordinary impact on the lives of the marginalized simultaneously creating opportunities for the investors to gain good returns on their investments.
Distinctive and unique serving style
Shikhar has been trying to bridge gaps by making bold moves which can be seen as ‘firsts’ in the Indian microfinance space. Few of these include, introduction of monthly repayment of loans instead of the classical microfinance trend of weekly repayments. Shikhar’s first product, “Redemption Loan”, aimed to liberate people from local moneylenders. Post this, in 2015, while people were struggling to create Jan Dhan accounts, members from Shikhar, went out of their way to physically assist the clients to setup up savings accounts which ensured 100% cashless loan disbursement, amother first! This initiative enabled Shikhar to sail through the demonetization period.
Shikhar has always focused on active “client engagement” wherein clients are facilitated with and assisted on issues related not only to entrepreneurship but also their livelihoods. Seeing that rampant power cuts detered studying and halted household functioning, Shikhar started providing solar products to its clients. Shikhar also partners with Unilever to directly supply PureIt water filters to its clients as water borne diseases are on a continuous rise.
Shikhar recognizes that a healthy and disease free life saves the client from medical expenses and losing work days which leads to losing wages. Shikhar’s holistic approach to the clients’ needs and aspirations ensures that the client’s household cash flow remains intact in dire situations and they don’t fall into a trap of debt. In line with this, a pilot project was conducted recently, in collaboration with Grameen Foundation, on educating the client on usage of bank accounts and inculcating the habit of saving through various bank channels. The project was well accepted by the clients and the outcome of the same would serve as a purpose for enhancing and further strengthening of our financial education model.
Holding true to its values
Shikhar serves people who have been denied fundamental opportunities. There exists a glass ceiling between them and their aspirations which comes in the form of social exclusion in various spheres of life. This is the ceiling that Shikhar aims to shatter.
One value that Shikhar continues to uphold is to see that every human being is made in the same likeness thus making everyone equal and equally able. Keeping this in mind, there exists a relationship of trust and belief between Shikhar, as an organization, and its clients. Shikhar has used this relationship to bridge gaps among communities based on caste, creed and culture, thus a counter culture being created. It also aims to ensure women’s economic freedomin the communities that it works with. After ten years of strenuous and devoted efforts,through measured, practical steps, Shikhar is seeing its dreams in action.
Road Ahead
The road ahead is paved with challenges for micro finance institutions (MFIs) yet they continue to grow because of a circle of trust among the institution, investors and client households. In this arena, Shikhar has the aim to reach out to 200 thousand household by the year 2022. To fulfil this goal, Shikhar is in conversation with few strategic investors.  These partnerships will ensure that Shikhar achieves its goal to serve underserved geographies and households thus ensuring thatall stakeholders maximise their value too.
The future for MFIs in general seems to be moving forward exponentially, because of the very model of business that MFIs follow. There exists a flexibility and agility when it comes to providing services to the underpriviledged demographics. The challenge in dealing with this demographic also ensures that the business model doesn’t remain stagnant, instead has a dynamic growth. A good example of this is how the local cash based economy has recovered after demonetisation. In fact, in the last financial year, there was a 40% growth in investor equity. There is a viable expectation from MFIs and Shikhar is excited to see what is in store for them in the future.
Source :-The 10 Most Admired Non Banking Financial Companies In 2018

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