Returning from India: Reflections on microfinance
Written by Eric Totaro
(Editor’s note: Students from the Ross School of Business did a fantastic job blogging during their summer visit to India. The posts were colorful, fun to read and written by a variety of people. The photos were outstanding. Below is one of the final posts. Read all the others at the Ross Global Initiatives Travel Blog.)
A couple days after returning to the U.S., I’ve begun reflecting on my time in India and how it has broadened my view of the world. In this post, I’d like to focus on our last official trip as a class: a visit to a microfinance firm in Delhi. The bank provides small loans to families and entrepreneurs in a relatively small geographic radius (about 12 kilometers) in sizes up to a couple thousand dollars. Loan recipients often use the money to grow their businesses, invest in their children’s education or renovate their houses.
After a brief presentation we traveled to several recipients’ homes. Seeing firsthand the living conditions of lower-middle class Indians proved to be a humbling experience but also one that revealed many positive aspects of Indian life.
The first home we visited was located down a small alley. With just two rooms that couldn’t have been larger than 250 square feet, I was shocked to hear that at least eight people lived in the space. At the same time, when speaking to the women of the family (who were the only ones home at the time of our visit), I was satisfied to hear that the women had at least an equal say in how the loan money was used.
During the visit at the second family, we heard about the family’s emphasis on education – a common theme in India and one that will likely position the country to prosper in the future. I also felt generously welcomed by the families; the second family offered us food and drinks, for example, and the first made no hesitation to let us enter their home and get comfortable.
Of course we were visiting families the bank had purposely selected to show off. Still, the experience proved invaluably insightful and, like the visit to Dharavi, was a rare glimpse into Indian life. The visit makes me feel fortunate for the resources I have and helps me put things in perspective as an American. For example, returning to Ann Arbor, I felt somewhat ashamed looking at student housing that I had previously complained about as “small” and “cramped.” Many of the less economically fortunate Indians we met nonetheless have achieved great academic success and seem satisfied with their lives, which offers insight into what truly makes us happy.