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The cornerstone of any successful global poverty alleviation movement is the irrepressible desire of people to improve their situation, and to succeed for themselves. The marginalised poor reach out for any available means to better their livelihood, taking advantage of any skill and opportunity. ICICI Bank provides them with the means by giving them micro-finance.


roadly speaking, micro-finance pertains to the financial service extended to or operating among the underprivileged sections of society, including instruments for savings, credit and insurance. Micro-credit has emerged as a powerful tool to initiate economic and social transformation among the disempowered, particularly women, while making them partners in development.

The ICICI group has for long recognised the importance of developing and supporting micro-credit initiatives in India. Much before the financial market started realising micro-finance as an enabler in channelling credit to the poorer section of society, ICICI had started associating with micro-finance agencies by providing financial support to these organisations. Realising that the micro-finance providers require not just finance but also institutional support by way of technical support, training, etc., the Company formed a separate group in 2000 called the Social Initiatives Group. This action-based research group helps build the capacities of the poor, and thereby enables them to contribute meaningfully to the economy and society. The group has identified micro-finance, primary education and infant mortality reduction as thrust areas of work. The group is also planning to use technology in dissemination and support of micro-credit products.

ICICI Bank is focusing on micro-credit in a big way. It has taken the lead in financing micro-credit organisations across the country. It provides financial assistance to micro-finance institutions and also by providing assistance to the ultimate borrowers directly. Most of the borrowers are women. Based on the needs of the farmers, the bank has provided timely credit.

With the merger of Bank of Madura with ICICI Bank, the Bank has acquired a vast network of Self-Help Groups (SHGs) consisting of women, developed by Bank of Madura without any external interface or NGOs. At present, there are 2,124 SHGs spread over 13 districts in Tamil Nadu with more than 40,000 members. The SHGs were developed over a period of five years. There is a separate division of rural development that is dedicated to the development of SHGs. This division has a highly experienced and committed team of personnel, which has developed a unique approach towards lending to the poor.

SHGs are in real terms self-managing groups, who, after initial training, handle all aspects of accounting and finance of the group. The group members are entrusted with the responsibility of maintaining accounts, determining the loan amounts to be given to individual members, deciding on future course of action, etc. Finance provided to the group members is based on actual requirements of the activity planned to be taken up by the members. The loan amount is decided by the group members mutually. There is no margin stipulation for availing of the loan. The facilitators (Bank employees) form the group, provide initial training to the group on various aspects of group dynamics, finance and accounting, help develop group cohesiveness and attend meetings to oversee the overall group functioning. The group leader is provided inputs on management, health care, legal awareness and civic sense.

Community development ?the SHG way
ICICI Bank has evolved a unique approach towards SHG development that not only focuses on financial assistance for women but also on developing social awareness leading to work on common social activities like adult education, cleanliness drives, improved sanitation, resolution of water problems, etc. The main objective of SHG promotion is not only to provide financial assistance, but also to touch other important intangible aspects of social life by creating basic awareness, imparting training on health care, promotion of religious and intercaste harmony, providing fundamental education for rural women, inculcating the habit of saving, and identifying and upgrading the skills of rural women in order to increase their level of income generation by introducing the concept of entrepreneurship.

Apart from this, the general problems of members are discussed and solved in meetings. The groups have been provided 23 subjects to deliberate upon during welfare activity meetings. To have a clear focus on financial and other welfare activities, the groups meet twice a month ?once to transact financial business and once for welfare activities. Thus the aim of SHG development includes not only economic upliftment in its ambit, but also social upliftment and this is where the approach is different from that of other micro-finance institutions.

A unique approach to SHG development
The SHG groups under the ICICI Bank umbrella represent a unique approach. Mentioned below are its distinguishing features:
1. Activity/need-based loans: The quantum of bank loan is need/activity-based and not tagged to the quantum of savings of the group.
2. Training ?a vital input: The training inputs cover leadership development, maintenance of books of accounts, convening meetings and recording the minutes, simple banking operations, group dynamics, etc.
3. Flexibility: The current model allows for changes in the structure and functioning of the SHGs. The implementing team meets once in a quarter to share the experience with the SHGs and suggest changes in the existing model according to the needs of the group.
4. Sustained relationship: The relationship between ICICI Bank and the group is continuous and not that of banker-borrower. These factors create a base for sound banking and promoting quality clientele.
5. Insurance: Most of the groups have taken accidental insurance policy. The groups are also provided life insurance cover for a minimal one-time consideration. The group leader, at any point of time, carries an emergency fund to meet the contingencies.
6. SHG federation: As a move towards imparting more independence to the SHGs and encouraging them to undertake group activities together for pursuing common goals, the SHGs are encouraged to form federations and carry out common activities to the benefit of all the SHGs.

To promote education, especially among girls, a cash award is given to five top performing daughters of SHG members. In order to improve hygiene, loans are provided for low-cost prefabricated toilets. The Bank is in the process of tying up with a local eye hospital for providing free eye care in villages. In order to keep abreast of the latest technology and impart the same to members, two computer labs have also been established recently. Being a technology-oriented organisation, the group is looking at introducing technology to enable the dissemination of micro-credit services.

ICICI Bank has been awarded the NABARD Trophy for giving loans to maximum number of SHGs in Tamil Nadu during the year 1999-2000 and 2000-2001. In recognition of its outstanding work in this field, ICICI Bank’s Social Banking Group Head has been invited by the Reserve Bank of India to be a member of the national-level Expert Committee on Micro-Credit. An achievement to be proud of.

Courtesy: Bhupinder Singh, ICICI Bank


What?? Just A Housewife?

I confess! I’m a housewife! But first things first.

In order to live in the world, we must name it. Names are essential for the construction of reality because without a name, it is difficult to accept the existence of a person, object, event or even a feeling. One such name is Housewife!

I went to school in the fifties when our generation was told (brainwashed?) that the ultimate aim of life was being a housewife. By the time we were out of St. Xavier’s College (in the mid-sixties) most of us were pushed into matrimony arranged by our parents. In fact, my first daughter arrived along with the law degree. Girls who were not married “must have some defect?said my granny. So while my friends were changing boyfriends, I was changing Pampers because “How can you be selfish and even think of a legal career when you have a baby, home and husband to look after??asked my elders. “Just be a good housewife,?was their unsolicited advice. So there I was .... for years ..... just a housewife.

The pages of the calendar flip over. It is 2002. The eldest grandson has gone to college while the other two are in school. In between, hubby’s job took us to the Gulf, away from all in-laws (and outlaws). I sought self-expression and fulfilment. I worked as a censor for Qatar’s Ministry of Information in their Press and Publications department. It was a half-day job so the other half I enjoyed by writing a page for “Gulf Times? Twice a week I conducted a Hindi film music programme for Radio Qatar. And oh! I was also a housewife!!

Today, in Mumbai, I keep busy as a journalist, a delegate of the Parsi Matrimonial Court, a public speaker (for various Lions and Rotary Clubs) and a family counsellor. Yet I get the heebie-jeebies each time I explain that I don’t have a nine-to-five job and people ask “So you’re a housewife then??Then, I provide these details of my life to clear away their confused and ambivalent attitude to the concept of “housewife?

I know times have changed. Girls don’t want to be housewives, but all boys want one, full-time, or one who is moonlighting from her other nine-to-five paid job. I cannot think of a fundamentally more important job than a housewife’s. No job is more necessary to decent human existence and less likely to be replaced by a computer. There are never redundancies, only shortages. It’s a job performed for love, not money!

On the other hand, Executive is a “name?for a many-skilled, many-faceted absorbing job that many aspire to. It is performed for money, not love. These two jobs have different “names?though they have several similarities. They’re both defined in the Dictionary.

Executive: A person responsible for the administration of a project, activity or business.

Housewife: A woman who keeps a house.

Honey, the best years of my life have been spent in being a good housewife and yet, it implies a very simple job while Executive implies a most important position! How unfair! But hold on, hold on, tell me: which of these two (executive and housewife) would you trust to bring up your children?........Ha! I gotcha!

Shall I raise housewifery to the political and economic importance of an executive by calling talking to the milkman “a meeting? Scolding my teenaged grandchildren “disciplinary and grievance handling? Putting medicines out of a toddler’s reach a “workplace safety audit? Why do husbands never say “No, I don’t work.. I’m just an executive?

As I said earlier, names are essential. Names are human inventions. Then why does the BEST job in the world sound like the wrong name? I don’t know the answer. Do you?

Ruby Lilaowala