Flying High on Entrepreneurship, women, entrepreneur, economic, pandemic, instability, labour, industry, course, lockdown, kite, trader, routine, chance, sales, money, cash, success, raw, materials, services

One feeling that pops up in my interactions with VFS clients is “amazement”. Our women entrepreneurs have been treating the pandemic, the economic instability and future uncertainties like a walk on the beach. But this is just my opinion; I am sure that this was the outcome of iron-willed determination and labour.

The COVID19 lockdowns have hurt numerous industries, some more severely than others. Some have managed to get back on their feet; others have set a new course. However, one industry has been quietly increasing revenues, particularly during the lockdown.

On September 3, 2020, the BBC website published an article captioned “India’s kite-makers see sales fly during lockdown.”(1)

During the lockdown, some people sang on their balconies, started blogs or vlogs or rediscovered their hobbies. Many Indians found themselves flying kites on their terraces. According to the BBC article, a kite trader from Delhi saw stocks worth Rs 1.50 lakh sell out in one day, by the evening of March 25, when India went into its first lockdown.

In India, people usually fly kites around Makar Sankranti, Independence Day, Pongal, Basant Panchami and Vishwakarma Puja. The lockdown altered the entire routine.

Recently, I had a chance to ask one of my customers about kite sales. Samina Bibi, a kite-maker from Barddhaman in West Bengal, agreed that sales had soared.

When Samina was contacted by VFS’s headquarters, she had just returned home after despatching an order. It was a big consignment destined for another state. Samina had never imagined selling kites outside her hometown, let alone another state.

The lockdown had not been kind to everyone. Samima’s husband was forced to shutter his tailoring shop. For the first time, he had to worry about making ends meet.

Samina, on the other hand, saw sales of kites soar. Orders kept pouring in. She had been making kites for 20 years and had never seen such robust sales.

Samima now needed money to buy raw materials on a large scale. She went to the nearby branch of Village Financial Services and applied for a loan.

The extra cash helped her meet demand. Her husband helped her make the kites and fetch raw materials. As the lockdowns ended, he saw how Samina’s entrepreneurship had helped the family survive. Their son, who was in college, did not have to stop his studies.

As I read more such reports of how Indian kite-makers find their kites flying in the skies over Canada or the USA or in our neighbouring countries, I wish that VFS customers, like Samina, find themselves tasting success in international markets.


Rearing Opportunities, livestock, gdp, agriculture, sector, women, share, rural, active, recognition, financial, reward, economy, customer, success, farm, loan, business, confidence, microfinance, generation

In India, the livestock sector contributes 4.5 per cent to the GDP and about 30 per cent to the GDP from the agriculture sector. (

In most cases, it is found that the women do the lion’s share of work in the sector. From rearing to taking care of the animals, rural Indian women play an active role alongside their menfolk.

But do they get their due? Not just in the form of recognition or praise or applause. What about the financial reward for her hard work?

Goat farming remains one of the least recognised sector in the agriculture economy, and awareness of the role of women remains low.

Executives of Village Financial Services called up one of our budding entrepreneurs who has been doing well rearing goats. Rimpa Manna was hurrying to the nearest VFS branch at Pancharul in Howrah.

Rimpa has been a valuable customer of VFS who is completing her 3rd loan cycle and is planning to apply for the next step in the loan scheme. A resident of Shibpur village, Rimpa has been looking after her husband’s livestock business for the last few years. Rimpa’s husband has gladly let her take the reins from him as she is more suited for the job. But this transfer of power came after a lot of hardships.

Bablu Manna had been keen to rear farm animals as a teenager. Guided by village elders, Bablu stepped into livestock farming right after high school. The initial success had given Bablu the confidence to move ahead with other life decisions. Rimpa, his wife, had been a constant and supportive partner in all his life decisions. Ups and downs, they continued to weather it all. Until tragedy struck.

One morning, Bablu woke up to the news that some farm animals in the village had died overnight. It was strange flu that affected goats and cattle. His goats were also affected, although they did not show it that day. As the days passed, his goats died one by one. Bablu was shattered. The debts mounted, and so did the stress on the household. The parents began to think of pulling their children out of school.

Rimpa was heartbroken but not broken in spirit. The mother in her knew that she had to turn fate for her husband and her children. Rimpa stepped in and decided to restart the business.

On a neighbour’s advice, she went to the VFS office at Pancharul and applied for a loan. The money in the bank boosted her confidence, and she took a series of steps.

She went to a nearby village, where a livestock sale was being held. Rimpa realised it was better to pick an animal she had handled. She returned with a female goat in her arms.

On that day, Rimpa became an independent goat farmer. Her tribe of goats multiplied and fetched a decent income when she sold a goat for meat.

Bablu saw how Rimpa was proving a better businessperson than him. He was proud of his wife’s success. Most importantly, the children would not have to drop out of school.

One of the biggest boons of microfinance has been securing a healthy life for the future generation. Through mothers like Rimpa, many children today are assured of education, which gives them more economic opportunities.

Blooming Entrepreneurship, loan, business, family, microfinance, poverty, economic, instability, equality, financial, independence, village, potential, government, lockdown, covid-19, freedom

When Jaba applied for the loan, she was determined to show that a woman could do better in business than men. And bring good luck to the family!

Microfinance has not only been an economic tool to overcome poverty and economic instability. It is also a social tool to encourage gender equality. Village Financial Services lends only to women, and I have seen the hurdles they overcome to achieve financial independence and their entrepreneurial dreams.

Poverty and social stigma around female education made Jaba’s family take her out of school after she completed Class 8. Most girls in her village were married off early and watched their potential die in some dark corner of their homes. Jaba was married into a family of flower growers. Her in-laws owned a garden that bloomed with marigolds, hibiscus and butterfly pea. Her mother had warned her to keep herself confined to the kitchen and be mindful of her words and actions.

Jaba heeded her mother’s words and confined her talent to the kitchen. But whenever she looked out of the kitchen window, she could see the large field of marigold owned by her in-laws. The flowers bloomed as her dreams of doing something useful withered. She saw herself, chained and caged amidst a garden full of flowers. But she continued to hope for better days, especially when her daughter was born.

Then came the first setback. Just when the garden was in full bloom, the government announced the lockdown to check the spread of COVID-19. The flowers were ready to be transported from her village, Gohamikocha, to the city of Jamshedpur. But the lockdown took all but essential transport off the roads and the crop withered.

The income of her husband’s family took a hit. Her brother-in-law, who was a migrant worker, was trapped in a distant state by the lockdown. Her aged in-laws said Jaba’s infant daughter had brought bad luck to the family.

Jaba was enraged. The mother in her revolted against the way her daughter was being blamed. Her anger gave way to action. As soon as the government relaxed the lockdown, Jaba stepped out of her house. With her infant daughter cradled in her arms, she headed for the nearest branch of VFS. Her sister, who was married into a family near the city, had opened a grocery store with a loan from VFS. Jaba followed in her sister’s footsteps and applied for a loan to rescue their family business.

In this journey, she found the most unlikely support. Her husband accompanied her. He yearned to get the family out of poverty and social regression. But, while the lockdown had eased, transport was still a problem.

Jaya and her husband began to work in the fields. The VFS loan helped them buy a motorcycle. Now they could deliver flowers to the traders in Jamshedpur, travel to a bigger village for fertilisers, seeds and tools. The motorcycle became a boon for the family.

Soon, traders in the market began depending on the couple for their timely supplies of fresh flowers, and the couple had a steady income. The new financial freedom helped Jaba and her family survive the onslaught of the second wave and the subsequent lockdown without a tinge of worry.

As they spoke to VFS’s executives, Jaba said her success has prompted her to expand the area under flowers and maybe even open a stall in the market with another loan.

Towards Financial Stability, financial, dream, critical, literacy, development, economic, empowerment, microfinance, money, people, poverty, opportunity, entrepreneur, loan

Financial inclusion has been a long-cherished dream. Access to financial services with financial literacy is a critical tool for comprehensive sustainable development. Economic progress leads to a better quality of life.

In our effort to change lives through financial inclusion and entrepreneurial empowerment, we have frequently witnessed business success translating into increased school enrollment. The positive impact of financial inclusion does not stop there. With increased financial support, VFS’ customers have reached out to get better health care, housing, and sanitation facilities. The success of the entrepreneurs has led to the creation of jobs.

The benefits of microfinance have been manifold. By bringing low-income populations within the framework of the formal banking sector, financial inclusion has also ensured security from exploitation. One common scenario earlier was of money lenders and Ponzi schemes exploiting disadvantaged and vulnerable sections of people.

Things are looking up. The Reserve Bank of India said on August 17 that its Financial Inclusion Index for the period ending March 2021 was 53.9, against 43.4 for the period ending March 2017.

As we continue to pursue VFS’s goal of lifting rural women out of poverty and empowering them financially, I come across scores of stories that strengthen my resolve to pursue this dream of financial inclusion. Subhangini Adak, a VFS customer from Balasore district in Odisha, is one such example.

Subhangini grew up in acute poverty and had to quit her studies after Class 7. Subhangini never dared to dream big but just prayed for the day when she would not have any financial worries. After marriage, Subhangini hoped that her days would change, but her husband was a contractual farm labourer and could not help much. Over the years, as the couple struggled financially, Subhangini became a mother of two.

Motherhood is a great force. Looking at her children’s faces, Subhangini vowed to fight poverty by herself.

Farmers in her village Kumarmuli have been growing betel leaf or paan for generations. But Subhangini observed that the young generation was more likely to go for blue-collar jobs than continue growing betel leaf. As the scarcity of betel leaves worsened, she saw an opportunity.

On a neighbour’s advice, Subhangini contacted the Chandaneswar branch of Village Financial Services. With the loan, Subhangini could buy her boroj, a sort of conservatory in which the betel vine is grown. With hard work and rock-solid determination, she was able to secure a good harvest. Subhangini was supported by her husband, who brought his expertise in farming to Subhangini’s boroj. Subhangini was able to sell her produce with a healthy profit margin. The first harvest provided the family of four with much-needed motivation and hope for the future.

Her first priority after the sale was to support her children’s education. She made certain that her children did not have to abandon their studies, as she had. Then there was their house. During the monsoon, the roof leaked. She had the roof replaced.

As ’Subhangini’s financial situation improved, she addressed her childhood worries. One of them was her mother’s asthma. She was now able to afford the medical bills and provide better care for her.

Now, with all her concerns addressed, the entrepreneur in Subhangini wants to grow more. Her current success has fueled her desire to expand her business, and she hopes to acquire another boroj by next year.

Financial Empowerment with Environmental Consciousness, climate, change, focus, plastic, environment, livelyhoods, diversify, business, bamboo, handicrafts, conservation, government, sustainable, organizations, technology, chemicals, economic, financial, landscape

My last blog was about the impact of climate change and how we can shift our focus from single-use plastics to environmentally friendly and sustainable options such as bamboo products. But you may ask, what about other products made of plastic? Aren’t they polluting the environment as well?

Most importantly, what about the small-scale businesses that make single-use plastic products? A ban on single-use plastic products such as bags, straws, cutlery and so on will hit lives and the businesses around such products.

The question is, what should be our priority—Climate change or livelihoods? The answer is both. We cannot turn a blind eye to the intensified impact of climate change or ignore the livelihoods associated with single-use plastics.

But one can surely diversify, re-imagine and re-invent, and most importantly, adopt a better, sustainable mode of business. We can, with some effort, change our line of business for better opportunities for ourselves and healthier options for everyone else.

In Maharashtra, a group of 12 specially-abled people made rakhis out of bamboo. This kept them gainfully employed. Since last year, the government’s effort to boost indigenous handicrafts, with special reference to sustainable products, has helped Indian-made rakhis beat mass-produced foreign products.

Proactive environmental conservation coupled with the government initiative to boost sustainable, traditional crafts will surely drive positive action against climate change. But the onus is not just with organizations and the government but also with us. The real change will come from a change in mindset. Jute bags or plastic bags? Bamboo baskets or plastic baskets? The choice lies with us.

When Minati Hansda’s nephew chose to leave the family business of bamboo handicrafts to work in a factory, everyone in the family was saddened. The bright young man had no hopes for the family’s bamboo handicraft business. He thought it was old, redundant and irrelevant. The fast life of technology and chemicals (even if toxic) was the real deal for him. Following his footsteps, the other children in Minati’s family started showing a similar disdain for their bamboo handicraft business.

But the disdain didn’t stay for long.

When the government announced lockdowns to check the COVID19 pandemic, the economic and financial landscape changed and forced many to rethink their way of living and thinking. An increase in the number and frequency of cyclones made people look closely at global warming and environmental damage.

The children in Minati’s household also felt this change. Her nephew, realizing the power in the call of “Vocal for local”, returned to his small village of Majlishbag in West Bengal’s Maldah district. But, by this time, the family’s bamboo handicrafts business had suffered huge losses because the lockdowns had taken away their biggest chunk of customers—the villagers who used to throng the fairs.

The art had come down to Minati from her parents. Minati dreamt of expanding the operations and passing her knowledge down to the children. But she had no capital.

Minati’s nephew knew that his expertise and his aunt’s talent could revive the business. In this journey, Village Financial Services became a proud partner.

With a loan from VFS, Minati and her nephew accelerated operations once the lockdown was lifted. The loan money helped Minati transport her bamboo products to markets in nearby villages and towns.

Minati now despatches products to markets around the year, not just during the season of country fairs. Most importantly, with her nephew, she was able to gain the trust of her future generations for the family business. Today, as she spoke about her journey with our VFS customer executive, she recalls how her father used to say that all they have gained is because Mother Earth was benevolent to them.

Weaving Dreams, climate, crisis, greenhouse, planet, emergency, race, global, covid19, pandemic, public, normal, handicraft, cottage, industries, bamboo, tradition, entrepreneur, product, quality, business, market

The climate crisis is real. We have caused it, and we must fix it. “The evidence is irrefutable: greenhouse gas emissions are choking our planet & placing billions of people in danger,” António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General, said at the release of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on August 9.

Two years ago, he had said the climate emergency is a race we are losing, but it is a race we can win.

The signs are everywhere: from wildfires to massive glacial meltdown to increased cyclones and a record rise in global temperature. We cannot close our eyes to our new normal. Not the one with the COVID19 pandemic but the one with the reality of climate emergency.

While some governments have been proactive, only consolidated public support and mass action can win a race that can be won.

The Indian government’s August 13 notification banning the manufacture, sale and use of single-use plastic items from July 2022 was a much-needed action. The havoc created by single-use plastic items is beyond comprehension. The Great Pacific garbage patch is an example of the indiscriminate and unconscionable use of plastics.

Alternatives to plastics such as cotton, jute, bamboo, coconut shells and paper have been used in India for a long time. Our cottage industries make environment-friendly biodegradable products. We just need to rediscover the traditional, eco-friendly handicrafts and support our cottage industries. Our country has no dearth of talented craftsmen; what they lack is the right support.

When Soma Nama came to the Village Financial Services branch at Sabroom in Tripura, she wasn’t hopeful of getting a loan. She was apprehensive about whether her business of bamboo products will ever get financial assistance from us. But VFS heard her out and felt that she would succeed. Soma left the branch as a happy customer and a hopeful entrepreneur.

Soma and her husband had been weaving bamboo baskets and rice-dusting trays for many years now. It had been a family tradition that was passed down to them by their elders. The bamboo baskets are sturdy, durable and most importantly, biodegradable and free of harmful chemicals. Their light wood colour gives them an earthy aesthetic charm. The rice-cleaning bamboo trays are also used in religious ceremonies and festivals, especially in eastern India.

Soma made products of a quality that was rare to find in the area. People from her village were her regular customers. But her reach was limited to her small village. She was not left with much of a profit. She realised that to increase her sales, she needed to sell in the town markets. To ramp up production and pay for the logistics, she needed some capital.

But who would give her the capital? In a village of artisans, farmers and vegetable sellers, getting financial assistance was a difficult task. The village did not even have a proper moneylender.

Her sister-in-law insisted that she give the VFS branch in Sabroom a try. That was all it needed, a try...

Her sleepless nights ended when she left the VFS branch office with the assurance that her loan would be credited to her new bank account.

With the loan, Soma was able to buy bamboo strips in bulk. Her husband got involved full time in weaving the baskets and bamboo trays. Soon, they had built up a huge pile of products. Enough to take to the market. They hired a small truck.

They had already spoken to a trader in the market, who bought the entire lot at an attractive price. After that first sale, Soma never had to look back. Her business is thriving.

Soma knows nothing much about the science of global warming or the debate. She has never heard of Guterres.

But she knows her baskets will last for years. When they are beyond repair, they will be thrown away and rot gracefully without polluting the environment. Soon, there will be no trace of the basket.

But Soma will still be making bamboo products. She even plans to diversify her range with more help from VFS. Goodbye, plastics crates and trays.

Hope and Perseverance, olympics, games, legends, brave, stage, commitment, reward, champion, journey, history, competition, perseverance, microfinance, loan, fshion, festival, occasion

Each Olympic Games gives us legends. The legends may or may not have won medals or even qualified for the quarterfinals. But they are still legends. Because they dared to brave the odds and reach the stage. Because they persevered, putting that effort and commitment, day after day, behind the dream of the Olympics.

The ultimate reward of the medal doesn’t make them champions. Their journey does.

Italian high jumper Gianmarco Tamberi and his Qatari rival Mutaz Essa Barshim created history at the Tokyo Olympics 2020 when they asked an official if they could have two gold medals for the same event after several failed tiebreakers. And the official said yes.

Of course, there was a celebration of brotherhood. But that is not what makes Tamberi and Barshim special. It’s their journey to the stage that does...

In 2016, Tamberi had arrived at Rio for the Olympics, but tragedy struck just a few days before the competition kicked off. Tamberi broke his ankle. Reduced from a participant to a teary-eyed spectator, Tamberi thought nothing could be worse than this...but there was. Later, doctors informed him that the severity of the injury could end his career as a high jumper.

Tamberi made sure that fate bowed to the strength of his perseverance. He wrote ’Road to Tokyo 2020’ on his plaster cast. When the pandemic postponed the Games, he crossed out the year and wrote in red ’2021’. The cast lay on the track after his gold.

In Kolkata, I came across a similar story of perseverance.

Mamta Mahato made fate bow to her perseverance. An apparel shop owner in Raghunathpur, Mamta is busy with expansion plans today and has a second store in mind. Something that she could not have imagined three years back.

Mamta had started a clothes store as a mother of three to bring some financial stability to her family. Initially, the shop drew customers. But as competition grew, Mamta’s store started losing customers. After a year and a half, her business losing money, and she got into debt.

She debated whether to lease out the shop or shut it down. The thought of giving up years of hard work was devastating. Mamta clung to the shop, praying for the best.

Her prayers were answered...

One day, while walking to her shop, she saw a freshly painted signboard atop a new office. The man behind the counter looked familiar. Mamta realised it was her classmate. Mamata dropped in, and they got chatting. The friend explained that he was in microfinance, and the office was of Village Financial Services. He also explained what microfinance is all about.

Mamta saw hope again. A week later, she was at the VFS branch, applying for a loan.

That was the beginning of Mamta’s second innings.

With the loan, Mamta decided to stock her shop with a new variety of clothes and keep abreast of fashion trends. She visited the leading outlets in Kolkata and did some market research.

By the next month, Mamta’s store was stocked with trendy clothes and attracted a rush of customers.

Every month, her husband visits Kolkata and brings in fresh stocks. Mamta’s clothes store has become a sought-after destination ahead of any festival or occasion. Within a year, Mamta found herself thinking of employing some shop assistants.

The journey has just started for Mamta and the better days are ahead.

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