Trip Start Apr 23, 2009
Trip End Oct 16, 2009

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Flag of India  ,
Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wednesday June 3, 2009

 BASIX group is comprised on 6 different arms all focused within the realm of sustainable livelihood development.  One of the arms is a microfinance bank called Krishna Bhima Samruddhi or KBS Bank.  Unlike other microfinance institutions, KBS Bank offers a wide array of financial services beyond just credit giving.  They offer deposit and current accounts, various insurance products, consulting services, and even micropensions.  Furthermore, their operations are impressive.  Since their customers are quite poor and cannot travel to a bank to seek a loan, KBS goes to their door.  They have a hub and spoke network that reaches into some of the most remote regions of India.  They even have mobile banking branches, called Bank on Wheels or BOW! 

KBS is strong in its Finances and Operations, but it doesn't even have a marketing department!  During my field visits into these rural villages, it was obvious how this was hurting KBS.  For these field visits, I worked with two trainees who were studying in Hyderabad, Shyam and Rajeev.  Together we made a qualitative survey, which we would take into the villages to understand how much these villagers know about financial services, what bank brands did they know, did they have an account, why did they choose their bank, what would they like to save for, what are their plans for retirement, etc. 

When you go into these villages, there is often no productive work to had.  I met some women that were hand rolling cigarettes or beedi's.  They made $1 a day and worked 12 hours everyday.  They are trapped.  The farm workers also have low wages and are exposed to extremely dangerous working conditions.  Some die from the heat, others from snake bite, others get chronic back pain and Cumulative Trauma Disorders from repetitive motion, and yet others don't have proper protective equipment for machinery operation, pesticides, etc.  Whenever you think to get down on your current job, believe me when I say there are billions of people that would love to have your situtation.

As I've mentioned May is the hottest month in the region that I am working.  It is similar to Arizona here with searing temperatures and the days we went into the field were about 110 degrees.  We had to ensure we were well hydrated and I wore 70 spf sunscreen to ensure I was safe from the sun.

When I first step foot into these villages, all eyes are on me, wondering why I am here.  The adults seem quite apprehensive.  The children are curious because it's possible they've never met a white person before.  The children are attracted to me and want to know everything about me.  They're interested to see my cheap Casio watch, my cellphone, my camera.  They want to shake my hand.  The first question after knowing my name and where I am from is, do I have a wife.  They giggle and want to see my girlfriend's picture.  

What is amazing to see is first just how poor the living conditions are, then to see some smiles.  The people who are smiling are usually the ones deemed to be more prosperous in these villages.  By our standards, they are at the poverty line, but in these villages, they are somewhat well off.  They say happiness and unhappiness stems from comparing yourself to others and its quite obvious this is the case in these villages.  

These are people trying get their basic needs met with shelter, food, and clothing, but somehow they are peaceful. Unlike the poor villages in Latin America, where drugs, alcohol, and violence are common, the villages here are peaceful.  A reason to understand why is first the leadership in these villages values peace.  Second, these villager's have a long lineage dating over a thousand years back, which has tied them to these villages.  Everyone knows everyone else, so there is much peer pressure to behave in a respectful manner.

India has the second most arable land in the world behind the United States, but the agriculture labor market is incredibly saturated.  It has reached a point where now farm owners are seeking consulting services to increase the efficiency and productivity of their farmland.  Each year jobs are shed from these productivity gains and each year these workers have to find new work.  Some try non-agriculture work in the villages, like tailor, carpenter, shop owner, etc.  Most move to the already overcrowded big cities in search of unskilled construction work or other work.     

The modes of transportation that I have used in the field have been quite varied. There are three main methods used to get to the more remote cities, where KBS has a branch office. I've used train, bus, and company car and driver. Once in these cities, an autorickshaw or motorcycle is used. In Gadwal, a horse taxi was used. Sometimes these motorcycle rides require 3+ people to fit on the bike. The most people I've been on a motorcycle with so far has been 5 in all (3 of the 5 were children). If we do take an autorickshaw to reach the remote villages, chances are that at the end of the day, there will not be a rickshaw waiting to take us back, so we hitchhike our way back. One time a jeep absolutely packed with people stopped, and in order to make it back to the city, I had to hold on to the outside of the vehicle, standing.

 One other memorable incident was when we got onto the wrong bus. I was imagining that the people might have felt some sympathy and try to help us out or simply drop us off the bus. Instead, not only was the ticket person furious, but the people on the bus were as well, they kicked us off the bus in the middle of nowhere. 10 Km, away from where we started, we began to walk in the 110 degree heat back. Luckily a van with 18 people crammed inside stopped off. I was able to fit by seating myself where the back window should have been.  


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alex-b on

Sweet, I like the rides fo' sho. Interesting to see what matches my current assessment of what I think India is like and what it is not like. I especially like the comparisons you give to other areas you have seen.


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