J.S Parthibhan is a bank manager with a difference: he's interested in people, not numbers. Through micro loans, he's helping villagers in rural areas develop a sense of entrepreneurship and self-respect.
Many of India's 1.2 billion population are forced to borrow from private moneylenders at very high interest rates. Once they begin to borrow they rarely get free.
One man decided to challenge this system
My Name is Parthibhan. I am a bank manager in a place called Salem, South India.
Banking on Change.
I don't see myself as someone who sits in the office signing papers and totaling, all those things. I used to go out in the afternoon after my lunch, just for a stroll. I saw a lot of fruit vendors, shoeshine boys, palm wallahs. These people, they all come from the villages with one dream: that is, to make money. But I found out, they all had problems with the private moneylenders. I used to wonder how much they would be earning. Do they ever save money? And to my surprise I found out even a beggar earns a little over 500 rupees a day. Most of these 500 rupees will go to the hands of the private moneylenders. He'll collect it on a daily basis. So I slowly suggested to them, why can't they open a bank account and start saving? And with the saving they can repay the loan taken from the moneylender, and take home some money as well.
We break the bags, clean them, and turn them into rope. We go to the village markets three times a week and sell the ropes. The first time we took a loan from the bank we repaid it properly. The second time we repaid in time also. The third time we arranged a loan through a self-help group, not individually.
I made it a point, I will take my cup of tea from a particular shop only. And I'll buy fruits from a particular man. That is how I made friends with these people. I told them about my bank branch, without telling them that I was a bank manager there. I told them why don't you go to this bank, at least that is nearby. But for two, three days afterwards they have not come to the bank. Then one day a group of five entered and they went straight to the clerk at the counter and told them that they want to open an account. By that time I had already briefed my staff about their plight and that we must do something about that. Later, when I went out for my afternoon walk most of these people that I knew said, "Sir, you are working in the bank? Oh I see we also want to open an account." "Okay, you come tomorrow." So like that we had opened a little over 300 savings accounts, ordinary saving accounts. And slowly everyone started repaying the money taken from the private moneylenders, and they were able to save. And the one thing I always told them is, if they save and live within those savings, they'll have self-respect. Many of the villages are not covered by bus service so instead of them coming to my bank, I take the bank to the people. Sindran here, he has finished his school. He wants 25,000 rupees. He'll buy more goats with that loan amount.
I want to earn enough for our needs. We also want to save enough to give our children a good education. I want to make her a teacher so that she can help others.
For me as a banker, it is more than just dealing with money. It is dealing with people, it's dealing with their aspirations. See this is a special group we formed, with all the physically handicapped, challenged people, and people affected with leprosy. If they can come to the bank as one group and apply, we can definitely consider some financial help.
I call them Pearl, Diamond, Ramu, Somu, and Queen.
Now she would like to get a buffalo. How much will a buffalo cost you?
If I buy it with a calf it will cost 3,000 rupees
We can arrange a buffalo for you. How will you repay it?
Every month I will make a payment. After finishing my school finals I went to the town to look for a job, but when they saw my hands nobody would employ me.
She said she had finished her school finals. She went around asking for some people to give her some job. Nobody came forward to give because of her fingers. Don't cry, because … You are looking at your fingers. Some people don't have legs. Some people are roaming on the streets deranged. God has given you good eyesight and a good brain. What else do we need? You recently got a good husband. Pearl, Diamond, Ramu, Somu, and Queen are all your children. Have courage: God keeps you with great affection. You don't need to cry. All of us want a bright future. It is everyone's dream to have our house, clothes to wear, and good food. When I see some people don't have these things, there's something wrong with the system. These people's needs are so simple and necessary. This is a good loan application for starting a brick kiln. We must encourage such entrepreneurship. If you have too many people applying to do the same thing in the village, it is not a sign of improvement. This is really a good one. Do you have any other kiln in the area?
No, we bring bricks from the plains [62km away].
Oh, you can do really well. Do you have a bank account? You must understand one thing: when you begin a new venture don't think only of yourself and your family. It should benefit the community, the village, and the entire surroundings. I am happy about such ventures. It is for these ventures that the bank extends its help. We'll definitely sanction the loan for you. I encourage more group lending. It binds them together, and they take pride when the project is successful. The whole village celebrates. I feel an individual growth is important but, more than that, the growth of the entire village, the entire area, is more important. I suppose both go hand in hand. Some of them have managed to bring in primary health centers, a small library also in certain areas. There has been an increasing number of oneness of mind, oneness of spirit. If I were a doctor, I would care for the people coming to me the same way as I do now. If I were a teacher, I'd be teaching my students with the same sincerity. I feel it doesn't matter what you are or what your work is. It is your approach. It is the conviction behind the approach. You can talk about global economic or financial crisis, or the need to bring about a drastic change in the system. But the importance is cultivating people. If you do that, everything falls into the right place. If you help them change their attitude towards life: what they are doing, why they are doing, how they can be. If you can help them to find answers to all these things, I think we have found an answer to all the big headlines in the newspapers.