Seachange has recently broadened its current support of microcredit organisations in Africa and Haiti by announcing a new project in India. Seachange has just partnered with Shanti Life, an organisation founded by Sheetal Walsh in 2009 in order to alleviate poverty in slums and villages in Gujarat India. Sheetal has spent the last 15 years working in tech and venture capital engaging with entrepreneurs all over the world as well as volunteering for numerous organisations. It was during one of her many volunteer activities in the field that she realised the poor have no access to capital and sustainable livelihoods nor do they have access to sanitation facilities. Without basic health there is no way to be productive and without access to certain resources sustainable living is impossible.
Shanti Life has two areas of focus: Shanti Microfinance for the creation of sustainable businesses; and Shanti Sanitation to promote health and well being.
Shanti Life’s goal is to promote sustainable living and alleviate poverty in the slums and villages of Gujarat (and Western India) and in Central Maharashtra. Shanti believe that by providing resources and training, self-sufficiency is enabled.
Shanti Microfinance consists of training, mentoring, access to capital and go to market strategies. Many microfinance organisations provide funds with arduous conditions including weekly repayments and high interest rates. There is no consideration of other issues the poor deal with on a day to day basis including, domestic violence, natural disasters, political unrest, and caste issues related to segregation. Often the poor get stuck in the loan cycle and cannot get out of the vicious cycle. Shanti aims to help the poor learn how to borrow responsibly and avoid loan sharks who are opportunistic and readily available to benefit at the loss of the poor. Through financial literacy, savings and learning how to set up and scale a small business, the poor are given tools to then accept funds and allocate them responsibly. Businesses we support include rickshaw drivers, weavers and artisans, sewing schools, vegetable and chai (tea) stalls as well as small shops to service the area.
Shanti Sanitation is aimed at teaching hygiene and cleanliness among women farmers who face atrocious illnesses due to lack of sanitation. The poor farmers have to travel in the night into the fields so that they can go to the bathroom, where they face many dangers including rape, snake bites and getting lost. They face many illnesses related to not eating (so that they can control when they go to the bathroom) which include anemia, miscarriage, child bearing complications and general hygiene issues. Getting sick means not being able to work which means no money to look after their families. Time to travel to hospitals to see doctors and expense of medications further complicate their situations. Shanti helps make possible the creation of eco-sanitation toilets and washing facilities. All waste is recycled to fertilise the crops and promote growth of healthy fruits and vegetables which the farmers can use to feed their families and sell for more funds.
In all disbursements, Shanti provides meaningful size loans (100 Euros and above) that help the poor put a downpayment on their rickshaw for example with low interest rates. Rural interest rates range between 7-12% and urban interest rates are approximately 7% – the Indian national cap on interest rates is 24%. This is due to the number of suicides which resulted last year due to the inability of vulnerable loan recipients to make repayments. With Shanti, upon repayment, all funds are recycled to the next beneficiary. The goal is to help the beneficiary graduate OUT OF microfinance so that they can enjoy independence and sustainability. This is the pay it forward model.
Shanti Life has a very lean team and works with local federations of women and men who have come together to collaborate on their group needs. Together, Shanti and the federations decide how best to help alleviate the community out of poverty. There are a number of interns working with Shanti identifying new areas of concern and innovative ways to tackle such issues such as food savings.
Seachange Foundation is now in further discussions with Sheetal Walsh and her team to see how it can best support Shanti Life and their 5 year plan, as they aim to scale their operations and help the poorest of the poor lift themselves out of extreme poverty with dignity.