Poverty alleviation and women empowerment are the two guaranteed solutions for societal development and national prosperity. And microfinance is the surest answer to the question of holistic development of the weaker section of the society, especially women and children.
In this mission, Belghoria Janakalyan Samity (BJS) began its noble journey as a non-governmental, non-profitable organisation for social upliftment by poverty alleviation and women empowerment through microfinance. It is registered under the West Bengal Societies Registration Act XXVI of 1961.
Over the years, BJS could maintain a steady growth of its services and placed itself in a reputed position in the industry because of the indomitable spirit of its Founder, Bishwajit Das, who is also its Chief Executive Officer (CEO). BJS grew due to his strong determination, commitment, hard work, and honest appeals to its holistic task.
“Above all, these achievements would not be possible if the clients could not keep trust and faith in our commitments,” stated Mr Das. He spoke with Insights Success for its edition of “The Most Trusted Microfinance Companies”.
In a candid discussion, Mr Das spoke about the microfinance industry in general and particularly his and BJS’s journey in it so far.
Below are the excerpts of his compassionate wisdom.
Sir, please give our audience a brief overview of your journey in BJS.
I came from a very simple lower-middle-class family seeing many odds and obstructions in daily life from my early boyhood. I could understand the agony of the distressed people of my class or lower. Therefore, I had a very positive mindset to stand beside the neighbouring people of my area, relatives, associates and friends in case of need to help in any situation.
With almost six years of working experience in a reputed organisation in the microfinance field and social development sector, I started the operation of BJS in 2006. This was the result of my thinking to do something for the class of people formally that I nurtured in my mind from my boyhood.
In the early years, we had faced many obstructions, particularly a fund crisis when there was a massive demand in the field, but we didn’t have many resources. In the first three years, we could not arrange any financial assistance from any bank. We got our first loan from the State Bank of India in 2009 and got sub-debt equity from SIDBI in 2012.
The operation got the momentum in 2014, and afterwards, at a point in time total number of lenders rose to 19. Geographical penetration now encompasses seven districts of West Bengal, and 27 branches are involved in the operation.
Tell us more about BJS, its vision, and the key aspects of its stronghold in the Microfinance space.
BJS is a social development organisation working for the livelihood generation by promoting enterprise development among the poorer and downtrodden class. The motto is to alleviate poverty through the financial inclusion of the unserved class of women.
Through these activities, the vision is to build a happy and prosperous society through the overall development of the people, especially women and children, by ensuring their strong and active participation. Over the last fifty years of operational history, microfinance has evolved as a powerful tool for poverty alleviation, women empowerment, economic development, and establishing a peaceful society.
This is the largest industry wherein the highest number of people in the world are engaged for their livelihood activities. BJS became the part of this vast and noble work, and we feel proud that we, the people in the organisation, are involved in such a work where we are not doing the work for ourselves only, but also some people of the society are getting some benefit out of our work. This gives us immense pleasure, pleasantly driving us for the next day’s work.
From a business leadership perspective, what is your opinion on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Microfinance Industry?
We cannot dream of a society keeping aside this sector. On the other hand, our vision is a long-term process. As you know, the resources and capacity are also limited; achieving the goal of having a happy and prosperous society is required to support the targeted sector continuously.
But in the CIOVID-19 pandemic, the process had been disrupted profoundly in two ways. For example, unavailability of resources to deploy among the members of the sector, and most people in the industry were also unable to do their work for their livelihood earning.
In fact, the pandemic pushed the development vehicle backwards by a huge gap. Most of our microfinance borrowers could not do any work for a long period, and they have consumed their small savings and other resources that they had in their hands.
At some point in time, a big uncertainty engulfed the hope of the life of many people. There was a very big blow on the microfinance sector, and it may take several years to recover the position as it was immediately before the pandemic started.
What efforts did you take during the pandemic to sustain operations and ensure the safety of your team at the same time?
A few months during the initial lockdown period, the operation at the field was totally closed. However, we kept close contact over the mobile phone with our borrowers. We gave them motivational thoughts and safety tips to protect themselves and their families from getting infected by the coronavirus and combat the virus if infected. At the first step of the new normal period, the field level staff met the borrowers at their house, kept probable safety measures, and handed over two pieces of soap to each member to wash hands regularly. We have arranged a sufficient number of masks and sanitisers for all our staff.
What is your opinion on the necessity for Microfinance companies to align their offerings with technologies like AI and ML?
In the digitisation process, AI and ML are coming as an integral part in all sectors. However, it may take more time to take the benefit of AI and ML in our field as the infrastructure development and the digital learning among our targeted class of people is still too far and lagging behind.
As an established industry leader, what would be your advice to the budding entrepreneurs and enthusiasts aspiring to venture into the Microfinance Space?
Presently the state-wise Microfinance Penetration Index (MPI) shows a big gap between the requirement and coverage. The MPI of southern states is around 62%, and that in the eastern states around 21%. In central, western, north and north-eastern states, the MPI is below 10.
Therefore, budding entrepreneurs have the opportunity to work in many vacant places. The only requirement is to have a positive mindset to render the service and build up a strong, dedicated team.
How do you envision further strengthening BJS’s stronghold in 2022 and beyond?
We have faced many challenges over the last 16 years and have kept the organisation on the right trajectory. This had been possible with the support of all our bankers, our mentors, the governing body members, and last but not least, our workforce – our people in the organisation.
With the people’s intense level of motivation, the organisation will continue with its mission beyond 2022, particularly in this post-pandemic period. We know still we have to go many miles more, and we will continue to do so.