Work Wednesdays: Compelling the Community

Today we  share Madhuben Parmar’s story with you. Madhuben is the Chief Operating Officer of the Saath Savings & Credit Co-operative Society Ltd. She played a significant role in setting up Saath’s Micro-finance programme.

Madhuben was born in 1975 in Paldi, Ahmedabad. She grew up in a slum area with her father, mother and two younger brothers. In 1992, when she was just 17, her father passed away. She describes this as the most difficult challenge in her life. From then on, Madhuben took full responsibility of helping and supporting her family.

Madhuben studied until 10th grade. In 1991 she got married and she quit school. She moved to her in-laws in Guptanagar, a slum area in Vasna. During this time, Saath started a programme for school-dropouts in this area. She joined Saath’s informal education programme as a student in 1990 and successfully finished 12th grade. During her time as a student she used to teach and help other students. After she passed 12th grade in 1992, she started in this same school as a teacher. This year was tough for her and her family. Her father passed away, leading her family into a financial crisis. She tried to help her family wherever she could.

At the school she taught classes from 1st  – 7th standard, she was the head of 4th to 7th standard and actively approached school drop-outs in the neighbourhood, mainly girls, to enrol themselves in her school. Right from the beginning she was part of Saath’s core-group and strategic management team.
At the annual meeting organized by Saath and a local CBO called Sakhi Mahila Mandal a job-vacancy for secretary at Sakhi was announced. Saath and Sakhi believed in her and Madhuben was keen on getting the job. She was secretary at this CBO from 1996 to 1998. At the same time she was the co-ordinator of Saath’s livelihood & micro-finance sector, covering various livelihood programmes from home-managers programme to stitching classes and Saath’s micro-finance programme.

In 1996 Saath was looking for opportunities to expand its Micro-finance services. Madhuben, in her role as coordinator of the liveihood & micro-finance sector, took a leading role to establish a branch for Micro-finance in Vasna. She was not afraid of taking risks and took full financial responsibility for this venture.

In 1999 she shifted to Saath’s micro-finance branch in Vasna. Before 1999, Saath’s micro-finance model only offered saving opportunities. In 1999 the organization started with small loans. Madhuben was determined to make this challenge a success. Especially in the beginning, she faced many issues in the community. People were very suspicious and did not believe in her good intentions. It was hard to develop trust to let her handle their money. She was also worried about the recovery of loans. It took a lot of effort to establish mutual trust. Madhuben has a very strong urge to do good for the community; with positive thinking she overcame the difficulties she faced. She got a lot of support from Saath. Trainings were organized and every week there was a meeting for all of Saath’s programmes. Field-workers were able to talk about their problems and share experiences. Madhuben says she gained a lot of self-confidence through these meetings.

In the mean time she gave birth to two sons. One in1997 and the second son followed in 2000. She never considered quiting her job after having children. Her family and husband supported her choice to pursue a career.

In 2002 two micro-finance co-operatives were formed. She became the overall programme coordinator of all the branches. In this year Saath expanded it’s model to several more areas, mainly the ones affected by the 2002 riots. Many people lost their livelihoods and were in need of small loans to set up new businesses.
Five years later she became the operation manager at the Micro-finance Institution (MFI). In 2010 the two cooperatives merged as the Saath Savings & Credit Co-operative Society Ltd. and she became the co-operative’s Chief Operations Officer.

She is proud of what she has achieved so far for herself, her family and for the community. She developed from a young insecure girl with no exposure to the outside world to an empowering strong woman. In 2006 she left the slum for a house in a legal society near her old neighbourhood. Her personal success has inspired numerous women in the community to develop themselves the way she did. Madhuben played a significant role in the development of the Saath Co-operative. Her strong will and determination made the co-operative a success, with 6 branches, 15,000 members and a loan recovery rate of 98%. However this does not mean that her work is finished. Her wish is to expand the co-operative to rural areas and urban slum areas all over of Gujarat. She believes that many people in poverty can develop themselves the way she did. It hurts her that people think of slum residents as people that don’t want to develop themselves and that they choose to live in poverty because they take no initiative. As long as the stigma of slum-people is there, her work is not finished.

She believes financial literacy and creating awareness is very important. She wants the people of slum-areas to make their own deliberate decisions. She wants them not to just follow good advice because other people say it’s the right thing to do. She wants them to understand their decisions and to take full responsibility for their own development. She wants families to empower themselves, so they can make poverty belong to history. She personally climbed the stairs of success and encourages others to do the same.
In the future Madhuben hopes to co-ordinate many more programmes to empowerment the urban poor. She wants to keep on working for the community until her heart is satisfied.

Simea Knip wrote up this story

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