Each year when I sit down to pen the report on the progress your company has made, it has always been a happy experience. Reflecting on the journey through the year gone by and recording the successes and the challenges in the years ahead has been an exhilarating exercise.

This has been a different year. As the financial year closed, the COVID-19 pandemic cast a pall of gloom all around. The lockdown that followed the pandemic wreaked havoc on the economy. But we have the strength to overcome the problems. While we count the losses, so will we the gains in medicine, in global cooperation and the resilience in the economy and indomitable spirit of entrepreneurship. The gains will outweigh losses many times over once the pandemic becomes history.

Talking about gains, we closed the financial year 2019-20 by hitting our goal of having 500,000 customers and stepping into three more states Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Meghalaya. We are now operational in 13 states across India, serving half a million customers and their families. Your company is moving fast and spreading its wings across geographies, implementing its mandate of financial inclusion.

Your company has been building on three strategic pillars inclusion, governance and digitalization to be a leader in microfinance. Of the three, governance and digitalization are predicated on the strategy of inclusion.

Financial inclusion involves giving more and more people in our case, poor women access to useful and affordable means of finance and guiding them in deploying the funds productively. This is our primary mandate; we gear all our programmes towards meeting this basic goal. We design our governance practices and digitalization programmes to subserve this strategic mandate.

Since we work at the bottom of the pyramid with customers who are unaware of the financing avenues they can tap, or how to use such avenues to improve their lot, we have a robust training framework.

The training programme has two strands. The first one involves showing the employees how to create awareness among their customers and drilling into the employees the importance of this task. We keep sharpening their skills through various processes, using digital technology. We also keep them abreast of changes in the regulatory environment and your company’s strategies.

Armed with this knowledge, our employees then go out to the field and acquire and train customers. This training of customers is the second strand. Our employees organize regular activities that are structured to deliver the best results. The customers are organized into groups or guided individually all to ensure that they deploy the borrowed funds most productively.

Through this process of training and reach-out programmes, we now have a family of five lakh customers. The cold number has a warm implication. It means five lakh families have benefited from our efforts directly, by the end of the financial year 2019-20. Assuming that each direct beneficiary creates at least three jobs, our efforts have created one-and-a-half million jobs (and benefited the families of these people) so far.

Your company is staffed with young blood. About 58 percent of employees being less than 30 years of age, there is tremendous energy working on the ground. So spreading our footprints in 73 districts in 13 Indian states has not really been a struggle. Neither has it been a challenge to achieve a gross loan portfolio of over Rs 1,091 crore.

A word of caution though: We have started moving into thinly-populated districts and challenging terrain. Clearly, we have newer challenges. Our focus on digitalization is going to be of great help here.

Talking about digitalization, I am happy to report that your company is completing the loop in transactions. Last year we reported that we had completed digitalizing the disbursement process. I am happy to say that we are digitalizing collections also. After this, our entire transaction loop with our customers will be cashless. We will cross this milestone soon. This process will enable us to reach out to the so-called last mile, irrespective of the profile of the geographical terrain.

In the years ahead, as the world will keep counting the gains from the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, so will be your company. Stay safe, healthy and don’t waste this crisis. Turn it into a great opportunity to stride ahead.

Kuldip Maity