The United Nations Development Goals encourage us to focus efforts on eradicating poverty, uplifting and empowering women, creating global partnerships for development and ensuring environmental sustainability. October is the month that Rotary dedicates to Economic and Community Development when we renew our commitment to helping grow local economies and celebrate successes on that journey. Here I share my experience with just a few examples of my home club’s Microcredit Centre’s commitment to promote growth and development of local economies and communities.
Before I do that, let me say a few words about the microcredit pioneer Prof Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel laureate from Bangladesh and the founder of Grameen Bank. Prof Yunus began transforming lives while serving as an economics professor in Bangladesh. What began as personal microloans to poor women in nearby villages, grew into the Grameen Bank, which today has more than 2,500 branches throughout the country. I had the opportunity to listen to him at the Rotary International Convention at Bangkok in 2012 when he commended Rotarians for their work in developing countries. He also encouraged Rotarians to pursue social business enterprises that would work with microcredit-funded businesses not just to generate revenue but also to return profits to the communities where they operate.
Karur is known the world over for its cotton handloom home textiles. This industry, which exports hand-woven home furnishings and apparel worth over Rs 3,000 crore every year, is labour intensive, employing several thousand semi-skilled and unskilled labourers who lack access to the formal banking sector. These hapless daily wage earners were under the control of usurious money lenders who grabbed virtually every rupee they earned. To provide such people succour from the scourge of these money lenders was born the Microcredit Centre of Rotary Club of Karur in 2000–01 by getting RI District 6460 as an international sponsor for this project. Loans ranging from Rs 5,000–10,000 were extended to tailors (to buy sewing machines), vegetable and flower vendors, tea and petty shop owners, small grocers, electricians and women’s self-help groups. Today, with a corpus of Rs 5 million and zero bad debts, RC Karur is in the enviable position of being able to extend micro loans to 350–400 beneficiaries every year and plays an important role in uplifting their quality of life.
All this was made possible because of the involvement and dedicated efforts of Rotarians contributing their precious time and money and, of course, financial assistance of The Rotary Foundation. The key to the success of the Microcredit Centre is the training that is imparted to beneficiaries in soft skills and family values, apart from rudimentary banking knowledge before the disbursement of loans.
I am proud of this achievement of the Rotary Club of Karur and wish that every club and Rotarian should emulate their example and play an appropriate role in developing local economies of the communities in which they serve.
Let us work together and help Rotary make a difference.
Director, Rotary International