by Simona Ioannoni
Microfinance is a financial service that has changed the lives of many people in the past few decades. Combine this with the empowerment of women and you have yourself a powerful means to alleviate poverty in slums. It is time for skeptics to take a step back.
Shanti Life, founded by Sheetal Mehta Walsh in 2009, is a nonprofit organization that uses microfinance to address poverty in Gujarat, including a number of urban slums. By giving slums dwellers low-interest micro loans and training, Shanti aims to promote and mentor sustainable small business in the local communities.
As outsiders working on the ground, it was easy for us to recognize the importance of microloans to the lives of several households in Vatva, one of the slums where Shanti is active.
It is difficult to imagine the life of slums dweller comfortably sit on our sofa. Their house may be just one small room in which five or more people stay. There is virtually no sanitation, unreliable electricity and no fridge to preserve food in. Their income comes from a highly unreliable ‘daily wage’ that can lead to periods of little to no income with which to meet household and other expenses.
Women in Vatva used to stitch clothes manually as a source of income, being able to produce only few pieces of clothes a day bringing in less than 20 rupees a day. Shanti Life’s holistic approach has been to tackle this by helping women not only buy sewing machines through loans, but also to offer training on how to use them.
Yasmin is a mother of three in the community of Vatva. After the purchase of a sewing machine bought through a Shanti Life loans and training, was able to double the amount of clothes she stitched. With this increase of income she has been able to keep up with her electricity bills and buy a fridge that she uses for a new side business providing milk and biscuits to children in her neighborhood.
Her loan has since being completely repaid is currently being reinvested by Shanti to provide other loans for other women. Yasmin is now one of the leaders of the community and is an example to her children and other women in her community.
Shanti Life’s work has been monitored by people on the ground such as Sanjay Joshi, an expert in the Indian field, who is working to assure that loans are effectively reaching people in need. Having ears on the ground is one of the strengths that assure Shanti’s work makes an impact.
Shanti Life is not only active on the field, but is also working to promote social innovation and young minds. Sheetal’s entrepreneurial spirit leads her and the organization to sustain initiatives that can make a positive difference in the developing world.
Based on the understanding that savings can play a huge role in helping people in the communities where they work, Shanti has decided to partner with Pulse Active Food Savings to help get the project off the ground in association with Sambodh, a woman’s federation in Vatva area.
For more information about Shanti’s work, the team, their multiple programs and everything else catches your curiosity visit Shanti Life website.