Children for Change: Ditching that packet of chips to invest in a vegetable vendor’s enterprise

How an English Medium School in Pune, Maharashtra came up with a small but significant solution to save and invest their money in small entrepreneurs.

During the open discussions that we have in the class everyday after our newspaper reading session, it came out numerous times that probably the biggest problem gripping India right now is poverty. Poverty is likely the mother of all other problems that plague the country right now, worse than the lack of education, sanitation, health, problem of corruption, and even lack of employment opportunities. People are taking bribes, killing each other, doing robbery and daylight crimes for Money. Poverty was driving crimes and restlessness in the society.

Regular, everyday people we interact with on a daily basis are deeply affected by poverty. We spoke to a few of them; a house painter, a carpenter, our neighbourhood vegetable vendor, a tiffin service close to our school. All of them had the same things to say: their children cannot go to good schools due to lack of funds. Not getting good education automatically means that their children may not be the professionals they want to be. They have the desire to expand their business, but no banks will give them loans. Everyone wants to beat poverty, but the paths are too narrow, sometimes completely closed.

We got back to the class with our research and realized that the problem is really big, with no easy solutions. Doling out money just like that is not going to help us fight poverty. We need to empower people so that they themselves carve a way out of poverty. We decided to help them in their business ventures so that they can expand, make more money, then get their children educated and get better health and sanitation.

To tackle this problem this we came up with two solutions:

Solution no. 1 was to invest money in their business. Since the biggest problem was them having a lack of funds, as they did not get loans easily, we could help them monetarily by cutting down on our expenses, saving what little we can and giving them for business expansion.

Solution no. 2 was to go and physically help them in the running of their business. But this solution seemed a little impractical, since we are kids and while we could sort out the bad tomatoes from the good ones, actually making a chapati is not something we are good at. Also, it didn’t seem viable due to the lack of time on our part.

We decided to stick with the first option. But there was also this problem of ensuring proper utilization of funds and ensuring they are put to the correct use. Could we do it on our own? Since the answer was a resounding “no”, we decided to go ahead and join hands with Rang De, a non profit that runs an online Social Investment platform across the country though its network of field partners.

The students organized themselves into groups of threes and fours. These were small groups which would start saving money. The students fixed a weekly and monthly target for their groups, which was to come out solely from their savings (by cutting down on buying snacks or fancy stationery or card games) and not by asking their parents for extra money. The threshold level for each group was fixed at Rs.100/-.

Each group got itself a name, a logo, made posters and divided responsibilities within themselves for the group’s working. At the start of August we launched our project and started saving. We called it the Power of One, as each of us had to save at least Re.1/- per day. By 2nd September, exactly after 30 days, we made our first social investment – as a class, we had saved Rs. 900/-.

We logged in to the Rang De website, where we had already registered ourselves, and started going through the borrower profiles. Each group chose one borrower that they wanted to invest in and together we invested Rs. 900/- for the expansion of the following businesses:

• Gajanan Band (Barber Shop)
• Lata Anthoni (Grocery Store)
• Shobha Travar (Tailor)
• Sitabai Gaikwad (Vegetable Vendor)
• Maya Dhobhale (Tiffin Service)

After these investments, we started saving again. Before we made our second investment in October, we got a chance to go and meet these borrowers through Rang De’s Field Partners in Pune. We met these borrowers and saw for ourselves how our seemingly small savings had actually helped them in their business expansion.

While Gajanan Band got a few aprons and new pair of scissor for his barber shop, Lata Anthoni used the money to stock basic stationery items she keeps in her tiny grocery store. Shobha Travar plans to invest her money in procuring cotton sarees from Chennai and selling them in Pune for a small profit, and Maya Dhobhale has employed a couple of women to help her in making chapatis, of which she makes approximately 1000 a day.

This visit completed the circle of money/investment/growth for the kids, and they could see how sacrificing their packet of Kurkure can actually fill colours of joy in somebody else’s life. Through the entire process, not only did the kids grow academically (learning concepts of microfinance, interest, business, etc.), they learnt a heap of life skills and values. “The joy of giving” was no more just a phrase, but an actual feeling. They learnt the values of belief (in themselves) and the social responsibility that each one of us carries. They have learnt to handle negative reactions and criticism, and mitigate it, as well as the concept of “need versus greed”. Because we truly believe together, we will make a difference.

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This article is a part of our collaboration with Design for Change, a non profit that supports design thinking and model innovations in schools in India, to bring stories of social action by school children and the significant impact they’ve made in their communities.

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