Believing a physical challenge should not automatically create a financial one, Indian partner Equitas launched a program in late 2008 to encourage participation by the differently abled in local microfinance activities. A year later, after putting aside traditional notions of their role in their communities, a representative sample of differently abled Equitas members in Chennai and Coimbatore was surveyed to determine the initial effects of participation in a microfinance program on their financial lives.
“The findings of this study were very encouraging,” said Unitus India Programs Senior Manager Suhasini Singh. “Working with a group that is often dismissed before ever being given a chance to contribute, we were able to see from a different vantage point how microfinance can empower individuals.”
Through the program, differently abled clients were found to feel more involved in their communities after gaining access to microfinance, as compared to their peers not involved in a program. That dynamic carried over to the home, where the differently abled client population perceived better treatment from and was more involved with family and friends than were non-clients.
“Being a part of a group gives differently abled individuals an opportunity to defy people’s prejudices,” Singh said, citing that these members were seen as very prompt in loan repayment. As such, other group members responded positively that the differently abled members were not considered a burden and groups were willing to accept more as members, “proving a physical impediment does not automatically discount someone’s ability to be a productive member of society,” Singh continued.
With a median age of 36 in a household averaging between four and six clients, 39 percent of the differently abled clients were petty traders, while 24 percent were unskilled workers and 21 percent were skilled workers. In three out of four cases, the differently abled individual was not the chief wage earner in the family; however, less than half lived in a household where the chief wage earner was a skilled laborer.
Looking to the future, Equitas says it is listening attentively as field staff tell surveyors they are very happy to be involved with the initiative and find satisfaction in the more inclusive approach. Many staff claim to be very enthusiastic of adding new differently abled clients and believe the disbursement processes can be tweaked to ensure ”home delivery” of loans when mobility is a concern.