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Overcoming Covid-19 challenges in India [interview part 2]

Overcoming Covid-19 challenges in India [interview part 2]

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Gouri Sankar, the Managing Director of Oikocredit’s subsidiary in India (Maanaveeya)

20 August | 2021

India, the second most populous country in the world, has been hit incredibly hard by Covid-19. In the second part of this interview with Gouri Sankar, the Managing Director of Oikocredit’s subsidiary in India (Maanaveeya), we learn about: how Maanaveeya has been supporting its partners and how our partners have been serving their clients. We also learn about Maanaveeya’s outlook for the near future.

Has it been hard to stay close to our partners during the pandemic? Are we doing anything to further support them?

It’s actually been the opposite! The pandemic forced us to have a virtual but close relationship with our partners, which is different of course, but it’s no less real or meaningful. Because of the pandemic, we’ve been checking in with our partners more often than usual, which has created an even closer relationship. So even though we are not there physically, we are closer because of frequency and an understanding that we are going to get through this together. We’ve also taken additional steps to support our partners.

We developed a cartoon pamphlet with MicroSave Consulting to help our partners educate their clients on Covid-19 and give them guidance on how to stay safe. A lack of knowledge on the virus was a major concern for our partners, and for people in rural areas in general, at the beginning. So we distributed this to all of our MFI partners, who shared it with their clients. Raising awareness of the virus and pandemic, in this way, not only helped protect the people that our partners serve, but it also helped to protect our partners’ staff. They were having trouble trying to explain why they needed to take certain precautions. Oikocredit’s solidarity fund also helped support four of our partners in meeting the new government safety regulations so that they could restart their business operations.

And as part of our corporate social responsibility, we also supported an organisation (Akshayapatra Foundation) that provides food to those hit hard by the pandemic. There have been many people who lost their jobs and had to walk back to the villages they came from. Many had to travel a very long way by foot, so the organisation would provide food to these people. The organisation also provides food to children who were not able to attend school because of the pandemic. In India, many schools provide food because the children cannot afford to have at home. So unfortunately, there have been a lot of people going hungry during this time.

Are our partners able to continue to serve their clients?

Despite the challenges of Covid-19, our partners have been able to support their clients in one way or another. Last year, because of the regulations, a lot of our partners’ clients had to put a pause on their businesses. In order to help them pick it back up, Maanaveeya, the government and banks, all provided MFIs with additional liquidity. So, depending on the risk, MFIs were able to provide their clients with new loans to kickstart their businesses again. This proved to be a very successful intervention in helping micro enterprises.

We’ve encouraged our partners to do this wherever possible. They are the ones that know the situation best, so depending on the risks and needs, they decide which clients they will provide the kickstart loans to. This support was needed a lot more last year, during the first lockdowns (which lasted much longer), but it’s still available if needed.

Now that the lockdowns are per state and for a shorter duration, it is much easier for our partners to reach out to their clients.

Do you have an outlook for Maanaveeya for coming months/year?

We are being cautious because of the suspected third wave, but we are also optimistic as we see a lot more support coming from the government and people are being vaccinated. In the short term you still see a bit of stress among the people and our work, but you also see a quicker recovery.

From a business perspective, it is always healthy and prudent to remain cautious. So I would say that I’m positively guarded and cautiously optimistic. I am optimistic because we have experience, but we can’t know every single detail of what’s to come because covid is so uncertain. We managed two waves reasonably well and that gives us a lot of confidence to deal with another, if it comes our way.  

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