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Annual Report

India's Rural Women Entrepreneurs Get a Boost

India's Rural Women

Access to finance makes it possible for women-oriented businesses to thrive.

Life changed for Phool Pati Devi when she took her first loan, for a little over $200, from Utkarsh Micro Finance, a start-up based in India’s low-income state of Uttar Pradesh.


For 15 years she had struggled, earning a meager income selling food off a cart she pushed through her village. But when Utkarsh came on the scene in 2010, she achieved her dream—opening a small grocery store in her home, leaving the cart aside.


The store’s sales have been brisk, allowing Phool to send her children to a better school and put $50 in the family savings account each month. Now she is planning her next investment: a refrigerated unit for cold drinks.


Phool Pati is one of nearly 60,000 women in rural parts of northern India who now have access to finance and increased credit thanks to a partnership between IFC and Utkarsh, which means “progress” in the local language. These small loans make it possible for women borrowers to start or expand their businesses. And there’s room to grow: the microfinance institution aims to reach 500,000 women over the next five years. 


IFC’s $550,000 investment has helped Utkarsh expand access to financial services for women entrepreneurs in rural parts of India, while advisory services have helped establish a credit and risk-management system and strengthen monitoring. With IFC’s help, the company is instituting practices that avoid over-indebtedness, encourage better credit appraisal policies, and promote transparent pricing.


“Very few bankers and private players want to take risks, especially in those markets that have typically not benefited from mainstream growth in the past,” said Govind Singh, Utkarsh Managing Director and CEO. “IFC’s support is helping us reach out to women who need access to financial services and have not been served traditionally.”


IFC is also supporting women’s access to financial services through a partnership with the Self-Employed Women’s Association of India. We recently provided funding to Shree Mahila SEWA Sahakari Bank, an all-women’s cooperative bank founded in 1974 with the specific goal to provide credit for self-employed women.


SEWA Bank is pursuing a new business model, by making access to savings, pensions, and insurance—in addition to credit—available to the 1.3 million women who comprise the parent organization’s membership. With IFC’s assistance, SEWA intends to secure a national banking license and expand into previously underserved rural areas.



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