Dr. Virendra Heggade of SKDRDP interviewed by Dr. Arvind Ashta and Dr. Nadiya Marakkath on 25th August 2014 in Dharamsthala, Karnataka, India.
Q. What did you study?
Dr. Heggade: I was doing my graduation in 1968. Due to sudden demise of my father, I had to return to Dharmasthala to take charge of the temple as Heggade. At that time I was 20 years old. The position of Heggade is a spiritual position. It is unique to Dharmasthala. Here the diety of the temple is Lord Shiva and the Heggade is from a Jain family. Religious integration is expressed here in its purest sense.
Q. Why is SKDRDP so little publicized with such a good model?
Dr. Heggade: SKDRDP started as a charity programme to ensure the last mile delivery of Dharmasthala charity. As the Heggade of the temple I manage many different activities and SKDRDP is one among them. Over the years SKDRDP has grown out to be a good model for development. As the Chairperson of SDKRDP I ought to have travel many places and explain the model. However my responsibilities at the temple has restricted my travel and public meetings outside of Dharmasthala. Yet the staff at SKDRDP attend conferences.
Q. We have studied your institution for some time, notablyHarper et al. (2008). There is also a paper based on Hinduism and Microcredit(Ashta and Hannam, 2014). We feel that many models were very good but they went adrift. However, you have remained loyal to your model. You have kept your mission. You have remained local, lent at reasonable interest rates, grown at reasonable rates except for the fast growth in the last few years. I would think that this is a beautiful model. Yet, Dr. Manjunath tells us that you are about to get out of the model and become a banking correspondent. Why leave such a beautiful model instead of exporting it?
Dr. Heggade: SKDRDP is very much part of Dharmasthala and Dharmasthala temple is known for charity. It is also a spiritual center. The micro finance model developed by SKDRDP in the last fifteen years was based on the ground requirements when the banks were not ready and did not have the delivery mechanism to provide financial assistance to poor people. At that time we thought intervention by SKDRDP in providing financial assistance would help the poor. It has indeed helped the poor. However since the Reserve Bank of India and the Govt. of India have taken greater responsibility in financial inclusion and announced measures to deepening the outreach by engaging the NGOs we think it is better to work with the banks as their agents and facilitate mainstream facilities to the poor people.
Q. What would be the three key messages for Africa from SKDRDP.
Dr. Heggade: First of all, we must depend on ourselves even more than on God. In India, we think that God will provide all. But I say, unless you walk the path, you cannot reach the goal. We can help you with securities. But we cannot carry you. People have to participate in their growth. The excessive dependency on politicians is not good for the community. We need to democratically participate in our own growth.
Second, microfinance is good because poor people can access finance hassle free and do not need any documents or securities, which other private finance organizations require.
Third, the program should be sustainable in nature. The financial sustainability is also very important. The government cannot do this because they have difficulty to reach the poorest of poor cannot manage self-help groups. Even NGOs are not guaranteed to succeed, but they have a greater chance for remaining involved than government.
Q. Are there other messages for other countries?
Dr. Heggade: We have a self-employment training program. We have 26 institutes in India. The Government of India wanted to replicate this and we are now managing 600 institutes called RUDSET (Rural Development Self Employment Training). As the world moves to self-employment, this becomes more and more important.
The concept of RUDSET is that anybody with motivation and determination can become a master of his destiny. For this we provide intensive training upto 30 days for an unemployed youth to motivate him to take up self employment.
Q. Don't you feel that you are making people dependent? You are buying material for them, doing their marketing and training them?
Dr. Heggade: It is very difficult for poor women in remote areas to procure their raw materials, produce commodities and market them. That is one of the main reasons why the handicrafts of the village have perished. More importantly developing entrepreneurial skills to manage and develop a home industry is not everybody's cup of tea so one of the subsidiaries of SKDRDP Shri Dharmasthala SIRI Gramodyog planned rural centers to produce commodities we gave the choice to the poor people to manage their own units or work as partners of SIRI. At present many units have partnered SIRI in accessing raw materials and marketing their products. The ideal situation is an independent rural unit. Let us hope for that one day.
Q. Why didn't you expand out of Karnataka?
Dr.Heggade: We are slowly spreading. We still need to cover four more districts in Karnataka. After that, we may move to other States. One reason is manpower. This is in shortage. In SKDRDP, grass root workers are promoted to supervisors. 30 grass root workers need one supervisor. 10 supervisors need one manager. So, we need to find the root workers from the village.
Q. A lot of your success is based on your spiritual organization. Can only spiritual organizations replicate your model?
Dr. Heggade: RUDSET now has 600 branches from Kerala to Assam. This is a programme promoted by the spiritual center of Dharmasthala with the help of two banks. Today this programme has been adopted by Government of India and replicate across the country. The success of RUDSETI is a vindication of the replicability of the programmes developed in Dharmasthala.
Q. One of the things in developing an institution is that conservative forces which will not allow you to come in and develop because you are upsetting their business plans. How do you manage to overcome these barriers?
Dr. Heggade: In a city, there may be six banks. You cannot stop a new one coming in. You have to compete by providing service. So, any organization can start anywhere. We have to convince the existing establishments that we have the right to establish ourselves. And that our intention is not to hurt them since we are doing only microfinance. We are willing to explain our methodology to them and share our techniques. They can adopt it and compete by services.
Q. What are the biggest challenges that you have faced as a spiritual leader in creating this?
Dr. Heggade: We are a spiritual institution where we do a lot of charity. Giving has immediate short-term impact.
But at SKDRDP, we talk of self reliance with little bit of initial charity. The results of self reliance are reaped in the long term. I can be happy in the short term by giving. But it is not sufficient.
We have created a caste-free and religious-free organization. The SHGs may start with a Hindu prayer to our temple, but the rest is totally business. The entrepreneurs are not forced to have our religion.
Q. What are the similarities with Gandhi?
Dr. Heggade: Gandhiji worked at a time when there was discrimination on the lines of caste, religion and creed. He spent on entire life in eradicating this discrimination. We are enjoying the fruits of his work. In India, equality has come through change of law as well as change of mind. Sometimes, by education, sometimes by force. So people become one with each other.
I mix with people freely. My communication with masses is much more stronger. Gandhiji was in freedom struggle which was in many ways political in nature. I am completely apolitical. I have not branded myself with any party. It is not easy to be away from politics and sometimes I have been hurt for not participating. But all politicians of all parties come to me. All our workers in our organization are trained not to talk politics during the work.
Ashta A, Hannam M. 2014. Hinduism and microcredit. Journal of Management Development 33(8/9).
Harper M, Rao DSK, Sahu AK. 2008. Development, Divinity, and Dharma: The Role of Religion in Development Institutions and Microfinance by Practical Action Publishing: Rugby, Warwickshire, U.K. .
Dr. Arvind Ashta holds the Banque Populaire Chair in Microfinance at the Burgundy School of Businesss in Dijon, France.
Dr. Nadiya Marakkath is Assistant Professor at the Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, School of management and Labour Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai and is coordinator for its incubation centre.