What does it mean to be an entrepreneur? “A person who sets up a business or businesses, taking on financial risks in the hope of profit” is the technical definition, according to the Oxford Dictionary. Does this not describe much of rural India? The woman who wakes up at 4 in the morning so she can bathe her cows and milk them in time for the milkman who comes to collect it is an entrepreneur. So is the woman who converts a small corner of her house into a petty store waiting for a passersby to come and buy biscuits, chips, rice, and even offer a cup of chai. We see them all the time and these women take on risks in their own way that we don’t appreciate. They have no salaries. But they do it for their children. They do it because they want to have an income of their own.
Rang De is where the underdogs are supported. Rang De doesn’t just provide the resources to a rural entrepreneur; it monitors and provides them a chance to do something with the resources.”
Ramakrishna NK and his wife, Smita Ram, realised that this group of entrepreneurs needed all the help they could get. They formed www.rangde.org in 2008 with the sole aim of fighting poverty by providing access to affordable micro loans funded on an online platform. The simple idea of using the Internet so that you or I could become ‘investors’ has caught on and over 12,000 people now believe in the mission.
Making the communities independent with their own entrepreneurial skills, the organisation strongly feels that poverty can be eliminated, or at least reduced this century. All these poor communities need is support at the initial stages and many of them till now had no choice but to go to moneylenders or get high interest rates. But as India becomes wealthier, we are keen to share that wealth and through a network of partner organisations in different states, they bring alive the living situations, the need for funds and the ambitions that thousands of women have in rural India on their website.
We make videos helping rural organisations showcase themselves. We believe it is very important to constantly produce such content whether in video or text so that people get reminded of the harshness of life and the challenges present in rural India.”
Anyone viewing their website can choose to donate as little as INR 100 and be a social investor. With such an innovative working model, Rang De has shown that a lack of fair loan provision through banks should not stop anyone from improving their lives and fulfilling their ambitions.
“As an investor, Rang De took me to areas where I could see women from the communities I had contributed to and the experience taught me that much of our life’s earnings are wasted and how it can be better used if we use it to support someone else’s life… even if we invest even a small portion of our income,” says Rohit Parekh, a volunteer, an investor and now a full-time employee.
The mission has attracted some fascinating individuals as well.
Rohit Parekh used to work for Deutsche Bank in London for five years. He volunteered with Rang De for two and a half years in the United Kingdom helping spread the news that Indians living outside could stay connected to their homeland through the platform. When it was time for him to return home, there was no other place that he wanted to work at other than Rang De.
Aditya Dwivedi, a front end engineer is both a techie and a writer having been a columnist with Your Story. Back then, he used to highlight stories of unknown start-up engineers – the magicians at work behind the scenes in several success stories in the Bangalore, the capital of startup India.
“Rang De is another place where the underdogs are supported. Rang De doesn’t just provide the resources to a rural entrepreneur; it monitors and provides them a chance to do something with the resources.”
Tintu Saleem, who heads marketing at Rang De, told us that people invest as a ‘social investor’ for a multitude of reasons. Before joining Rang De, Tintu was with Kotak Mahindra for eight years.
“We communicate how Rang De not only is a platform not just to raise funds but also to be aware of the reality,” she said. “For some of our social investors, it’s a way of life. They give back with gratitude.”
One of the Rang De employees is a former ESPN journalist as well. Suhas Bhat, a senior communications manager told us that the organisation is constantly focused on helping people realise how drastically different life is for India’s rural and urban populations.
“We make videos helping rural organisations showcase themselves. We believe it is very important to constantly produce such content whether in video or text so that people get reminded of the harshness of life and the challenges present in rural India. Rang De is not just a platform to raise funds but one that bridges the gap between two Indians.”
Rang De has received a lot of support from esteemed organisations over the years. NABARD, a governmental bank focused on agricultural and rural development, the World Bank, ICICI Foundation and Tata Trusts have provided funds to Rang De to help pay for their operations.
Poverty has become a fact of life for decades now in India. Rang De is a bold idea that wants to make social investing just as common. Rang De has come a long way and we hope they continue to find bold people that want to help the many entrepreneurs in rural India that we take for granted.