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John Alex heads up the various social initiatives undertaken by the Equitas Group and Equitas Development Initiatives Trust with a view to addressing the needs that a microfinance loan cannot meet for Equitas’ 1.4 million clients and their families in India — though such initiatives are not restricted to Equitas clients alone.
John Alex (see his bio here) joined the Management Team of Equitas in 2008 and conceptualized and set up the team for social initiatives with a clear focus to address a larger spectrum of requirements of clients in the fields of health, education, skill development, food security, placement for unemployed youth, and more. Equitas is a partner of the Microcredit Summit Campaign’s Financing Healthier Lives project and the Health and Financial Services Alliance (learn more here).
One such project is the Equitas Birds Nest, which provides the urban homeless “pavement dwellers” with affordable housing and livelihood training. (An interesting side note, Equitas was formerly known as Upliftment of Pavement Dwellers and Beggars Ltd.) Once they go through the livelihood training and are able to earn a steady income from an activity other than begging, Equitas helps them get off the street by getting them into their own house, in partnership with other organizations or the government — and even the help of Equitas microfinance clients.
In an interview on Next Billion, John Alex explains how the project evolved from housing with a side of food security and livelihoods to livelihoods and food security with the added bonus of a house to call their own. The catalyst? Pavement dwellers refused to participate because they feared that moving off the street would lose them their sole source of income: begging.
John Alex also learned a lot about the pavement dwellers — the truly poorest of the poor — and their resilience, their strength.
When we first started the program, we were very skeptical about beneficiaries’ ability to pay their own rent. However, the last 24 months have proven that these people are willing to pay for services and [are] not looking only at charity. With the income generating skill that we taught them, beneficiaries gained confidence in themselves and their capacity to earn for their families as productive citizens…This actually deterred them from going back to begging and the incremental income was sufficient to pay the rent.
And this innovative initiative costs only $100 per beneficiary, which came down from an original $600 once they started recovering the costs from the beneficiaries. Read this 2012 case study.
Get involved! Register for the 2013 Partnerships against Poverty Summit today. There will be a workshop session called “Finance and Housing: Partnerships that Create Safe Living Spaces for the Poor”–though John Alex will be a speaker in another workshop, “Finance and Health: Elements of Successful Financial Services and Health Partnerships.” He will speak about Equitas’ experience in providing healthcare to their microfinance clients, which you can learn about here. See what other workshops interest you here.