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A Fistful of Rice: My Unexpected Quest to End Poverty Through Profitability Hardcover – November 9, 2010
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An engaging account ” Fast Company
This absorbing book tells the story of how Vikram Akula turned an idealistic vision into a thriving business that today serves millions of poor women in India. I have witnessed firsthand how SKS Microfinance has had an amazing impact in India compared to other poverty-reduction programs.” Vinod Khosla, Cofounder, Sun Microsystems, and Principal, Khosla Ventures
an inspiring autobiographical story of an American of Indian origin who went to India to help the rural poor ” Foreign Affairs
About the Author
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*Anand Giridharadas who lives in U.S.A. and wrote a book about India.
*Meenal Hazratwala who lives is U.S.A. but spent considerable time in India to write a book about her family's history.
*Somini Sengupta lives in U.S.A. but writes about India and other topics for New York Times.
And now comes Vikram Akula's book titled `A Fistful of Rice'. This book takes the reader on a journey from Schenectady, New York to Hyderabad, India; from where the author's ancestors originated. Vikram grew up in NY state and spent summer vacations in India. During each visit he was moved by the poverty there. On his first visit to India at age seven, an incident moved him very deeply. While staying with his aunt, a poor woman came to sell steel pots at her door. After accepting a few, his aunt paid the woman not with money but with a fistful of rice in her stretched garment. The author say "a few grains - maybe fifteen in all, fell to the floor...to my astonishment, the woman reached down and pressed her finger against each grain to pick it up. This woman was carefully scouring the floor, making sure she hadn't missed a single grain. This, I suddenly realized, was what it meant to be truly hungry."
This incident laid the seeds of what Vikram would do when he grew up. In his freshman year "in a moment of teenage zeal" he wrote that "he wanted to eradicate poverty with the discipline of a marine." Sounds like Miss Universe saying she wants to promote world peace! Fortunately Vikram's were no famous last words because he actually worked towards his goal by studying, working and going back and forth between U.S.A. and India. He started work at D.D.S. (Deccan Development Society) in Hyderabad. With experience he realized "that the poor must control their own ascent from poverty" and that "money was the root of all self-empowerment solutions." He then melded these two powerful ideas into one solution for eradicating poverty, namely microfinance. So he went back to U.S.A., collected $52,000 from friends and family and returned to India to set up a company called S.K.S. (Swayam Krishi Sangam: a Sanskrit phrase meaning self-work society).
From here on the book becomes a classic case study into the workings of a rapidly growing and very efficiently managed company that provides micro loans to the poor in Indian villages. It was interesting to read about everything a founder has to do when you start from scratch e.g. hiring loan officers, spreading the word using town criers, explaining the concept of microfinance to the poor via plays, goat economics etc. As for the growth, in 2004 S.K.S. had 25,000 members, by 2005 it had 120,000 members, by 2006 it had 300,000 members and nearly $75 million in loan disbursed.
As the company grew, it diversified into many other causes that would emancipate the poor e.g. setting up low-cost schools that teach English to the poor, distribution of medicines through the loan officers' network to prevent disease, mobilize disaster relief when there are floods and cyclones, giving free gift baskets to the new poor i.e. senior citizens, widows and handicapped youth etc.
With the attention of Rahul Gandhi, Vikram gained recognition in India at the national level and has won many feathers in his cap since. In 2006 Time magazine named him one of the world's 100 most influential people; in 2008 he was given the World Economic Young Global Leader award etc. Vikram has proved to be a very hard-working idealist with a vast vision. As he says, "Microfinance is a thriving world-changing business, and we don't intend to stop growing until every poor person in the world has access to it." Now he wants to expand to other countries including U.S.A.
With his hard work Vikram has clearly demonstrated that there is fortune at the bottom of the pyramid. In C.K.Prahalad's obituary David Leonhardt wrote that Prahalad argued that companies could earn vast profits by turning their attention to the billions of impoverished people around the world whom businesses typically ovrlooked. Cell phones, detergents, meals, even popsicles in the scorching heat of his native India: all were opportunities to make money and to improve lives...a touchstone for global do-gooders looking for alternatives to traditional foreign aid. As for Vikram, I have just one thing to say, keep up the good work!
This is one of my favorite examples from the book, where SKS members benefitted. Behind the author's `just like that' is a will of steel, a heart of gold, hours of hard work, and the genuine selfless desire to makes the lives of the poor better.
It is what is behind this `just like that' that the book takes you through and proves to the world that if folks don't get stuck on ideologies of non-profit vs. for profit, there is quite a lot of progress that can be made at the bottom of the pyramid. Microfinance is a powerful way to affect drastic change at the grass roots level. There are some parallels in the book that can be applied to inherently risky initiatives such as anti slavery, anti prostitution, anti child labor.
The hands holding a fistful of rice on the cover of the book are beautiful because those very hands worked very hard and earned the very rice they are holding and all anyone asks for is just that.
I purchased copies for my entire management team!
An easy read with great insight into the world of poor. Micro-finance provides proof that poor are smart enough to help themselves, all they need are the means. This book is great at explaining how it actually works. A part of the book was used to justify the for profit label of Vikam's organization. The volume of its organization's members combined with its grass root level reach with significant interest from corporate financiers all ratify Vikram's vision of the larger good.
Wishing Vikram luck and hoping it spurns more revolutionary ideas for the betterment of masses.