University club helps nonprofit group to help impoverished in India - The Daily Emerald
By Darin Moriki
Nearly 30 years ago, it came to Brent Hample in a dream.
Hample, who was a University sophomore at the time, recalls that the vivid dream involved Jesus, foreigners, food and himself, which he believed was a call for him to go to India. The only problem was that he did not know when the opportunity would arise.
That opportunity came nearly six years later when he left Eugene to go to India as a part of the child sponsorship program at Central Lutheran Church. For Hample, those six weeks in India changed his life, and he worked vigorously for the next two decades to help people in need in India.
In 1994, Hample’s efforts finally culminated in the creation of India Partners, a Eugene-based non-profit Christian grassroots organization that provides several “self-help” programs to impoverished people in India, such as primary school, fishing initiatives and health care provisions.
With offices in India, Portland, Eugene and Washington state, Hample, the CEO and president of India Partners, said the company has given nearly $3 million to numerous programs and initiatives in India. To add to these initiatives, the company began to provide microfinance loans — relatively small loans that typically range from $25 to $1,000 — to Indian fishermen after their boats were destroyed by the massive 2004 tsunami and earthquake. More than half a decade later, Hample estimates India Partners has provided nearly 50,000 people with loans — a company record of nearly $400,000 alone was given out last year.
However, with help from the University’s Microfinance Initiative, Hample is hopeful the company can expand its microfinance initiatives to more people in India.
“It seemed like the perfect fit,” Elizabeth Aldrich, the club’s vice president said in an email. “India Partners has such a wide variety of projects that it can be difficult for them to have specialized knowledge in every one of them, and our club thought we could provide some of that specialized knowledge to help develop a project we saw as valuable.”
Aldrich explained that India Partners has a rather unique business model, because it partners with organizations that are native to India to help them develop and implement projects rather than handling every aspect of their projects themselves.
“A lot of organizations that do projects abroad face one of two challenges: Either they work from a great distance, which doesn’t allow them to get their hands into a project and know that what they’re doing is really helping anyone, or they do the opposite and go to the country and do the projects themselves, in which case their projects often have unintended consequences because their understanding of the local cultural can never be as great as a local resident’s,” Aldrich said.
“The model which India Partners operates with allows them to overcome, at least a little bit, those two problems because they hand the reigns of the project over to an organization that understands the complexities of the local culture without completely giving up oversight on the project.”
Nevertheless, organizations such as India Partners face significant challenges in a country that has been victimized by the type of financial model that was implemented to help its citizens. Lamia Karim, a University associate professor of anthropology and the associate director for the Center for the Study of Women in Society, said microfinance loans were lauded as the “magic bullet for alleviating poverty for women” in countries such as India nearly a decade ago. Despite the high return rates that Karim said were marketed around 98 percent, she explained that these loans had very strict loan conditions. Unlike typical loans, microfinance loans have high interest rates and shorter maturity dates.
Karim said women were particularly easier targets for banks because they were largely confined to the domestic space. Because many people spent the money on other essentials, such as food and other necessities rather than entrepreneurial ventures, Karim said many of the women who borrowed money were unable to pay the money back.
“Microfinance does not help poor people,” Karim said. “In rare instances, it moves people from poverty. You need to create producers and not consumers and ‘entrepreneurs.’ Women who stay within the patriarchal home have their money usually used by their husbands and sons. However, women who have marketable skills can be helped, provided the institution is willing to invest in ensuring market access for them and trains them. Most microfinance institutions are unwilling to invest in human development.”
However, Hample said there is a big difference between what many of the commercial banks are doing and what India Partners is doing as a non-profit agency. Unlike many of the banks that offer small loans at high interest rates with increased pressure to pay back the money, India Partners creates “self-help” groups in addition to lending out money so that people can learn how to start up a business and encourage each other to repay those loans, even though Hample said there is no obligation to do so.
An example of this is an agency-run, one-to-two-year tailoring program in which young women and widows learn how to use foot-powered sewing machines so they are able to make clothes and sell them for their own profit. Upon graduation from the program, Hample said these women receive a free sewing machine and are able to use the skills they have learned to sustain themselves.
Hample said these skills are especially important in a country that has a 63.8 percent literacy rate and the second largest population in the world, according to the United Nations Development Programme.
“In villages, especially, where we do a lot of our work, the literacy rate is a lot lower,” Hample said. “We’ve always put an emphasis on teaching them how to get involved in new projects like these. Most people don’t have to read and write, so they have to learn things through speaking and talking to one another.”
Karim also agreed and said non-profit Christian organizations may be better at giving loans because they operate from a charitable perspective rather than viewing people as a means to generate profit.
“A Christian charity is in all likelihood less coercive than the market-driven microfinance institutions in loan recovery,” Karim said. “After all, they work within a charitable ethos.”