HIGHLIGHTS

  • In 1979, he began the Integrated Village Development Project (IVDP) in Krishnagiri, starting out with small projects: conducting a night school in the light of gas lamps, setting up a first-aid center.
  • Then, with the help of development organizations, he undertook a micro-watershed program that, over twenty-two years, built 331 mostly small check dams benefitting cultivators and their families in sixty villages.
  • IVDP began organizing in 1989 the women’s self-help groups (SHGs). These savings-and-credit groups have grown into an all-women movement of 8,231 SHGs with 153,990 members, with total savings of equivalent to US$40 million, a cumulative loan portfolio of equivalent to US$435 million, and a reserve fund of US$8.9 million.
  • The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his visionary zeal, his profound faith in community energies, and his sustained programs in pursuing the holistic economic empowerment of thousands of women and their families in rural India.”

 CITATION

India is a veritable laboratory of social experiments in poverty alleviation and people empowerment. There are spectacular successes as well as uncounted failures. In what succeeds can often be found the story of one person – self-sacrificing, innovative, and driven by an extraordinary passion to lift people from poverty and suffering.

One such person is Kulandei Francis. Born to a poor family in the Salem district of Tamil Nadu, he was the only one of his siblings to go to university. Francis carried with him two indelible memories of his early years: his parents sacrificing their only piece of land so he could attend university, and his mother being cheated by moneylenders out of what little she had. Resolved to live a life of service, he joined the Fathers of the Holy Cross in 1970 and, during his novitiate, found some fulfillment in doing volunteer work among people struck by famine or displaced by war. When he went to live in Natrampalayam, a remote and impoverished part of Krishnagiri district, he had the life-changing experience of sharing in both the people’s miseries and their dreams. He decided to give up being a priest to devote himself wholly to social work.

In 1979, he began the Integrated Village Development Project (IVDP) in Krishnagiri, starting out with small projects: conducting a night school in the light of gas lamps, setting up a first-aid center. Then, with the help of development organizations, he undertook a micro-watershed program that, over twenty-two years, built 331 mostly small check dams benefitting cultivators and their families in sixty villages. And still, Francis was not content. He knew he needed to do something that could be sustained for the long term, even without external assistance.

The breakthrough came with the women’s self-help groups (SHGs) that IVDP began organizing in 1989. These savings-and-credit groups have grown into an all-women movement of 8,231 SHGs with 153,990 members, with total savings of equivalent to US$40 million, a cumulative loan portfolio of equivalent to US$435 million, and a reserve fund of US$8.9 million. What impresses is not just IVDP’s scale. The program has become a financially disciplined, self-reliant, member-owned, and member-managed organization; the group’s solidarity and access to credit have fueled successful village programs in health and sanitation, housing, livelihood, and children’s education, including scholarships, performance-based incentives for students and schools, a primary school for tribal children, and a computer training academy that has, to date, trained some 5,000 children.

Francis has accomplished this using an approach that has broken through the financial limits of traditional microfinance approaches. Organized into clusters and federations, SHGs are directly linked to banks through group accounts, bulk deposits, and loans that have given the SHGs the power to leverage preferential bank treatment. At the same time, the women have won respect by demonstrating that the poor can manage their finances effectively and reliably.

In large part, all this has come to pass because, as Francis believes, “when people want to do something, they can.” Despite his organization’s spectacular growth, Francis continues to inspire by example, living a simple life with the people he is serving. A missionary in the truest sense, he muses, “Real happiness comes when I see people developing, children are improving, and suffering is removed.”

In electing Kulandei Francis to receive the 2012 Ramon Magsaysay Award, the board of trustees recognizes his visionary zeal, his profound faith in community energies, and his sustained programs in pursuing the holistic economic empowerment of thousands of women and their families in rural India.

 RESPONSE

His Excellency President Benigno S. Aquino III, Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, distinguished guests, fellow Awardees and friends.

Greetings to you all from India.

The response from my heart is thanks for the recognition of IVDP through this award to me. When the award was announced I was unaffected. But a few hours later, a flurry of calls came in from all quarters, lavishing appreciation following media reports of the award. This was followed by interviews with the press and TV channels. Congratulations poured into my e-mail box. People queued up in my office to felicitate me.

I began to understand the meaning of this award to the society around me. Then I slowly woke up to the multitude of appreciation that brought to light the significance of work done in one corner of Tamil Nadu. Thanks to the foundation’s trustees for their gigantic task in scanning across India and locating IVDP’s work for recognition.

The road which I passed through was not one of roses; it was instead full of thorns. It was not easy for me to realize my objective. This honor acknowledges IVDP’s poverty alleviation programs and the sustainable solutions it found to the problems of people who faced drought that forced them to migrate in search of livelihood.

The uniqueness of IVDP is that it is for the people, by the people and of the people, where the lives of SHG members are secured, savings are safe, and loans are available at affordable cost. It is member-focused, member-owned, autonomous and with a built-in system that ensures higher percentage of repayment. Success goes to our women members who proved that the community can be transformed by them through savings and livelihood creation, through mutual cooperation and understanding.

I’m happy to place on record the fact that IVDP had changed the outlook of banks towards women in the villages. Inaccessible credit became accessible to the so-called ‘ineligible’ poor women. Creditworthiness in turn groomed them as reliable clients. Now they are regarded as first-rate clients by the banks. Thus, our model is sustained by our women in the process of IVDP’s ongoing activities.

At this juncture, I wish to express my thanks to many-my special thanks-to my parents, the Fathers of the Holy Cross, my life partner and the IVDP team for their constant support and encouragement in sustaining my motivation in my work.

I would like to sum up my IVDP experience by asserting a fact of life, that is “to give toiling people an appropriate opportunity and they will multiply the outputs in several folds.” The requirement at present is not praying lips, but a bona fide helping hands.

I would like to accept this award and the honor and credit that goes with it on behalf of IVDP’s 150,000 women members who are the real pillars behind the organization’s landmark achievements.

My final word of response to this award is….Nandri (thank you) for the recognition to IVDP’s women!