It’s Monday and A. Sheela Shantakumari is leading the Baba Trust Group meeting in Chennai, India. Nineteen women have joined together to repay loans, learn accounting skills and socialize.
Like many women in the world whose activity is limited by social conventions, Sheela barely left her house two years ago. Today, she is president of her Trust Group and a community leader with a profitable business. Sheela credits her new life to counsel from her loan officer, support from her group and training in business skills.
Opportunity International Trust Groups make it possible for enterprising individuals to improve their lives and make a difference in their community—no matter how meager their resources. A Trust Group begins when 10 to 30 entrepreneurs, usually women, join together and elect leaders. To be eligible for loans, members undergo four to eight weeks of training. As a group, they pledge to guarantee each others' loans and support one others' businesses. Because collateral is not necessary, credit becomes available to those previously locked out from formal financial services.
Weekly meetings are the hallmark of the Trust Group model. As they receive training in business practices, interpersonal relationships and health care issues, members develop close alliances along with new skills. For A. Sheela Shantakumari, the entire experience has been life-changing. “My courage has grown and I am very grateful and proud to be with Opportunity,” she says. Her sari sales business has tripled since she helped found the Baba Trust Group. She has become well known in her community through her involvement in philanthropic projects, including a children’s art festival that provides a platform for students to express themselves.
With a high repayment rate, Trust Groups have proven to be an effective grassroots approach to tackling poverty. While building up local economies, these close-knit groups also foster personal growth and create community leaders like Sheela.