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BW Businessworld

On A Micro Funding Journey

‘Be the truest version of yourself, follow your passion un­apologetically and love what you do’

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I wanted to develop a vehicle to address the massive gap in quality of life and opportunity in India, some­thing which gave back to society but in a sustainable way that encouraged social progress,” says Ananya Birla, explaining the  larger purpose behind her venture.

At 17, she launched a microfinance business called Svatantra. “It helps Indian women in rural areas to grow their businesses and become self-sufficient by giving them access to fair and affordable financial services,” says Birla.

Svatantra Microfin offers the lowest in­terest rate in the country at 19.25 per cent. With over 5 lakh clients and over Rs 1,400 crore of loans disbursed till date, the com­pany has impacted over 3.5 lakh families in nine states in India. “I am proud of every­thing I have done with Svatantra and the growing success of our clients is proof that they can achieve so much if they are given the opportunity,” says Birla.

Svatantra Microfin, conceived out of a desire to help the unbanked, is the fastest-growing mid-size MFI today. She has al­ways believed in giving back to people but in a sustainable way and microfinance was a perfect way to imple­ment her idea.  

In September, Svatan­tra Holdings acquired MicroFinance Housing Corporation (MHFC) with a vision to help fi­nancially excluded (es­pecially lower income informal sector) fami­lies own an indepen­dent home. MHFC has a unique business model hinged upon innovation and technology. With an average ticket size of Rs 4 lakh, MHFC serves over 13,000 custom­ers and has a loan book of close to Rs 460 crore and a team of 200 employees.

“Entrepreneurship and music have both been my passion. Music has always been my passion, it was just a matter of me working out if and how I could turn it into a career, and then build up the cour­age to make that break. Seeing the women that Svatantra works with break out of stereotypes, blossom both personally and professionally, and build something for themselves and their family was a huge inspiration for me to follow my heart into music,” says Birla, talking about the inspi­ration behind her venture.

“In India, my mother and I noticed that people with mental health issues do not come out and speak or seek treatment be­cause of the stigma and lack of social and family support. As a result, depression and suicide rates are on the rise and people are scared to reach out for help because they don’t want to be judged,” says Birla about the motive behind starting Mpower Minds. The initiative aims to stamp out this stigma.

Mpower Minds run a number of cam­paigns, events and initiatives including GenM, which saw participation of over 20,000 people.  

“Mother Teresa is someone I look up to be­cause she believed you start with one person and touch other lives eventu­ally,” says Birla who finds inspiration in real stories.

“BW Businessworld has been an integral part of my journey as an entrepre­neur, I am extremely ap­preciative of the honour,” says Birla, on being chosen for BW 40 under 40.

Over the next five years, she wants to see Svatan­tra obtain the status of a national bank. “My other goal is to be recognised as a suc­cessful singer and songwriter and touch people’s souls,” adds Birla.  

Her message to young entrepreneurs is:  “Be the truest version of yourself, fol­low your passion unapologetically and love what you do. It takes some time and a lot of introspection, but try to understand and find your true purpose. As I have come to learn, the biggest gift that you can give yourself, is to give to others.”