Vijay Mahajan, one of India’s most successful entrepreneur graduated from IIT Delhi in 1975 and did his MBA from IIM Ahmedabad in 1981. Vijay has been listed in “60 Outstanding Social Entrepreneurs” by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship at the World Economic Forum 2002; “India’s 50 Most Powerful People” by BusinessWeek, 2009 and among “The twenty people who will reform India during this decade”, by the Indian Express, 2011.
Shocking his family and friends, Vijay decided to work at the Indian grassroots and started NGO PRADAN (Professional Assistance for Development Action) along with his friend Deep Joshi in 1983. PRADAN started working directly with rural poor communities, helping the tribals of the Kesla block in Hoshangabad district of Madhya pradesh to the dalit carcass flayers of Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh to the tasar silk reares of Santhal Parganas of Bihar (now Jharkhand). Vijay topped up this flush of innovative projects by setting up three separate types of collaborative projects – for wasteland development with small NGOs in Purulia, West Bengal; for income-generation with ITC near its cigarette factories in Munger, Bihar and Saharanpur, UP; and with the local panchayats and district/block level government agencies in the Kishangarh Bas block of Alwar district in Rajasthan.
Vijay inducted a number of young professionals from the IITs, IIMs and top agricultural universities to work with him and other NGOs. In 1991, Vijay left PRADAN with a vague notion of working in the mainstream. Today, PRADAN works in 36 districts of 7 states with over 135,000 poor families. PRADAN continues to exist and is considered one of India’s most effective NGOs specializing in livelihoods of rural poor households.
In 1996, realizing the need to attract mainstream financial resources, Vijay conceptualised BASIX,a new generation institution devoted to promoting a large number of livelihoods for the poor and women on a sustainable basis.
Two-thirds of India’s more than 1 billion people live in rural areas, and almost half are poor. Conditions in rural areas in India can be very complex and challenging. In 1992, the situation became worse, as India began to reform and liberalize its banking system. Banks further decreased the number of loans to the rural poor because they still considered the loans less profitable. Since then, microfinance institutions (MFIs) have begun to work in India, due to the success of early examples in Bangladesh, Brazil, and beyond. However, Vijay cautions that access to microcredit alone is not a silver bullet. Poor people are poor not only because they don’t have access to money, but because they lack access to health care, employment, and education.
In 1996, Vijay founded BASIX, an umbrella organization that provides a comprehensive set of livelihood promotion services for rural poor households. BASIX is among the first microfinance companies in the world to attract commercial debt and equity investments, both internationally and from within India. It also offers a range of services including savings and insurance, agricultural, livestock and non-farm enterprise development, and institutional development to rural producers and their groups.
BASIX, headquartered in Hyderabad, works in 20,000 villages spread over 106 districts in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Chattisgarh, West Bengal, Delhi and Assam. Since the inception of the group, BASIX has supported the livelihoods of over a million rural poor households, of which a third have been supported directly with microcredit worth over Rs 2000 crore, in addition to savings and insurance services, agricultural/business development services and institutional development services.
The loan outstanding as on March 31, 2007 was Rs 234 crore (USD 58 million) for the group with over 347,651 customers. As much as 41% of the loans went to the farm sector, which is severely impaired for want of credit and 59% to women, who tend to be financially excluded. BASIX covers the lives and livelihoods of its customers against various risks like death of self or spouse, critical illness, hospitalization and permanent disability.
Despite its size, BASIX has been able to provide personalized and attentive services to its borrowers and beneficiaries with an average repayment rate of 92 percent.
Vijay had been a member of the Committee on Financial Sector Reforms, and Committee on Financial Inclusion. He serves on several boards and has been adviser to Planning Commission of India, RBI, NABARD and different state governments. He is the President of MicroFinance Institutions Network (MFIN) of India. He has been recognized as Distinguished Alumnus Award by IIT Delhi in 2003 and by IIM Ahmedabad in 2011. His long list of awards include:
- Member of the Ashoka Fellowship, 2008
- HSBC Access award for outstanding contribution to the microfinance sector, 2009
- Skoch Foundation Award for Financial Inclusion, 2010
Vijay has co-authored a book “The Forgotten Sector” on the rural non-farm sector in India. He has published over 60 articles on rural livelihood, development and micro-finance in international journals.