A mini MBA for rural students

Traditionally, an MBA degree is considered a golden ticket to the world of professional success. Madura Microfinance, a Tamil Nadu-based microfinance company and Madhu Viswanathan, professor of business administration at the University of Illinois, have designed an MBA with a difference, tailormade for the bottom of the pyramid.

The fifteen-session mini MBA will train rural folk in the fundamentals of business and marketing. The students, ranging from grocers, flower sellers, sweet shop owners to milk sellers, will write exams at the end of the course.

Tucked away in remote villages such as Bindivanam and Tenkasi of Tamil Nadu, rural youngsters are gearing up to pursue this MBA with the hope that it will help them set up and run their kirana stores, mithai outlets, saloons and other small-scale ventures with ease.

“Ideally, we should be disbursing micro loans only after a client comes to us with a strong business proposition. It is now important to change the mindset of our clients.

Right now, we are not sure if the money is used towards livelihood enhancement motives. By imparting the right training, we hope to equip our clients with a strong understanding of business,” says Tara Thiagarajan, chairperson, Madura Microfinance.

Microfinance companies were largely created to drive up incomes of rural households by offering them petty loans to set up their own shops and eventually alleviate poverty.

Thiagarajan told Financial Chronicle: “The course provides a platform for a shift in the model and we hope that, in a year or so, we can provide loans to borrowers based on their business plans.” She said clients are not empowered enough to take decisions regarding better utilisation of funds. Often, clients end up spending their money buying cattle. At other times, businesses turn into failures and incur losses.

The mini MBA, as they call it, is a digital course and each session lasts for half an hour. Typically, a student would spend Rs 15-20 per session or around Rs 100 per month.

“By keeping it digital, we can take it to a large number of people. The curriculum is developed on numerous case studies of micro businesses in villages by Madhu Viswanathan,” said Thiagarajan. Madura Microfin is expecting “a lot of youngsters to enrol as this would effectively address challenges of unemployment at the village level to an extent.”

After the pilot stage, the course is now set to take off in 200 centres of Tamil Nadu. The company had also earlier launched initiatives such as Madura Thiruviza (Madura festival) for mobile based market linkages and Shakti Pirakkudhu, a feature film based on self help groups.

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