In addition to promoting education and health, we set up a micro-credit programme in early 2010 aimed at helping the families of our most disadvantaged pupils. Thanks to grants and subsidies, more than 20,000 small loans were granted to the mothers of these pupils. In addition to targeting the poor, by helping them escape poverty with small loans that enable them to start their own micro-enterprises, this programme also helps to finance their children's education.
All the interest collected is used to finance the schools' operating budget. In 2018, it will cover nearly 30% of our total expenses. Given the steady decline in donations over the years, this programme, in addition to contributing to the emancipation of women, is gradually leading to our goal of self-subsistence.
Self-financing is our main aim because it is the only way to sustain our educational and medical programmes. If we are to achieve this target, then we need to inject additional funds and provide loans to more mothers, which is the best way to continue and strengthen our efforts.
Following community micro-credit experiments in Bihar in approximately 15 villages, the project took on a new dimension under the aegis of Dr Pradip Har and Martial Salamolard at the end of 2009. Their approach is based on the authorised Grameen Bank system. The loan conditions are as follows:
The strict and rigorous procedure for selection of the mothers explains in large part the success of the programme. It includes the following steps:
We have launched our micro-credit initiative in some of India's poorest regions, including Bihar, the Sundarbans islands of West Bengal and the Thar Desert of Rajasthan, three states some 3,000 km apart.
The best evidence of the programme's success is that all the loans and interest have been fully repaid at maturity, something very rare on a scale such as this and over a period of more than eight years. This is the result of a careful selection and training procedure for candidates, as well as close monitoring and effective follow-up. Our activities are also supported by the expert advice provided by the company Creditwatch. Moreover, the motivation of the mothers to repay without default is undoubtedly due to the fact that all the interest they pay is used to finance their children's education.
Granting a loan to a mother means giving her the opportunity to raise her social status within her family and local community. As part of the loan-granting process, she is interviewed and has to pass sometimes difficult tests and achieve good results. As the income generated by self-employment increases, she earns the respect of her husband and children. Given her initial status, this boosts her confidence and makes her more resilient.
The additional income she generates covers part of the school expenses and facilitates access to schools for her children, without forcing them to work outside their homes in factories or in the fields.
Becoming a member of a group of five women has very positive repercussions. The mother becomes the partner of a group of clients who have a vested interest in their success and guarantee the full repayment of the loans. This results in each woman helping each other with technical, accounting and other advice. Another important factor is the moral and emotional support that these women can provide to each other.
If the mother has a daughter, she becomes a role model, instead of being discredited by her family as is still all too often the case. The Ecole de la Terre project has already created several apprenticeship centres that give candidates training in different fields, such as computer science, handicraft manufacture, weaving, sewing, embroidery, design, etc. As a result, many young women have the opportunity to obtain paid employment or become self-employed through the micro-credit programme..
As we have already noted, making primary education widespread was one of the long-term priorities of the Indian government, but this is still far from being achieved, especially in rural areas. Ecole de la Terre has set up several dozen schools and apprenticeship centres in the three rural Indian states of Bihar, West Bengal and Rajasthan, as well as in the slums of Calcutta and Delhi. Thousands of girls and boys attend our schools in these areas where state schools are either non-existent or sub-standard.
Despite these results, the Indian government has constantly delayed grants for the financing of the operating costs of our schools. One obvious reason is the success of the 'Income for Education' programme; the monthly interest collected from each client covers a substantial part of the operating costs of schools, apprenticeship centres and health clinics. This contribution represents nearly 30% of Ecoles de la Terre's operating budget.
The operating costs of schools are high; they include teachers' salaries, school maintenance, books and school supplies, uniforms, snacks, etc. This is why the income generated by self-employed mothers is vital, not only for the mothers themselves but also for Ecoles de la Terre.
In addition to creating additional revenue for the mothers, providing families with the opportunity to send their children – particularly girls – to school, vocational training and raising the social status of mothers and daughters, this programme has other benefits.
From a micro-economic perspective, the added value of the money in circulation generated by entrepreneurial activities carried out by mothers leads to an increase in the money supply needed to purchase goods and services in rural and suburban areas. This 'income for education' tandem is the driving force behind our efforts, which creates a multiplier effect.
When we look at the unprecedented success of our project, on such a huge scale and over such a long period of time, it becomes clear that it must be developed further. At this particular point in time, we have gathered all the required components for the success of such an action plan.
This multiplier effect is equal to promoting the education of the most disadvantaged individuals, guaranteeing the financing of schools by our own means, and raising the standard of living of poor families by offering them the necessary self-management tools, so they can escape the pitfalls of dependency and reliance on charity.