At Rang De, we often try to do more than just work. Across the varied interests of our teammates, some engage in meditation, running, yoga, painting, travel, and many such activities, encouraging and pushing each other to do more. This story is about one such teammate, one who carries the tag of a voracious reader, book dragon, bibliognost, and more such titles elegantly. She is our inspiration when it comes to reading diligently. Our Team Lead- Swabhimaan, Sanjana Nair, and this is her journey at Rang De over the last four years.
Sanjana (left) with our CEO Smita.
It’s 2018 and Sanjana is in her last semester pursuing a Master’s in Public Policy and Governance from Azim Premji University, Bangalore. Her subject matter of interest is human rights and that has been her focus in her projects and research work.
It was then she came to know about Rang De. Her cousin who had worked closely with Rang De earlier shared his experience and connected her to the team. Keen to explore the work and intrigued by the mission of Rang De, she wrote an email to Smita, our CEO, seeking a job opportunity.
At that point in time, Rang De wasn’t actively hiring. There were internship opportunities but no full-time jobs. Sanjana recalls one of our ex-employees, Sudeshna writing back with the news.
Moving on, as we all do in life, Sanjana continued to finish her course. But life had some other plans for her. She had not applied to any other jobs yet. She was looking for something that piqued her interest and aligned with her values. That’s when she came to know, Rang De had come for campus placements in her college. She knew this was her chance to grab the opportunity.
Ram, Our CEO, gave a detailed presentation about the company’s vision. Sanjana recalls, just like her, everyone was keen on this new organization and its work. Sanjana did appear for the interview, and we all know what followed next. She aced it. Sanjana stepped in as an Impact Manager. Her role initially was to manage partners, review loan applications, and audit. However, within a few weeks, she joined the Swabhimaan team. Swaabhimaan was launched in 2017, to promote financial literacy and services in rural India. And as luck would have it, she went on to work closely with Smita and Sudeshna on the Swabhimaan program. This makes Sanjana believe that her working at Rang De was serendipitous and meant to be. Stepping into Swabhimaan Within the week of joining Rang De, she was in the middle of where all the action happened. A team from South Africa has come to design a behaviour change framework for the Swabhimaan program.
During the first few months, she worked on the content for the financial literacy training and the impact assessment models and frameworks. Sanjana shared that during the initial days, there was a preconceived notion of what could be done to uplift the state of rural communities. But with her time in Rang De and after multiple field visits, she learned that getting the process right and involving local people in decision-making was more important than chasing after the mirage of a perfect solution. Her first field visit was to our first Swabhimaan centre in a village called Yeshwantpura in the Malur district of Karnataka. At a time when Digital India was blooming, this village claimed to have taken its steps towards digitization. On the ground though, things were different. The community was debt-ridden. MFIs had exploited them and responsible borrowing wasn’t in practice.
Swabhimaan had been employed to mitigate these effects of irresponsible lending and borrowing in this area. With the help of a keen postman, who was willing to be our Swabhimaan Mitra (financial literacy trainer), the Swabhimaan program was launched in March 2017 in this village. Sanjana joined the team a year later and took up the task of creating customized content for the community and putting in place impact assessment mechanisms to measure the impact of the Swabhimaan program. Sanjana said that often people took loans to pay out previous loans and were in mounting debts. As a team, they needed to rework and build a more inclusive program. There was a need to set up a whole behavioural change in the community.
The women associated with the Swabhimaan training centre saw it as a safe space to talk about their financial, social, and economic woes. A kind of a support group was established in the community unknowingly. The Rang De team banked on this idea and created a community out of the people. Appointing roles and ambassadors within the group. It clicked.
Now, Swabhimaan is scaling to many more communities in India, since its inception 4 years ago. The pandemic halted its operations in 2020, but the team is rebuilding a more digital-savvy and individualistic program for the people. A Swabhimaan 2.0, that goes beyond financial literacy and behaviour change to become a one-stop platform for any questions or support regarding finances. At the core of this lies Sanjana’s work and time these days. A moment she recalls from the past that made her dedicated to Rang De was this interaction with a dairy farmer. On her field visit, Sarojamma who had previously taken a loan from Rang De needed more for upscaling. She said, “Every time I borrow from Rang De I have made progress.” Sarojamma went on to invite the Rang De team to her son’s wedding that day as she believed the Rang De team to be an extended family to her.
Sanjana believes that the impact doesn’t stop with the loans. It is fluid. The communities that Rang De caters to understand the value we provide. Each partner, every narrative, is a story of a powerful impact. Going beyond the monetary aspect of a loan to empower the communities is what Sanjana is passionate about. In that feeling lies all her hard work, passion, and dedication.
Read more such stories of Rang De Team members.