PACT’s Trip to India

daniel.vidalFoundation News, Supplier Partnerships, Travel

Thanks to Jeff from PACT for contributing this post.

Hi! I’m Jeff Denby, co-founder of PACT.  We make super soft organic cotton essentials featuring limited edition colorful prints, designed for an unbelievably comfortable fit all day long.  And we proudly sell our entire line at Whole Foods Market.

In April 2013, I visited PACT’s manufacturing partner in India to check in on production. Our partner in India is one of three fair trade certified apparel factories in the world, making over a million garments a year from the finest certified organic cotton sourced exclusively from the Chetna Cotton Project in Orissa, India.

On a visit to Varanasi, I had the opportunity to meet with one of Whole Planet Foundation’s partners, CASHPOR, a microfinance organization. CASHPOR provides microfinance exclusively to Below Poverty Line (BPL) women in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Their mission is to provide financial and other vital credit services in a honest, timely, and efficient manner so these women can lift themselves and their families out of poverty.

I was met at my hotel by Mr. Kashaul from CASHPOR. We drove through dirt roads dodging cars, bicycles, transport trucks, pedestrians, tuk-tuks, and cows. We pulled off the main road and drove a few miles on a one lane dirt road and stopped at a small cluster of low brick buildings – a tiny village called Rustanpur. There we found a group of 15 women in brightly colored saris sitting on the ground in a circle around a CASHPOR loan officer dressed in all white.

Each woman had a loan from CASHPOR ranging from $300 to $1500. These loans were used by the women to help operate and/or finance the growth of their business. The businesses were simple – they owned a produce stand at a local market (using the funds to purchase wholesale produce). They rented land for farming. In the case of the larger amounts, they used the money to buy a buffalo for its milk. Almost all businesses were subsistence-based operations connected to agriculture. It was clear that in this world, food was valuable.

Each woman had a booklet that detailed out her specific weekly payment which she was responsible for bringing to the group. One at a time, each woman paid her weekly installment in front of the others and gave an update of her business – her successes and her challenges. I learned that all of the women were responsible for each other. This was a community. If a woman showed up unable to pay, the others needed to cover her. It was in the best interest of all the women to support one another – it was community development at its highest level.

At the end of the repayment session, one woman was given all the cash for the week. It was her and her family’s responsibility to get all of the cash to the local branch office. The CASHPOR loan officer could not take it – too risky for him to carry so much money. So instead, each week, a different family was responsible for taking the money. Once again, a shared community responsibility.

As I left Rastanpur I had an incredible feeling of hope. There are good people in the world doing good work to help others and their families. Communities are strong. The empowerment of women was such a positive force and the commitment of Mr. Kashaul and the others at CASHPOR was inspiring. There is good news to spread and we should celebrate it.

In particular, we should celebrate organizations like Whole Planet Foundation that make the work of CASHPOR possible. I was so honored to have the opportunity to meet those women that day and furthermore, I’m honored that PACT will be raising money this Fall to support Whole Planet Foundation’s work with CASHPOR and other organizations like it.