Catalyst for progress

Posted on September 27, 2012 by Tara Thiagarajan in Blog, Microfinance, OpEds. Comments Off on Catalyst for progress

Microfinance is about small loans to those with low income in the informal economy. These three factors pose three unique challenges. The small loan size means a different kind of economics and business model from mainstream banking with distinct processes and cost-efficiencies, since the income per loan is particularly low. That the borrowers have low income means the risks are large; small shocks in the family or larger system can have devastating impact on a borrower’s means to repay. And finally, lending to the informal economy presents a different set of challenges in that there is no documentation to verify assets, occupation, income or anything about the person.

The microfinance industry is still grappling with these challenges, learning many of the lessons the hard way. With lending rates now limited to 26 percent under the new regulation, gone are the days … Read More »

One World, One (Giant) Language

Posted on November 7, 2011 by Tara Thiagarajan in Physics of Poverty, Writing. 5 comments

Take a risk. Use your imagination. Transform your world.

Try to say this in any Indian language. I challenge you. You will fall short. Short on comparable, easily accessible vocabulary, short on that easy feel of flow and short on memories of when you last heard something like it said. English is the language of progress and possibility. English is the language of technology. English is the language of change.

To be progressive, therefore, one of the most powerful things we can do in this country is make English mandatory curriculum in every school, and then in the next generation just switch to English as the sole medium of instruction. One world. One language.

OK, I hear the critics. Some of our languages are so beautiful. So much of our culture will be lost. Then quick, start translating. English is one of the … Read More »

A Culture of Progress?

Posted on January 17, 2011 by Tara Thiagarajan in Uncategorized. 7 comments

(As posted on, adapted from my earlier post ‘Culture and Progress’)

As I write this column Pongal is being celebrated with fervour around Chennai. Pongal is a giving of thanks for the harvest, a celebration of the cow and a renewal of hope. For most of India this is not an abstract symbolism of a bygone way of life but anchored in a day to day reality. Yet I wonder about the joy of Pongal when crop yields are among the lowest in the world, our milk yields lag most Asian countries and farmer suicides are constantly in the news.

Where does the hope come from? On the first day of Pongal – Bhogi Pongal – it comes from worshiping Indira in the hope that it will bring good rains in the next year. The second … Read More »