J. S. Parthiban might be the only banker whose office comes equipped with a kickstand. A native of Tamil Nadu, India's southernmost state, Parthiban makes microloans to local communities, all from the back of his small, black Hero Honda motorcycle.
Microcredit, an approach to poverty alleviation that's seen significant success in India, Bangladesh, and elsewhere, involves making small loans to people—mainly women—who have no access to traditional credit so they may start local businesses. Microcredit's success is tied, in part, to its emphasis on community, cooperation, and person-to-person relationships, all keys to vibrant local economies.
"When you begin a new venture, don't think only of yourself and your family. It should benefit the community, the village, and the entire surroundings," says Parthiban, whose work shows that community-based banking has little in common with the risky financial speculation that contributed to the current recession.
To Parthiban, solving problems, including economic ones, is ultimately about cultivating healthy communities. Changing broken systems is important, he agrees, but the real work is with people: "If you help them change their attitude toward life—what they are doing, why they are doing, how they can be—if you can help them find an answer to all these things, I think we have found an answer to all the big headlines in the newspapers."
Local economies might be the key to Africa's emergence from poverty.