How India's first peer-to-peer lending platform makes farmers more creditworthy in Northeast

Priyanka Chakrabarty

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Guwahati: Socially responsible investing (SRI), also known as social investment, is an investment that is considered socially responsible due to the nature of the business the company conducts. Rang De is an Indian peer-to-peer lending platform focused on providing timely and affordable credit to unbanked communities with a special focus on the Northeast Indian region. Business North East recently spoke to Smita Ram, the founder of 'Rang De' via Google Meet.

Below are some excerpts from the interview:

Question: How and when did Rang De reach Assam?

Answer: Rang De arrived in Assam a couple of years back when we started to work on a project called 'Xamahar'. We had previously worked with artisans in Assam, but we scaled up once Xamahar happened. We have been actively working in Assam ever since and have a team there now.

Q: Does Rang De have plans to expand its efforts across the Northeast?
A: We have already worked in Nagaland and Manipur. However, we are actively seeking partnerships in the rest of the Northeast and it is an area of focus for us. We do hope that the Assam team will also be able to explore partnerships with other parts of the Northeast. We do a lot of work apart from Xamahar in the Northeast, 

Q: How do you make people aware of your Northeast Fund?

A: We will take a step back and discuss how Rang De works and why the Northeast Fund is of significance to us. We are a social peer-to-peer lending platform with a focus on underbanked communities of farmers, entrepreneurs, and artisans across India. We are geography agnostic but we have invested in the Northeast because we have found people are eager to become self-reliant, be it farmers or artisans. We also found that individuals who lend or invest through the platform are seeking to invest in the Northeast as they believe in the potential of the region. There are very few avenues where ordinary citizens can invest in the Northeast which is why we created the Northeast Fund. Now, ordinary people like you and me can invest in the region. The idea is not just about investing money. It is also about investing your time and emotion in ensuring the development of the region. That is why, we needed something which is like a call to action for people to participate. We create awareness mostly through social media. Of course, the media coverage that we got from some publications like yours (Business North East) has also been superb. It helps amplify and spread the word about what we do. To register in Northeast fund, this is the link:

Q: Do you think the Northeast fund is sufficient to provide fund support for Assam farmers?

A: North East Fund and Rang De are aiming to fill a financing gap by helping people who were not considered credit-worthy by other financial institutions access formal credit. By helping farmers build a credit score, they can become credit-worthy to other financial institutions, enabling them to access formal credit. This initiative has already seen people from Nagaland who had never had a credit score before being offered loans from other banks and institutions. While Northeast Fund and Rang De may not solve the entire financing gap, they play a critical role in spreading a narrative about creditworthiness.

Q: What lessons have you learned as the founder of Rang De, both in terms of successes and challenges?

A: Rang De, an online platform for peer-to-peer lending in India, faces challenges such as trust deficit and stereotypes. The platform aims to curate opportunities and individuals for investment but faces challenges in building trust with people from different locations. To overcome these challenges, Rang De is transparent, providing all necessary information and storytelling. The platform has been around for 16 years and has been supported by many people, recognizing that every individual has the potential to make a difference. In the last few years, thousands of individuals have invested through Rang De, believing in social investing and self-reliance. Over the last 16 years, Rang De has disbursed over Rs 140 crore, all of which has come from individuals. The platform's success is attributed to its ability to bridge the knowledge gap and provide a platform for individuals to make a difference.

Q: If you could go back to the beginning, is there anything you would do differently?

A: Every day, I wake up in the morning and think about what I could have done better - it is something that every entrepreneur faces. Something I would do differently is to talk about Rang De a lot more. When we started Rang De, we wanted to make sure that we focussed on building partnerships and build a network of organizations through which we could reach out to people who need credit. We didn’t focus on creating awareness of social investing or Rang De as a model.  But I do think that we should have done it earlier. People participate in ventures only when they come to know what you are trying to do.

Q: Does Rang De have any collaboration partnership or government support?

A: We work in 22 states now and we have collaborations everywhere. It is because working with communities that are excluded would require that we work with those who have invested in these communities and built social capital on the ground. For example, in Nagaland, we worked with an organization that has been there for 30 years. They are trying to foster a culture of entrepreneurship development in Nagaland and across the Northeast. We also worked with an organization called Mithun Rural Development Foundation. Wherever we have worked, it has been through partnerships like that of Xamahaar. We have worked with around 90-95 organizations across the country till now.
Q: What are your plans for the future?

A: In the last couple of years, we have made our footprint in Assam; this is something we would like to develop and build on. For example, we have actively worked in the potato value chain and are willing to explore other value chains like fishery and craft. We want to build a dedicated team for the Northeast. We want to ensure that there are also many people who have succeeded. How do we have a call to action for them to invest back in the Northeast?

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Priyanka Chakrabarty