Akula to Address Purpose and Profitability of Microfinance

8.31.2007 News Release

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.‰ÛÓVikram Akula, founder and chief executive officer of SKS Microfinance of India and one of Time magazine‰Ûªs 100 most influential people in 2006, will speak on the purpose and profitability of microfinance at Wake Forest University‰Ûªs Babcock School of Management at 6 p.m. Sept. 6.

The event, which is free and open to the public, is the first lecture of the 2007-2008 Babcock Leadership Series and will be held in Room 1312 of the Worrell Professional Center at the Winston-Salem campus of Wake Forest.

Akula is known for using microfinance principles in India to spur economic development by providing small business loans, as little as $20, among poor women in remote villages.

The possibility of encouraging similar economic development in the Winston-Salem area is what prompted Ajay Patel, dean of the Babcock Graduate School of Management, and Patrick McMullen, associate professor of management, to invite Akula to Wake Forest.

‰ÛÏWhy can‰Ûªt we do something like this in our own back yard? Is there learning we can take out of all this and apply in our own communities?‰Û Patel said.

Patel also sees microfinance as a concept that Babcock students need to understand to gain new perspectives on traditional financial issues. ‰ÛÏVikram has the ability to show business and entrepreneurial students that they can combine their education with a social conscience to go beyond profits to try to improve their communities,‰Û Patel said.

McMullen, who was among a group of faculty members that took a group of Babcock students to India in May, saw the positive impact that SKS Microfinance loans had on the remote village of Channapatna, near Bangalore. ‰ÛÏUntil Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize last October, I thought that microfinance was purely financial. I didn‰Ûªt realize it was also a social issue,‰Û McMullen said. ‰ÛÏBy giving mothers a sustainable vocation, their kids are going to school instead of foraging or begging for food, and literacy is improving. When this is done, the standard of living increases, and that‰Ûªs good for everyone.‰Û

Akula started SKS in 1998 in response to microfinance‰Ûªs inability to scale to large numbers. Since then, SKS has provided nearly $240 million in loans and life insurance to more than 900,000 poor women in 16,000 villages and slums of India while maintaining a 99 percent repayment rate.

With a growth rate of 170 percent ‰ÛÒ one of the fastest in the industry ‰ÛÒ SKS adds 50 new branches and 85,000 new customers each month. The results have attracted major equity investments from premier venture capitalists such as Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, and Ravi Reddy, co-founder of Think Systems.

The company‰Ûªs approach to dispensing loans on smart cards has also caught the attention of Visa International, which has provided SKS with cell phone-based card readers.

The Babcock Leadership Series, which is organized by Wake Forest MBA students, focuses on current issues affecting business.