KARACHI: The launch of ‘journey and future outlook’, a unique success story about the situation of Thar Desert, on Saturday attracted representatives of banks, corporate companies, micro credit organisations and a large number of community elders, hailing from the desert. The event, organized by Thardeep Microfinance Foundation (TMF), was held at a local hotel. It was a report about the evolution of Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP) from community-based microcredit to independent TMF, tackling challenges of poverty facing communities, and the role of microfinance to benefit them. TMF CEO Sono Khangharani, in his detailed presentation, hoped to reach 300,000 active clients by 2020 as many people in these districts were waiting for this kind of help, he said. “TMF provides a variety of financial services to help equip clients with the knowledge and skills required to reduce poverty and drive sustainable development. It offers variety of need based loans to micro-entrepreneurs, inspiring female and male entrepreneurs to become self-sustainable”, Khangharani said. He said currently microfinance is on the national agenda. “There are 12 microfinance institutions in the country and TMF is part of this growing sector”, he said. TRDP’s microfinance interventions introduced a new culture of borrowing and lending in remote communities who were vulnerable to exploitation as they transitioned from barter based to cash-based economic relations, he added. “The potential microfinance market in target regions is 1.775 million borrowers. The number of active borrowers served by all MFIs and MFBs in the target region is only 232,000 borrowers, only 13 percent of the covered market. The number of active borrowers served by TMF is 125000 representing 44 percent of the current market served and 5.6 percent of the potential market. This analysis shows that a huge market potential is still untapped,” he pointed out. He said the TMF had set achievable growth targets that it plans to finance mainly from borrowings from commercial banks and PMIC and private investors. By the end of 2020, TMF plans to have 120 branch offices with 1200 staff including 900 credit staff, he said. The average number of active borrowers per credit staff will increase from 320 in 2016 to 353 in 2020, as new staff becomes more experienced; repeat clients will require minimum maintenance and will represent a larger share of the portfolio. The average disbursed loan size is projected to increase to Rs 40,000, he said. Traditionally microfinance programmes had been dependent on the banking sector so that beneficiaries could withdraw or deposit instalments. Since more than 70 percent of TMF’s operational area was rural, TMF initiated Branchless Banking Services in 2012 through a network of two mobile phone agents (UBL OMNI and EasyPaisa), he said. Clients receive copies of all transactions from the branchless banking system and it had 100percent of recoveries (through agent and through mobile account) and 80 percent of disbursements are covered through these digital channels. Thardeep Microfinance Foundation (TMF) has its origins since 1998 as community loans provider. These loans were given out by Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP) initially in Tharparkar, which extended to other districts of Sindh. By October 2016, TRDP’s Microcredit programme had converted into an independent organization, registered under section 42 of the company’s ordinance 1984 with equity of Rs 647 million. After the success of TMF’s branchless banking mechanism, TMF moved towards a paperless environment through the introduction of an online appraisal mechanism. For e-appraisal, field staff uses a tablet to fill out the client’s appraisal information, take their photograph and scan their CNIC. A biometric device is used for the client’s thumb print and a mobile data sim to provide internet connectivity, eliminating the cost and time associated with paper appraisals, photographs and photocopies of CNICs. The e-appraisal has greatly reduced costs, for both the organization and its clients, Khangharani said. TRDP Chairman Dr Naseer Nizamani, in his welcome address, said has been a long 30 year journey of TRDP when a renowned architect Arif Hassan first designed a comprehensive assessment of drought in Thar Desert. He accredited local communities, who contributed a lot to strengthen the TRDP. He said the organisation faced ups and downs during its long journey but stood with strength. He said the banks and organisations are keen to support the organisation to help the desert communities to come up with these challenges and live safe and secure. A documentary was also shown, which highlighted the situation of Thar Deser communities, poverty and the changes through initiatives under the banner of Thardeep Rural Development Programme (TRDP) and then continuity of new face as TMF. TMF is working on entrepreneurship, energy, agriculture, supporting artisans to promote local art work, it was said during the event. Thardeep Microfinance Foundation (TMF) is working in 12 districts, including Tharparkar, Umerkot, Dadu, Jamshoro, Mirpurkhas, Sanghar, Nawabshah, Naushahro Feroze, Tando Muhammad Khan, Hyderabad and Badin districts of Sindh, through its 60 branches. TRDP CEO Dr Allah Nawaz Samo said the desert attracts a large number of people from all over the country but the situation in terms of poverty is a reality and TRDP has been working hard with the people since its inception 30 years ago. Published in Daily Times, October 22nd 2017.