Streetsmart Bankers

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street-child.jpgBanking is the cornerstone of any economy and it drives growth and brings security to an individual’s life. Since time immemorial, people have invested in banks so that their money is safe, which, otherwise could have been wasted in useless processes. Banks are the haven where money can be deposited to be used later. Also, there are interest rates which banks offer to lure their customers, in order to ensure a long-lasting relationship. There are numerous banks, both big and small, across the country, with millions of customers enjoying distinct benefits, but one bank which has gained momentum in its popularity is the CDB (Children’s Development Bank). It is a bank primarily meant for street children who are below 18 years of age. These children work all day to earn a small amount money, and, at the end of the day, their money is spent either in playing cards or in watching movies. However, the advent of this bank not only has brought happiness in their lives, but also a sense of security.

The initiative was taken by an NGO called Butterflies who, with the help of few street children, opened a bank where a child could deposit a part of his daily wage. In this way, not only the money which they could have wasted is safe in the bank, also they are learning how to save money. The bank has its pioneer branch in Fatehpur, Delhi. Launched in 2000, with an initial investment of 2 lakhs, the CDB began with an initial membership of 20 children. The street children agreed to be a part of this bank as there was no mainstream bank that would help them make their accounts. These children are mostly from rural India, and they comprise those who ran from their home in order to earn money and start their livelihood. These children either join the big city’s floating population of rag pickers or street vendors.

Like any other bank, the CDB too has two kinds of accounts— savings account where a minimum of Re 1 can be saved, and a current account. Members get a 3.5% interest return on their savings.

The bank opens for an hour daily at 6.30 pm unlike regular banks as the children are busy for the entire day earning money. There is a nominated child volunteer who maintains the accounts of the street children and this child has been given special training in banking by the HSBC. The job is rotated every six months in order to give other youngsters a chance to learn accounting and become responsible with money. Moreover these children are also going to school and see what a development is taking place. The bank also sanctions loans linked to vocational skills. The most sought after individuals are girls, who otherwise could have been forced into prostitution. There are many girls skilled in embroidery and tailoring, and some have started their own small business. Any small child can approach the bank—except those who are in the habit of pilfering, begging or selling pornographic material.

This street side story over the years has traversed from the Capital to other parts of the country and also abroad. In the first year, the membership grew from 20 to 800 in the Fatehpur area itself. The bank is operational near the railway stations, cinema halls, parks, pavements etc.

The bank has received widespread popularity; hence, other NGOs have shown interest and joined the CDB. Moreover, with the congregation of NGOs, the CDB has branched out to Leh, Calcutta and Chennai. In Muzaffarpur, Bihar, sex workers’ children joined the bank.. The bank was operational in Andamans in the aftermath of the Tsunami. It has even branched out to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The bank has a total membership of 8000 across India with 1700 members alone from the capital, with savings amounting to Rs1.5lakh.

Membership in the bank ceases once a child is 18years of age, but this is not a problem as the child has already learned the intricacies of banking by this time. Moreover, if a child doesn’t wants to cease his account then he can shift his account to either the Andhra Bank or the ICICI Bank. Thus, as long as he is associated with the CDB, there is a sense of security that his life is in safe hands.

Initiatives like the CDB represent what one can do to bring about change in a sustainable manner. Perhaps what is needed is more such participatory and practical measures at the ground level, so as to build a solid ground for the future.

Ravi Agarwal

[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/beija-flor/4319044/]

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