A Fistful of Rice: My Unexpected Quest to End Poverty Through Profitability
By Vikram Akula
Harvard Business Press, 2010, 208 pp.
This is an inspiring autobiographical story of an American of Indian origin who went to India to help the rural poor, first as a volunteer and then as the founder of a for-profit microfinance company, SKS (short for "self-help society" in Sanskrit). It is a personalized account of Akula's motivations, his tribulations in dealing with India's bureaucracies and extortionist gangsters, his gradual but ultimately outstanding success in raising capital to finance rural lending, and the rewards of seeing thousands of poor rural women take initial steps up the economic ladder. Microfinance has come under criticism for profiting from what some view as charitable work. Akula makes a vigorous defense of drawing in capital, largely on the grounds that it permits the much more rapid extension of credit to many more people who need it. He also defends the practice of charging an interest rate (28 percent) high enough to cover the actual costs of reaching remote villages and to provide a competitive return on the risk.