Finnfund’s investee BOPA is funding and developing microfinance institutions in Asia and has recently joined the 2X Challenge. One of BOPA’s portfolio companies, Pahal Financial Services Private Limited, is led by Purvi Bhavsar who is also co-founder of the company.
Read her thoughts about starting a microfinance company and about female leadership.
Women leadership in microfinance
Purvi Bhavsar is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of Pahal Financial Services Private Limited, a Non-Banking Financial Company (NBFC-MFI) which operates in 7 states and headquartered in Ahmedabad, Gujarat state, India. Pahal became one of BOPA portfolio companies from 2018, and currently it serves about 700,000 women borrowers and working to change their lives for the better.
We, at BOPA had this interview with Purvi Bhavsar to discuss women leadership in Microfinance.
Where did you start? What is your background?
I graduated in Bachelor of Commerce from H.L College of Commerce in Ahmedabad and started my career with Kotak Mahindra Finance Limited in 1993. During first 6 years of my career I worked in a few finance organizations and banks which helped me to gain insights into financial products and the fundamentals of commercial banking.
How does your background help you when working with Pahal?
My overall evolution across various Banking & Financial services business (sales, credit or operations) over the years, Telecom distribution , Customer Service and exposure to front end technology puts me in a good position to help navigate Pahal’s Microfinance journey; a large part of the customer segment that we serve is on the cusp of migrating on a digital financial service platform and I am in a way therefore positioned to be a key enabler for Pahal.
What were the challenges when founding Pahal?
Basically, two main challenges-
a) To leave an extremely cushy job both in terms of position and in terms of remuneration; I had to really gather the guts to kick everything and get started as an entrepreneur.
b) When we started, the sector was going through a massive crisis in the aftermath of an ordinance which was passed in the state of Andhra Pradesh. The survival of the institute that we acquired completely hinged in the balance for almost about a year before we saw the light at the end of the tunnel.
Have you ever felt challenges in your role (as CEO) being a woman? How did you overcome it?
In my career span of about 17 years before we started PAHAL, I was always in a Business / front line role. It was always a space where you do not find too many women leaders. So, I was quite used to certain challenges beforehand. Also, my personal belief is “women herself puts lot of constraints on her own self than anybody else, ever does “. So, it is all about your mindset.
Challenges are bound to come at every step and best way to overcome it, is to face it! And when the times are relatively less challenging, you need to keep upgrading and sharpening yourself with new skill sets – basically never stop learning and ready yourself for the next challenge.
Do you see any silver lining for the company coming from the Covid-19 situation?
Covid-19 pandemic is a universal health challenge and the world will have to learn to deal and live with this. The MFI sector in general and specifically in India is quite resilient and has time and again displayed the ability to reinvent itself. Clearly, as things are panning out, the Digital initiatives are taking centre stage across various sectors in the country and MFI sector is no exception. I think MFIs like ours, which are flexible enough to embrace such changes proactively and seek an opportunity in every challenge are well-positioned to emerge stronger after Covid. This is founded on the inherent strength of the business model coupled with huge focus on human capital.
What advice you can offer for women finding success in their career?
• Be focused, have courage, believe in yourself and your dreams (because if you do not, nobody else will!!)
• For most women that I have met, they always struggle to choose between a career and personal life / priorities. My advice would be not to struggle to choose one over the other. Instead you learn to practice the “art of balancing” and trust me it is difficult, but not impossible.
Text and photos: BOPA
Read more stories:
Accelerating female leadership in Asia
Penda Health saw something special in Esther Mwikali