Alok Biswas, Janakalyan: Committed to economic upliftment
Chosen as India’s Most Trusted CEO 2020, Alok Biswas of Janakalyan is committed to build a world class financial institution for the economic upliftment of the underprivileged.
In Conversation with Alok Biswas, CO-FOUNDER & MD, Janakalyan
Years of working in the industry, your contribution reflects versatility and volubility. What has influenced your decision making process at various stages?
Having worked nearly 31 years in BFSI segment. Initially 21 years with Banking Industry and last 10 years with MFI industry as Managing Director & CEO. Being a member of MFIN, an Industry Body of NBFC-MFI and approved SRO of RBI and also a Board Member of AMFI-WB , my contribution goes to the policy level and associated since 2010.
I hail from a poor, destitute family, rather there was no family. My father passed away when I was only 4 years old and my mother became mentally unstable. We did not have any place to go at that time as everything had been acquired by all other uncles; as a result of which I could not go to school, worked in field, no proper facilities , long history. So, I am used to making decisions on my own from quite an early age. Facing so many hurdles in the way made it easier for me to take decision at crucial stages.
An accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career?
My association with Canara Bank and working in rural lending in initial days and also the finance project while doing my PGDM at Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar. Chances of meeting Dr Mohd Younus, Nobel Laureate and Founder of Bangladesh Grameen Bank and reading Dr Raghuram Rajan’s , “Banking Structures- the way forward” in 2009 who I also met in 2015 during the licencing process of SFB had an immense effect on my life. Have resigned from the post of Vice President & Cluster Head of Axis Bank in charge of Odisha, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand, I founded Jagaran Microfin Private Limited eventually to start a Small Finance Bank knowing that poor are bankable. The attempt to get the SFB licence in 2015 from Jagaran was unsuccessful. Following that I left Jagaran in 2016 and co-founded Janakalyan with my aim to become a Small Finance Bank or a good NBFC which will cater the need of unserved or underserved people of the country.
How do you integrate corporate philanthropy or corporate social responsibility as a part of your business strategies?
Philanthropy is a part of our corporate culture, a necessary at every stage of our working. We call it as CSR or social collateral to our programme. It is in built in our mission too as a business strategy and personally I always nurtured within the Company or myself.
What has been your driving force or philosophy in life?
To explore new avenues of growth, to contribute positively to the organization and absorb the best that experience have to offer. Creating value to the organization through sustained effort within permissible law of the land and helping the society in sustainable development through economic development, like creating job opportunities, micro entrepreneurship programs, educational support has always been my intention. I had joined Canara Bank, then Indian Bank, both of which are Public Sector Banks and moved to UTI Bank/Axis Bank later and then founded Jagaran Microfin Private Limited followed by Janakalyan. My philosophy is do good to others and create a platform through which something good can be done for people.
What are the other philanthropic works you are involved in?
Since my childhood philanthropic work was a big part of my life. Some of the works are mentioned here: –
- Was an elected member in Students’ Union (1983-87) for consecutively four years in Bagula Srikrishna College, Bagula, Nadia and held several key posts in Students’ Union. My major focus was to help poor students by providing free books and waiver of tuition fee through Students Union Fund and without discrimination of caste/creed/religion as poor SC/ST students were eligible for stipend from govt.
- Was a member in CSR Panel of Axis Bank , Eastern Zone ( Committee created by President, Axis Bank, Eastern Zone) for overseeing all Trust/Associations/Societies /Club in West Bengal and being engaged in social activities , like Durbar Mahila Samannaya Samiti, Usha Multipurpose Credit Society, Bengal Network for living people with HIV , CARE , BENMILK, Friends of Tribal Society, etc.
- Provided free education for competitive examinations through group creation and studies, (1988 – 1998) and helped several unemployable students to get employment as I thought economic power is the most essential tool for upliftment of life.
- Was in the Recruitment Panel (HR) in Infosys Technologies Limited from 2004 to 2007 for EasternZone recruitment channel.
- Actively engaged in providing monetary support to poor meritorious students specially from rural background and girl child, supported nearly 100 such students and now somebody became Doctor/engineer/Professor and other job.
- Having tied up with secretary of Sreema Mahila Samity Ms Bani Saraswati, also a recipient of medal from Honourable Prime Minister H D Devegowda at Corporate level, an NGO working since 1972 for women empowerment having a good repute. Major work includes ASHA project, Childline (1098), WASH, Legal Aid Services, Madak Birodhi Programme, Plastic Free Society, Pollution free Society, Financial Literacy, River cleaning, sustainable livelihood creation etc, all of which are intended for women only. Please visit at www. sreema.org.
- We have recently started Shishu Shiksha Kendra for the economically weaker students who cannot afford private tuition in 7 centres.
How do you define success and how do you measure up to your own definition?
Success in my definition is doing good for others and if I can contribute at least something to the betterment of society and for that matter you have to create a platform and that is the reason founded Jagaran Microfin Private Limited and now Janakalyan Financial Services Private Limited.
We are constantly making things better, faster, smarter or less expensive. In other words, we strive to do more with less. Tell me about a recent project or solution to a problem that you have made better, faster, smarter or less expensive?
Creating Janakalyan in itself is a big project for me. Projected a net profit of Rs.4.17 Crores in 2019-20 but will finish with Rs.7.50 Crores. So, managing cost with compliance is always a challenge and I have managed to do the same. My aim is to create a platform which is sustainable on its own with Environmental friendly, Social Cause and good governance and off course employee friendly.
In your opinion what is the most significant aspect of leadership?
Creating values among employees .Sometimes when employees face difficulty in understanding the vision and mission of the Organisation, then I always quote the famous saying of Narayan Murthy Sir.. “Love your job, not the Company”. I strongly believe in that because of which I do not face any problem during on boarding of people in our Company. Industry knows me, so do the people down the line.
Your perception of an empowered society. How far your industry has / can contribute for the same?
Women empowerment is the major contributor for an empowered society and again the famous saying of Swami Vivekanand . “If you educate a girl child, whole family will be benefited and so the nation but if you educate a boy only, he will be educated becomes an inspiration for the same”. Sreema Mahila Samity is working for women empowerment since 1972 and we have tied up with them to contribute to this greater cause even by small means.
Creating a microfinance organisation and providing credit support to only women is the major contribution towards empowerment. In my opinion, economic empowerment is the major empowerment and influential factor to decision making process in family, be it child education, hygiene etc.
One thing you wish to change and one thing you wish to retain about your industry?
In 2010, when I jumped in MFI industry with an aim to help unserved people ,that time the credit availability to the poor people was a dream and now the supply side is heavily loaded with adequate credit which is creating a problem. Indiscriminate way of lending is still taking place which I want to change through our Industry Body i.e MFIN or AMFI-WB, though several places in India is still unserved. No proper banking facilities is available to them, no credit, no financial literacy, nothing.
I want to retain the simplicity of the MFI industry, always close to borrowers, last mile connectivity, responsive to need of the poor people, maintain a low-cost module and recruiting people with 10th or 12th pass from poor family so that the employment issues are diminished.
One thing you have to let go off as an entrepreneur/leader?
Bad mouth as a leader but as an entrepreneur it is unsolicited criticism like, people comment without knowing the industry and ground realities.
Who do you owe your success to?
In personal life: my better half…my wife. When we got married, both of us were young and I had done only B.Com( Hons), but after marriage I went on to complete CAIIB, PGDM from XIMB and Dip in Micro-finance. She has always been the strong pillar of support to me through thick and thin and stood by me and my decisions all the way long. Professionally: my boss in Canara Bank, Mr R M Nahar who inspired me to leave Canara Bank and join Indian Bank as Probationary Officer. Also, he let me work in rural lending and value to credit discipline. In Axis Bank, my boss R K Niyogi who had given me opportunity to work in all facets of banking, be it credit, audit, liabilities etc. and S K Mitra who is our Chairman now. Mr Mitra is an exceptional HR expert.
Best thing about your job?
Ans : Value creation to employees and society. Whoever has moved from our Company, the person will remember us for the positive effect we had on their lives and off course our micro borrowers, trying to educate them about financial literacy and capacity building is something we cherish.
A message from you to all the future entrepreneurs/leaders?
Please do something which your heart yearns to do , don’t go with the data analysis and market sentiment and remember the best part, choose the investors very carefully. Be good to the employees but also be firm, disciplined and give them long term value…whether they will be with you or not.