About the Book
“Vikram Akula’s eye-opening book provides absolutely necessary insights into what it’s like to see your dreams come crashing down—and how to rebuild afterward.” —Van Jones, CNN commentator and founder of Dream Corps
Vikram Akula was a middle-class kid from upstate New York who decided he was going to help eliminate poverty in India. He succeeded beyond his wildest dreams . . . until everything came crashing down.
Vikram Akula founded SKS with a clear mission: improve the lives of poor people in India by providing small loans. These small loans, used to start businesses and generate earnings, were a proven path out of poverty for thousands around the world. But microfinance institutions were always set up as not-for-profits, so their ability to help was limited by the grants and donations they received.
Vikram wasn’t the first person to bring microfinance to India, but his idea was to do it at a previously unheard-of scale, for millions rather than thousands. He would do this by making SKS Microfinance a for-profit institution, capable of raising funds and growing as fast as profits allowed. SKS flourished, distributing billions of dollars of loans and becoming one of the world’s most successful microfinance institutions.
The company was applauded for blending philanthropy and capitalism, and Akula appeared on the covers of The Wall Street Journal and TIME magazine as one of the most influential people in the world.
But just as he thought he was really making a difference, a storm was brewing.
In 2010, a fierce political backlash in India created an implosion. Politicians began attacking microfinance and telling those living in poverty not to repay loans. Soon, SKS had to write off $280 million in loans and lay off 10,000 employees, and the storm was far from over. The fiasco was compounded by bureaucrats and the media, both of which turned against microfinance, painting it as “the new loan sharks.” For decades, microfinance was heralded as a key solution to global poverty, and nearly overnight, it came to be viewed instead as a villain.
In the blink of an eye, the company’s stellar reputation had vanished. Faced with extortion and murder threats, everything Akula had worked for was up in flames. This book is the story of SKS tremendous success, the oversights that led to disaster, the eventual resurgence, and the lessons learned.
One of the most exciting recent developments is the rise of new businesses and entrepreneurs committed to social good. Socially conscious businesses have the potential to transform societies, but there are risks as well as benefits. Micro-Meltdown is essential reading for any would-be entrepreneur who wants to change the world for the better. It offers an insider’s account of both the keys to success and the risks that must be managed.
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