Meet The SHEROES - Meenal Patole
1: Where are you now? What do you do? Did you think this was what was to become your calling or bring you fame?
I am the Founder and CEO of Agora Microfinance India Ltd, a non banking financial company focused on provision of microfinance services. I do not believe in being 'famous', I believe in being known by my contributions and commitment.
2: What was your childhood ambition, and how did you share it with family and friends?
Answer: I had a tough childhood. I faced economic and emotional deprivation as child; however family values and importance of education played a key role.
3: Your schooling, college: was it targeted towards what you hoped to be? Did you become what you 'studied' to be, or did you change your course and chart a different path?
Answer: Not schooling, but in college, all the information and influence of teachers and friends in Administrative Services Training Academy, set a certain goal for the thirst of knowledge and leadership role. I went to the academy just to read and study.
4: How and when did you choose to enter microfinance?
Answer: I was working at the British Council in Mumbai 1995-96. Though, I was happy that I got my first job at age of 22 and was economically independent, I felt that I should engage in more hands on and grassroot work. I was introduced to my ex-employers EDA/MCRIL, a consulting firm, which focused on livelihood promotion and microfinance industry. It was picking up well at that time. This field was completely new to me, but I decided to take the plunge.
5: How did your family and friends react? What were the personal hurdles you had to cross?
Answer: I started NGO led microfinance in 2008 in Mumbai and then, transformed this initiative to a Non Banking Financial Company in 2011. The bottom line of story for family was that, if I have decided do something, it is going to be on me. I have to take the risk and give it all the commitment. The positive things is that, no one stopped me from what I wanted to do. A couple of friends were very supportive of the idea and helped me to raise my finance and network. They provided necessary emotional support whenever I needed it. I struggled through many personal hurdles, for example, operating from two cities initially, difficulty with support for child care, financing, many more.
6: How did your colleagues react to you? As a young educated woman, were you at an advantage, or disadvantage? How did you overcome hurdles at work?
Answer: Ex-colleagues were supportive of it. Once you become an entrepreneur, you have to play by the rules. Once you focus on the mission, hurdles are just challenges to conquer. So, building team and network that supports such effort, helped me to overcome the hurdles. Leading by the existing examples and using the learnings from experience to build internal capacities within the company was helpful.
7: What do you see changing for women professionals in India? How would you encourage young women to consider microfinance as a viable profession or vocation?
Answer: There is a need to differentiate between being an employer, an entrepreneur and being a professional employee. Microfinance is a responsible and meaningful financial sector, and hence it is a very interesting space to work in. If you wish to be an entrepreneur, a complete mindset change is required. Being a woman may or may not be appreciated or supported by family or friends. So, if a woman is ready for the challenge, then she should seek it. Women are equally competent and skilled to do so.
For women professionals in India, it is still ' a work in progress'. Certainly with development and improvement regarding the educational access, there is more opportunity to engage in. In a sector that is male dominated, we have over 90% of women as field executives and this reveals the kind of policy and work environment - AMIL provides to women.
8: What inspires you, as an educated urban woman, what is your long term goal?
Answer: What inspires me, is my education/learning and experiences which I came across through my career path. The duty to trigger some impact on the next generation also inspires me a lot. My long term goal is to graduate and leave a legacy that will sustain for generations.
9: How do you manage a work life balance? What are your tips for others to try and achieve the balance?
Answer: Discipline, time management and ensuring to deliver what you have committed, bet it work or family. Women in general, tend to neglect health, so it is also important to engage in some physical exercise. Exercise helps to relieve stress, stay healthy and make friends.