More than half of the daughters of Nirdhan members in Nepal are now going to school, compared to only one third before their mothers entered the program. The mothers are also spending more than half as much again on their family's health than they were able to before. These two small but important facts are among the findings of an independent impact evaluation of Nirdhan, involving interviews with 199 member households in four of Nirdhan's older branches. This study, by two researchers from the Agricultural Project Services Center in Kathmandu, was  carried out in mid 1996 and published last year. Although it reports some concern at the rapid horizontal expansion of Nirdhan and some weaknesses in its monitoring systems, its findings on the economic and social impact on borrowers are strongly positive.
Nirdhan borrowers and their families feel they have benefited greatly from their loans and all are keen to continue borrowing. In objective terms, average per capita income has increased from Rs1486 to Rs2393 (US$25 to $40) per year, an increase of 62%. Most borrowers put their loans into productive investments and on the average they added another 25% of their own capital to their enterprise. They are able to repay their loans weekly, out of the income they make from their Nirdhan projects (although some shortfall is made up by wages). The average borrower makes Rs363 net per week from her project and repays Rs184. This gives her a cash margin of Rs179 from her enterprise.
Often, the whole family is involved. Usually, the woman works at it full time, while her husband and children help out after daily work or school. In interviews the women reported that cohesion and discipline and their relationship with their husbands have improved since they started borrowing. The fact that many women have withdrawn from daily wage labor to work on their enterprises, is reflected in the rise in daily wage rates in
Nirdhan villages. Female wages are 21% higher than in non- Nirdhan villages and male wages are also 15% higher.
Sixty percent of the women report that they own the income generated by their loans, although most make decisions about how to spend it after discussion with their husbands. However, the direction of spending is similar to other Asian Grameen Bank replications. The highest number of borrowers put their extra income into improving the house, buying things to go into it  (including 20 women who bought black and white TV sets), and investing in agricultural tools and machinery. Where they differ from borrowers in Vietnam, is that fully 42% of them spent moderate amounts on buying jewelry. Husbands are not forgotten either.
While women reported owning three
saris after joining the program, husbands averaged one additional lungi.
This evaluation study is packed with detailed statistics on every aspect of the lives of Nirdhan's women clients and their families. It reports on discussions with groups of center chiefs and group chairpersons on their appraisal of the strengths and weaknesses of Nirdhan's services. It also looks in detail at Nirdhan's management and progress towards viability. It does not compare longer- term borrowers with those on their first loans, so there is no sense of the process of change. Income figures are skewed by not imputing the cost of labor. But it is a valuable window on the very powerful impact of access to credit on the lives of  poor women -- not only in raising their income and asset ownership, but in wider social benefits to all members of the family.

-------- Champak Pokharel & Bharat Joshee

             Nirdhan Credit Program in Nepal-On going Impact Evaluation.
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