Visiting our clients is always such a treat! Especially when our client is using finance to solve world problems. And that is exactly what IFMR capital does. They use sophisticated financial instruments to tackle financial inclusion. In India 75% of the population has no access to finance. Given the population of 1.2b it is not difficult to follow IFMR’s reasoning that financial inclusion must be core to the financial system.
As I take off from Goa airport the charming Indian voice of Kshama Fernandes keeps ringing in my head. “Concentrate on the big problems, solve those and don’t worry about the little ones.” For the past 7 days she allowed me to probe into her life to an extent she did not deem possible just a week ago. But somehow we connected, somehow all the elements fell in place for us to meet and that is where the story starts.
In a little green valley in Goa, in a small hut with a cow dung floor, a father holds his daughter to protect her from the monsoon rains that seep through their palm tree leaf roof. On the other side of the valley, in a big glass house on top of a hill, a man worries about his iron ore mining business as he listens to the monsoon rains crashing down the roof of his beautiful grand mansion. The man on the hill lives an entirely different life than the girl in the valley. While he enjoys the privileges of India’s elite, she goes to school with the help of a scholarship from the Goan government and cannot afford the monthly payment of 50 rupees ($0.35ct) required to pay for extra French or guitar classes. As I fly out of Goa, many decades later, these two people are invitees to the same board meeting. Today the little girl from the valley and the big man from the hill meet as equals.
“I have done many crazy things in my life but I have never done anything close to this” says Kshama Fernandes, CEO of IFMR Capital, as we meet in her office on the 10th floor of a nondescript building in Chennai, India. I decide to take this as a compliment as Kshama has done many, many crazy things in her life. As we get to know each other better during the week I spend with her, I start to appreciate what it is she means when she says this is the craziest thing. Kshama chooses very well who she tells what about her life and when. She truly is the master of her fate and the captain of her soul. Only in case it helps someone else will she offer a story amongst the many she has to share. The rest she keeps to herself. And here I am, an anthropologist working at a bank, wanting to know her every single little story. A technique called a “life history”. An ideal methodology for chronically curious people like myself.
Kshama’s story is the first of a series that I will be making to portray female leaders in the financial sector. I am looking for the unsung heroes and choose to write about women only as many, many portraits of male heroes already exist…. I am looking for female role models and did I choose well when I asked Kshama if she would be my first victim 🙂
Allow me to introduce to you a most remarkable woman. The introduction will have to be brief. It will give you just a glimpse of a rare all-round human being. Eventually all stories will be published for those of you interested to read more.
She is a quant and an empathic leader
She is a professor and a business woman
She is a survivor and a life artist
She is a rebel and an introvert
She is a friend and fiercely autonomous
She is a mother and a tough negotiator
She is a biker, a parachutist and a sailor
She is a daughter and a pioneer
She is a lover and a mountaineer