After a delicious Bengali breakfast of vegetables and paratha, I began a field trip that would ultimately bring me to Kholshi, where I did most of the research for my book Small Loans, Big Dreams. But first I asked to see a Grameen Bank center meeting, to see how the process has evolved. Abdul Malek, the manager, took me to Narandia, a village where there was a borrower meeting that day – this is where loan payments are made, new loans vetted, and other business conducted on a weekly basis.
Malek is still fairly new to this branch, and to driving a motorbike, so our trip through rice fields and the occasional dirt road was a bit of an adventure. I had visited Narandia a couple of times in the 1990s. Then as now the dominant force in this center – a federation of ten groups composed of fifty women clients – was Shaheeda Begum. She was making payments on her two current loans that totaled about $1,000. Only two other women in the center were able to borrow and invest amounts that large. To a much greater extent than was true a decade ago, loans are made on the basis of investment capability, and can vary a lot from client to client. Shaheeda was one of the most savvy businesswomen in the village. But as she would explain to me over the course of an hour, when she began borrowing from Grameen in 1987 her conditions were much humbler than today.