Creating Cohesive and Self-reliant exile Tibet community

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(Possibilities for application of SHG based Micro-credit for generating Micro and Small Enterprises in Tibetan Refugee Settlements)

Georgia, US: - Although overall experiences of Tibetans in exile have been successful and have been widely lauded as the most successful refugee community in the world. However, as a refugee we face various social, cultural and economic challenges.

One of the most pressing challenge with potential long term negatives consequences that Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) and Exile Tibetan Community in India faces is high and continued migration rate of Tibetans from their respective settlements in India to Western Countries, including the United State, Canada and other European countries. This pattern and rate of migration threatens the sustainability of Tibetan refugee settlement in India.

The prime purpose of having asked by His Holiness the Dalai Lama for the area specific Tibetan Settlement in late 1959 and early 1960s, was primarily to have an integrated and cohesive Exiled Tibetan community, so that preservation and protection of our unique and compassion based cultural heritage is ensured. If this migration were to continue at the same rate, this might eventually become biggest impediment in our effort to achieve that goal.

It is well known fact that the sole reason behind this rapid and high rate of continued migration of Tibetans refugees from India to western countries is mainly motivated by economic benefit. Hence, to tackle this problem, it is important that Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) leadership should make every possible attempt to explore more business opportunities at Tibetan Settlement in India, Nepal and Bhutan.

The exact number of unemployed youth in Exile Tibetan diaspora is hard to come by. However, it is clear that the proportionate or relative unemployment rate of Exile Tibetan community in India is extremely high. This high rate of unemployment has become a major impediment for creating economically self-reliant community in Exile. A Demographic Survey conducted by the Planning Commission, C.T.A. in 2009 shows that only 39% of total workforce populations (aged, 15-64) are main-workers. Economically, those remaining 61% is not only underutilized human capital but add up the opportunity cost on those who are economically productive.

A study on Status of unemployment among Tibetan Youth conducted in Hunsur Tibetan settlement (Rigzin, 2009) shows that many of seasonally unemployed youth remains economically unproductive for more than 8-10 months a year. As shown in figure 1, about 50 % of respondents do economically productive work for only 3-4 months in a year. From economic perspective, it is waste of the most valuable human resources.

Figure 1. Economically productive month(s) in a yearFigure-2

The same study (Rigzin, 2009) also shows that 92% of respondents wanted to start their own micro-enterprises. However, 45.6 % of respondents said, lack of financial support is the reason behind not able to do so. (Rigzin, 2009) It is clear from the facts and figures that the demand for Microcredit is high among Tibetan diaspora, especially in India, Nepal and Bhutan.

Although cooperatives (Nyam-drel) at many of these settlements are doing their best, but the coverage, productivity and efficiency of these co-operatives are limited. For instance, Byllakuppe Lugsung Samdupling Co-operative society has just 3068 shareholders out of 10921 total populations. (Home department, CTA, 2012.) This means that the profit from this co-operative is distributed among only 28% of total community members.

While briefly introducing the concept of SHG, this paper attempts to see the possibilities for adoption of SHG based Micro-credit for generating Micro and Small Enterprises in Tibetan Refugee Settlements in India, Bhutan and Nepal.

What is Self-Help Groups?
The effectiveness of Self-Help Groups (SHGs) models as grassroots financial intermediary, and it's contribution in poverty reduction and empowerment of rural communities in India has gained much popularity through out the world. This concept has now become a new buzzword for developmental expert and practitioners and major focus of policy makers in many developing and underdeveloped countries around the world.

While the term 'self-help group' or SHG can be used to describe a wide range of financial and non-financial associations, in context of this paper, it refers to a form of Accumulating Saving and Credit Association (ASCA) in India which is promoted by government agencies, NGOs or banks. This association is formed on bases of two basic principles, i.e. 'Self help is the best help' and 'Unity is strength'. SHGs in India are usually composed of 10–20 economically and socially homogeneous affinity group of the rural poor voluntarily coming forward to save a small amount of money regularly, which is deposited in a common fund until there is enough capital in the group to begin giving collateral free loans to the members. Although it was started as village based financial intermediary, SHGs also play an important role in social and education empowerment of rural communities in India.

One fascinating finding during literature review for this paper was that; the origin of uniquely Indian microfinance practice through SHG model has it roots in initial Tibetan rehabilitation project in than the Mysore State of India. Mysore Resettlement and Development Agency (MYRADA), the NGO that is credited with starting of Microfinance through SHGs in India was originally founded in 1968 to assist the Government of India in resettling Tibetan Refugees in South India.
The most significant milestone in historical evolution of SGHs in India was SHG-Bank Linkage Program and this Program is acclaimed to be the largest microfinance program of the world. Because of this outstanding success of initial SHG-Bank linkage program, the number of SHGs, rose from mere 500 SHGs in 1992 to about whopping 7.9 millions at beginning of 2013. Similarly, the total saving corpus have increased from mere few thousands in early years to 270 Billion Indian Rupees today and credit outstanding have increased from few billion Rupees to 400 billion Indian Rupees during 2012-13.

Feasibility and Adoption of SHG model in various Tibetan settlements in India.
Although the income poverty is negligible among Tibetans diaspora, the replication and introduction of modified SHG based micro-credit model in various Tibetan Settlements in India is definitely a possibility to explore.

Department of Home, CTA, can start with a Pilot project at selected Tibetan settlement in India, to see the feasibility of replication. The possibility for the success of this project is high. As discussed earlier, at present they are no shortage of human capital in these settlements, on contrary, they are high number of underutilized human capital in these settlements.

It is not necessary that these new self-help Groups should only consist of women, as it is case with most of Indian SHG, it can also have a mixed group. Once a group is formed and have significant collection of fund, they can be linked to various Nationalized banks of India, such as State Banks of India, Co-operative bank, SIDBI, etc.

As far as liking of SHGs to micro-credit is concerned, CTA can also play a significant role by providing subsidized loan or micro-credit to groups as it is currently done by department of home under Youth Empowerment support (YES) project. Once initial formative stage is over, CTA can guide these groups in starting micro and small enterprises and eventually to larger federations and cooperatives. At this stage there will be a need of separate and more detailed strategic planning. While doing so, it is important to take into consideration of the fact that India is second largest consumer market in the world and is projected to be the world's largest by 2030.

In this light, if CTA is able to act as catalyst of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in Tibetans settlements in India, it will lead to decrease in high and continued migration rate by creation of more economic and employment opportunities and eventually lead to economically self-reliant and prosperous exile Tibetan society. In this way, we will be able to achieve the most important responsibility of our time; to preserve, protect and promote our unique and compassionate based traditional and cultural heritage. So that, when our eventual return to Tibet comes, we shall rise again and rebuild our nation in most effective and efficient way.

Tsewang Rigzin is Graduate Student, studying developmental practice at Emory University. He can be reached through This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.