Development, Divinity & Dharma

The role of religion in development and microfinance institutions
ISBN 978-185339-671-7


Malcolm Harper, DSK Rao & Ashis Kumar Sahu



Faith-based institutions are getting involved in economic development programmes, including microfinance, and many foreign donors are looking to religious organizations for new ways to reach the poorest people. This book considers the work of a number of these, of different faiths, and asks what is ‘special’ about them. Do religious links makes these organizations more or less effective? Should spiritual development and economic upliftment be kept apart? Development, Divinity and Dharma explores these questions by examining a number of Hindu, Christian and Muslim institutions in India and Pakistan. Its main focus is the Shri Kshetra Dhamrmasthala rural Development programme, which though little known outside India, has changed the lives of almost half a million people, including Hindus, Muslims and Christians, through social and economic development programmes which are motivated by religious faith.


Dr. Harper and his colleagues remind us that long before poverty was fashionable or microfinance coveted as an emerging market religious organizations worked to mitigate the ravages of inequity through innovation and perhaps the world’s first customer oriented service ethic. Without letting the drivers of profitability or mass appeal stop them, faith based development schemes work directly and often quite effectively with those who are most in need offering an economic ladder out of the depths of poverty not just a bowl of rice and a prayer.

Bill Maddocks, Director, Microenterprise Development Institute, Southern New Hampshire University, USA

About the authors

Malcolm Harper taught at Cranfield School of Management until 1995, and since then has worked mainly in India. He has published on enterprise development and microfinance. He was Chairman of Basix Finance from 1996 until 2006, and is Chairman of M-CRIL, the microfinance credit rating agency.

DSK Rao is the Regional Organizer for Asia-Pacific, Microcredit Summit Campaign. He has 22 years’ experience in rural development banking with NABARD, the apex development financial institution in India. He has published extensively on farmer management of irrigation and self-help groups for the socio-economic empowerment of poor women.

Ashis Kumar Sahu has been a practitioner and researcher in microfinance and livelihoods for about 10 years, and is associated with The Livelihoods School, promoted by BASIX, Sa-Dhan, the Indian Association of Community Development Financial Institutions, RCDC in Orissa and Urmul Trust in Rajasthan.

Table of contents


1. Religion and development - can they go together? 
The lessons of history 
Religion and development institutions 
Can religion help? 
Links to local institutions and communities 
Leadership and management 

2. How does religion affect the ‘BINGOs’? 
Financial indicators 

3. Dakshin Kannada and Dharmasthala Temple 
South Canara district 
The banking tradition 
The Shri Kshetra Dharmasthala Temple 

4. SKDRDP, the rural development programme 
The origins of SKDRDP 
Reappraisal and restructuring 
SKDRDP’s programmes 
The Pragathi Bandhu groups 
The JVK Women’s groups 
Alcohol de-addiction 
Community development programmes 

5. Microfinance 
The origins of SKDRDP’s microfinance programme 
Raising bank finance 
The power of groups 
Financial results 

6. Livelihoods 
Microfinance is not enough 
Group businesses 

7. The sevanirathas 
The role of the sevanirathas 
A day in the life of Sivaram Pujary, a sevaniratha 

8. Two cases of success 
Moneppa Gowda, a successful household 
Sree Nidhi Panakaje, the Women’s Snacks Group 

9. The results of SKDRDP’s work 
The impact on the community 
Future challenges 

10. What explains SKDRDP’s success? 
Breaking the rules 
The divinity factor 

11. Islamic development practice 
The special circumstances of Islam 
Examples from Bosnia Herzegovina and Hyderabad 
Akhuwat of Lahore 
Muslim development NGOs – some tentative conclusions 

12. Christian development practice and some examples 
‘Christian development’ 
‘Catholic Bank’, or the Chotanagpur Catholic Co-operative Society 
The Holy Cross Social Service Centre, Hazaribag 
Catholic Bank and Holy Cross – some comparisons 

13. Conclusions
Some common features 
Strengths and weaknesses 
‘Sustainability’, of a different kind 
The lessons of experience


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