ESAF Microfinance in India Recognized as a Truelift Aspirant

Truelift is very pleased to announce that ESAF Microfinance in India has reached the Aspirant milestone!

By achieving the Aspirant Milestone, ESAF demonstrates its commitment to its vision of providing financial services emphasizing the economic development and empowerment of the poor and the marginalized poor, an important step toward industry leadership in pro-poor microfinance practice.

ESAF certificate image


Under the guiding principle of creating opportunities for the poor, the founders of ESAF established the Evangelical Social Action Forum as a charitable society subsequent to presenting their 1991 conference paper on holistic development. ESAF brings its multi-dimensional approach to the most underserved areas in North India, working to improve education and health and to reduce extreme poverty.

Currently operating in 6 states in India with 105 branches, ESAF launched its Microfinance program in 1995 and transformed into a Non-Banking Financial Company in 2008 under the name ESAF Microfinance and Investments Pvt Ltd, or EMFIL.  Members form Self Help Groups (SHG) to access loans, life insurance, and funds transfer services with interest-bearing savings accounts administered by the ESAF Cooperative Society.


ESAF Healthcare Services, Ltd., a member of the ESAF Group, runs 2 hospitals and 2 clinics where insured EMFIL clients receive affordable treatment. Other healthcare services include home and hospital-based care for HIV/AIDS patients, pharmaceutical services, diagnostic labs, and ayurvedic treatment centers.

As part the Microfinance Alliance with the Microcredit Summit Campaign and Freedom From Hunger, ESAF delivers health education and trains workers to conduct health awareness and prevention sessions. The lessons address nutrition for children, clean drinking water, sanitation and they help clients make the decision whether or not to take an ESAF loan for improved sanitation.


A client-centric institution, ESAF has adapted its product offerings and formed alliances with private and public partners to respond to the water and sanitation needs of its members. Clients can obtain loans for building latrines, for obtaining a connection to running water and for purchasing water purifiers.

Through its Clean Energy for the Poor initiative, ESAF responds to clients’ energy needs with a triple-bottom-line approach. They offer a loan product for purchasing solar lamps or acquiring energy-efficient, smokeless cook stoves.

Thanks to this initiative, ESAF enjoys the notable status of finalist for the European Microfinance Award for Environmental Products. Of the 26 original contestants, ESAF and two others made the final cut. The award winner will be selected by the European Microfinance Platform (e-MFP) during European Microfinance week in November 2014. Since launching this clean energy initiative in 2009, ESAF has funded almost 70,000 clean energy projects, 90% of which are located in rural areas with clients reporting a 25% decrease in energy expense, 40% decrease in time spent on collecting firewood, and 50% reporting better health.


Driving the effort for disability inclusion in microfinance, ESAF, along with v-shesh, a PWD employment services company and two other MFIs have formed the Accion Center for Financial Inclusion Working Group for Disability Inclusion. The group has developed an operating model and tools for MFIs to incorporate persons with disabilities as staff and clients, training staff all over India to proactively identify and include persons with disabilities and track numbers of clients with disabilities.

The working group was honored with an award from the disability organization NCPEDP, presented at the NCPEDP-Mphasis 2014 Universal Design Award ceremony.


ESAF also offers loans for housing, and by partnering with the central government, has established a pension service for clients working in India’s informal sector. Non-financial services include skills development training, help with market access and assistance in setting up or expanding their businesses.


The Truelift Indicators Tool provides insight into some best practices of the institutions engaged in pro-poor microfinance practice. Several of ESAF’s success factors came to light through the tool:

  • Different branches have different targets defined by local conditions
  • Employees are accountable for successful outreach to communities living in poverty
  • New client startup enterprises are tracked to measure outreach to new business owners
  • Social and business targets are integrated, with branches accountable for achieving goals

For ESAF Microfinance Research and Development Senior Manager Sandhya Suresh, completing the Truelift Indicators Tool proved to be a valuable exercise. At the Truelift Workshop of the 2014 Microcredit Summit where ESAF and other MFIs were recognized for their milestone achievement, Suresh shared some of the insights they gained. Organized under three primary principles, the tool gave them insight into how to gather more robust evidence of positive transformation in the lives of their clients living in poverty.

Another learning that ESAF gained by completing the Truelift Indicators Tool was to segment data about their clients living at and under the poverty line to unpack important information about how services and products are used. Having launched a credit product for the ultra-poor, ESAF will continue to develop this method of segmented data analysis and carry out evidence-based design of products targeted to geographic areas where very poor and poor clients are more concentrated.

ESAF TOOL Screen shot

A completed portion of the ESAF Truelift Indicators Tool in the Data Measurement and Analysis category (click to enlarge)

The Truelift tool drove another strategic change for ESAF related to the practices of: a) establishing a clear definition of progress for clients living in conditions of poverty, and b) designing a systematic method to track this progress. Going well beyond merely progress- reporting to an institution’s governing board; this approach places a measure of responsibility for success onto the board. In the words of Sandhya Suresh, ESAF plans “ to make strategic changes of not only making board members and staff aware of our social targets, but also making them accountable for their performance and contribution.”

Ms. Suresh spent about 12 hours on the Truelift Indicators Tool and reports that it was not difficult to complete, in part because she had already carried out self-assessments of ESAF’s social performance indicators.

Truelift congratulates ESAF Microfinance and is delighted for their achievement of this first important milestone on the journey as a global practice trailblazer in microfinance for people living in poverty.

To learn more about ESAF Microfinance, click here to access their website and here to see their MIX profile.

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