India, Born 1968
Vikram Akula has gained respect worldwide for his innovative approaches to helping poor people improve their lives. In 2006, he was named one of the world’s 100 most influential people by Time magazine.
Akula grew up in the United States where his family emigrated from India in the 1970s. As a child, he often visited India, and the poverty that plagues the country left a lasting impression.
In the early 1990s, he was a researcher for the Worldwatch Institute and in 1995, thanks to a Fulbright Scholarship, he coordinated a programme combining microcredit and food security in rural India. Through this programme, he witnessed the tremendous impact that microfinance made on the lives of the poor, but he also realized that microfinance was not reaching its full potential because it was not able to scale to large numbers.
This inspired him to set up SKS Microfinance in 1998 to economically empower the poor by providing them with finance to establish micro-enterprises — and to do so at a scale that had not been done before. “For microfinance to have a long-term impact on poor people’s lives,” he says, “you have to leverage the principles that lead to flourishing businesses: a commercial approach, operational excellence and technological innovation.”
By adopting those principles, SKS has been able to provide close to US$600 million in micro-loans and micro-insurance services to over 2 million poor women across India — and outreach is growing at a rate of 200 per cent a year.
Akula also established SKS Education, which runs 20 rural primary schools for poor children, and SKS Assist, which teaches the ultra-poor how to participate in micro-enterprises. He completed his Ph.D focusing on microfinance from the University of Chicago in 2004.
Published in 2008