Hong Kong & Chennai, India | 20 February – 4 March 2017

Photo Credit: Daniel Naegele, GLP participant

Photo Credit: Daniel Naegele, GLP participant

GIFT's 50th Global Leaders Programme explored India's rural housing challenge and addressed the topic of inclusive finance, helping rural Indians access affordable financing solutions to build or improve their homes. Working with Swarna Pragati Housing Microfinance (SPHM), a pioneer in the use of social collateral and paralegal mortgage schemes, global executives developed recommendations to support SPHM's goal of strengthening housing finance across India and reaching one million households over the next 10 years.

The GLP truly surprised me! It highlighted the importance of knowing what you don't know and the need for continuous learning, as well as the key elements of leadership, such as sustainable and positive energy, consistent communication and empathy.

Siok Hoon Yap | Chief Sales and Marketing Officer | Prudential (Malaysia)

Positivity, respect, inclusivity, self-awareness and moment: these are all aspects of the programme which have strengthened my understanding of leadership and have invited me to see the world in a whole new way.

Nobuhisa Hosokawa | Deputy Head of Energy and Eco Services Business Headquarters | ORIX (Japan)

The GLP was an awesome experience that combined inspiring thought leadership from distinguished speakers with a challenging social business, thereby providing me with important insights into today's modern and dynamic Asian region.

Nils Bottke | Expert Corporate Technology |  BASF (Germany)



The State of Tamil Nadu, with a population of 78 million people, is the sixth-most populous state in India and lies in the southernmost part of the Indian peninsula, along the Bay of Bengal in the east and the Indian Ocean in the south. 

The state is divided into 30 districts with Chennai as its capital (Madras under British colonial rule). It has English and Tamil as its official languages, the latter being one of the oldest written languages in the world.

Photo Credit: Daniel Naegele, GLP participant

Majority Hindu, Tamil Nadu is home to nearly 33,000 ancient temples. Four are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Historically agricultural, Tamil Nadu is a large producer of rice, bananas, tea, rubber and flowers. It has the second largest state economy with US$71 billion in GDP. It also has strong industrial and manufacturing sectors, especially in textiles, paper, mining and electrical equipment.

Chennai is home to over 7 million people. The city port is the second largest container port in India and the largest in the Bay of Bengal.



Shu Khoo
Group Chief Human Resource Officer of the AIA Group


Peter Wong
President of Asia Pacific of The Dow Chemical Company


Ramesh Kumar
Chairman of Swarna Pagati Housing Microfinance (SPHM), and former Chief General Manager for the State Bank of India


The right to adequate housing, inscribed within the United Nations’ Declaration of Human Rights, is recognised as absolute, like the right to health or education. Access to housing goes beyond the physical structure of four walls and a roof. It satisfies the need for subsistence by offering shelter and a sense of security. Despite the challenges in cities, poverty remains predominantly a rural problem, where the housing shortage is still grossly overlooked.

Participants visited the homes of borrowers around the town of Sirkhali where SPHM has one of their larger branches and operations, servicing the nearby villages of Thalainayar, Viruthanganallur and Panahattankudi. 



Kutcha (or “raw”) structures have walls and roofs made of materials such as unburnt bricks, bamboo, mud, grass, leaves, reeds, thatches, etc. Semi-pucca structures signify that either the walls or the roof is made of Pucca materials.


Pucca (meaning “solid”) structures are considered permanent, and are made out of cement, concrete, oven-burnt bricks, stone blocks, tiles, timber, etc.

According to the National Family Health Survey, only 19% of the rural population lives in Pucca houses, whilst the remaining 81% live in Kutcha or semi-pucca structures. 87% of homes in villages do not have access to toilet facilities. Nationally, the total economic impacts of inadequate sanitation is estimated at US$53.4 billion. The Government's housing policy "Housing For All by 2022" aims to provide 20 million housing units to the urban poor. in November 2016, the policy was extended to include rural areas.


The main issues preventing low-income rural households from accessing conventional housing finance include:

  • Lack of official land titles

  • Lack of credit history & income documentation

  • Length & size of traditional mortgages are unsuitable

  • The costs of collection, administration and delivery of direct loans


Swarna Pragati Housing Microfinance is working to reduce the rural housing shortage by providing affordable loan products for families trying to build new homes or upgrade existing ones. They were the winner of the 2016 Wall Street Journal—MetLife Financial Inclusion Prize. The above video was developed by the Wall Street Journal.


The GLP uses real-world field projects to hone the practical skills needed to manage diverse teams in unfamiliar situations. Through meetings partners, investors, community and business leaders, and through frank and open discussions, participants are invited to question their assumptions, learn to navigate conflicting and contradictory views, and to transform concepts and theories into realities on the ground. 

Participants developed a business plan for SPHM which included a set of recommendation to help the company reach its target of providing one million loans within 10 years. The plan included a number of bold ideas, such as:

  • moving from individual loans to Community Housing Loan Pools to allow more loans to be serviced in one go
  • fostering strategic partnerships with associated companies like construction and energy providers to improve access to and lower the cost of necessary materials as that the benefits from economies of scale can be returned to the borrower
  • developing a mobile technology platform to enhance outreach and facilitate the acquisition of new customers, and manage the collection of payments
  • bundling products to cater to the various needs of customers, from insurance, education, healthcare and wedding plans. 

Below are a few slides from the full business plan developed by participants.

Over 100 guests attended the public forum in Chennai that marked the culmination of the 50th Global Leaders Programme.

The business model ideas were presented to and discussed amongst an audience of local community leaders, businessmen, government officials, NGO representatives, students and the local media.

For more information about the 2017 India Global Leaders Programme, or about the Global Leaders Programme in general, please write to us at