Ananya Birla: More the merrier

Ananya Birla has her fingers in three diverse ventures, and has few problems doing justice to each

Salil Panchal
Published: Sep 21, 2018 10:28:34 AM IST
Updated: Sep 21, 2018 08:06:19 PM IST

Life is not a template and neither is mine. Like several who have worked as journalists, I am a generalist in my over two decade experience across print, global news wires and dotcom firms. But there has been one underlying theme in each phase; life gave me the chance to observe and tell a story -- from early days tracking a securities scam to terror attacks and some of India's most significant court trials. Besides writing, I have jumped fences to become an entrepreneur, as an investment advisor -- and also taught the finer aspects of business journalism to young minds. At Forbes India, I also keep an eye on some of its proprietary specials like the Rich list, GenNext and Celebrity lists. An alumnus of Xavier Institute of Communications and H.R College of Commerce and Economics in Mumbai, I have worked for organisations such as Agence France-Presse, Business Standard, The Financial Express and The Times of India prior to this.

g_109463_ananyabirlaa_1_280x210.jpgThrough her singing, Ananya Birla wants to reach out to people and make a difference to their lives
Image:Aditi Tailang

Being born into one of the country’s most well respected business families is one thing; trying to make a name for oneself by breaking out of the traditional businesses is another. That is what Ananya Birla, the eldest daughter of Kumar Mangalam Birla—the world’s 127th richest and India’s sixth with a net worth of $11.8 billion, according to the 2018 Forbes billionaires’ list—has started to do, as an entrepreneur-singer.

At 24, Ananya runs three diverse ventures: One provides microfinance and now housing loans; another, with her mother Neerja, deals with mental health disorders and the third, CuroCarte, sells handmade lifestyle products through an ecommerce venture. At a personal level, Ananya is well-entrenched into a successful singing career as well—with three certified platinum singles, as per the Indian Music Industry, a trust that represents the country’s recording industry distributors.

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Svatantra Microfinance, a business idea that Ananya had spoken to her father about as a teenager, offers possibly the lowest interest rate for loans to the rural poor, at 19.25 percent (the industry norm is 24 percent to a maximum of 30 percent). This cashless, paperless microfinance firm had a gross loan portfolio (GLP) of 736 crore as of August 2018, 3.5 lakh active clients and disbursed over 1,400 crore as loans since inception.

I will continue to operate in all segments and contribute towards the growth of our economy.

- Ananya Birla, Entrepreneur-Singer

In September, Svatantra Holdings acquired housing finance firm Micro Housing Finance Corporation (MHFC), through the secondary purchase of all its shares, from promoters and key investors. “MHFC offers Svatantra a huge synergy by providing our clients with an opportunity to buy homes. We have tied up with builders in semi-urban areas and tell them about the flats that builders can offer, while providing the loan,” says Ananya. She hopes that, by 2021, the combined GLP of Svatantra Holdings (through which the microfinance firm operates) could touch $1 billion. MHFC has 14,300 clients in 11 states, with an average loan size of 3.5 lakh per person.

The origins of mental health venture Mpower go back to a telephonic conversation Ananya had with her mother when studying at Oxford University in 2015. Founded in 2016, Mpower has 1,200 clients and has completed 10,000 therapy sessions. “Discussing mental health is a stigma in India. We are working on an anonymous helpline for corporate clients, which could be operational in three months,” Ananya says. Mpower runs a centre and a foundation; the centre has a core team of psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists to treat a range of mental health issues—behavioural, occupational and speech-related. The foundation offers its services to low-income groups.

Ananya shares each day with teams from each of her ventures, besides engaging in her singing practice which “offers her a constant high in life”. With her latest dance-pop single ‘Circles’ going platinum, there are plans for an acoustic version as well.

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Ananya says she will continue to juggle what, from the outside, are two different professions. “I will continue to operate in all segments and contribute towards the growth of our economy. But I also want to, through my singing, reach out to people, to make a difference in their lives.”

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