Rahil Rangwala, Michael & Susan Dell Foundation


TITLE: Program Officer

FUNDING AREAS: Microfinance

CONTACT: rahil.rangwala@msdf.org, 512-600-5501

IP TAKE: Rangwala is looking to re-establish the once-stellar reputation of global microfinance.

PROFILE: Rahil Rangwala works as a program officer at Dell's Family Economic Stability Program, but primarily oversees the foundation's Low Income Housing Program. The Family Economic Stability program deals with Indian microfinance institutions (MFIs) to break intergenerational patterns of poverty in the country's burdened urban centers. Specifically, Rangwala handles the section of their portfolio dealing with low-income housing. 

Microfinance (MFI) is the practice of providing businesses and families with the initial financial spark they need to begin generating more income, and improving their situations along with the surrounding geographical areas. Dell has invested in "MFI programs that help finance basic infrastructure services such as water and sanitation" since at least 2004. That year, it gave $1 million to an India-based microfinancier called Watercredit.

Rangwala wrote on the Dell Foundation blog with dissatisfaction regarding what he views as the ailing reputation of microfinance as an industry. In his view, a few bad egg opportunist investors in the field have taken advantage of the struggling people in whom they invest money in order to turn an extra buck for themselves. The other guilty party responsible, in Rangwala's view, for smearing microfinance's good name is sloppy journalism, like this article in Forbes India. Reporting like this tends to make unscrupulous microfinance seem more ubiquitous than it actually is.

From here, one conjecture we can make about Rangwala's grant making/investment strategy/loan making is that he probably worries a great deal about the public image of the Dell Foundation's dealings in this area. For this reason, he may shy away from organizations with less than pristine track records, and obviously, fishy folks on the whole.

When approaching Rangwala, it may be wise to see what you can do in terms of working on that old boy/girl scout trust-invoking smile. Keep in mind that you are dealing someone who worked at Bridgewater Associates, a "global macro hedge fund," before transitioning to development. So as someone with a background in investment, he has probably staked a good portion of his career on making sharp appraisals of scouts' honor.

An example of the type of group with which Rangwala most likely does do business is Micro Housing Finance Corporation (MHFC), a long time friend of Dell, and Rangwala by extension. Through a blend of funding garnered from India Financial Inclusion Fund (IFIF) and Dell Foundation, MHFC received the equivalent of $5.3 million in private equity in 2009, according to Microcapital.org. Typically, MHFC makes loans ball-parking in the equivalent of $10,000, which cover up to 80 percent of the cost for a house to people in the "informal employment sector." Without access to conventional or documented types of employment, these people often remain "under-served by financial institutions," and as such, become the prime demographic with which microfinanciers work.

In another blog post, Rangwala made an open suggestion to Indian philanthropists: they need to "[s]trengthen and support existing institutions to maximize their impact. This means partnering with central, state and city governments to improve their programs for the poor ranging from housing, to education." Microfinanciers with ideas about how to collaborate with India’s government on low-income housing project may do well to get in touch with Rangwala.