Sarita, a Grameen Mittra in Bhandara, Maharashtra was sitting in her porch after dinner when she was approached by Meenal, a 40-year-old woman who wanted to withdraw money to admit her daughter in the local hospital for pneumonia. Knowing that Meenal was yet to receive her Direct Benefit Transfer(DBT), Sarita immediately withdrew money from her personal account to help Meenal out. This empathetic gesture established Sarita as a trusted Grameen ‘Mittra’ or friend in the community and helped her and Meenal overcome the roadblock of ‘trust’ in their financial inclusion journey. Independence of Sarita coupled with her confidence to use G-leap application powered by Grameen foundation helped her take financial decision independently in a society that is still marginalised and overtly patriarchal. Sarita’s experience as a woman and as a Grameen Mittra underscores the importance of financial planning and banking access for women empowerment.
The Women-link project supported by Wells Fargo and implemented by Grameen Foundation India in Bhandara aims to empower the beneficiaries financially and socially. As per the baseline assessment only 13 percent of surveyed women reported that they felt confident in selecting the right financial product as per their need or availing other financial services like recurring deposit, fixed deposit or insurance. Further, less than 30 percent women were correctly able to identify application of digital financial payment products like mobile-banking/net-banking/UPI. further when instigated about the comfort of interaction with Financial Service Providers(FSP), only 23 percent women reported that they felt respected by FSPs on-field and hence are often pushed back from financial knowledge and decisions. Further, analysis also highlighted that social empowerment of women like free mobility around the community and her financial empowerment are directly related. These gaps justly point out the need for holistic empowerment of women by engagement of Sakhis or Grameen Mittras. Research studies also illustrates strongly that learning and social upliftment is often a peer-to-peer behavior and hence the engagement of the Grameen Mittra’s with their beneficiaries comes like a torch in the dark. In this baseline assessment 35 percent women reported that they can’t step outside of their village and sometimes even their home without an escort and have constrained access to financial products and services.
In such social scenarios, when we came across Ms. Ramani- a middle aged woman from Pauni block in Bhandara, we were left awestruck. Ramani had availed a personal loan to buy a sewing machine from her local bank. She struggled to undertake the tedious, monthly visit to her bank, 10kms away from her residence to deposit money, repay her instalment and check her bank balance. Upon learning about her good friend Saroj becoming a Grameen Mittra and that Aadhaar based banking transactions could bring banking to her doorstep, she decided to help her community members by motivating them to save diligently for a short-term goal. Eventually, Ramani with help from Saroj, helped 2 other women evolve into micro-entrepreneurs and start working as tailor. This example teaches us that timely support & informed knowledge adds on to greater resilience in low income communities. This not only helped Ramani become independent but also helped her gain trust and respect from her community. This story of Ramani very finely projects how social empowerment is closely knitted with financial enablement.
However, there are not many women like Ramani who could independently take financial decisions to help themselves move out of poverty and hence comes in role of agencies to build that foundation up. An empowered woman means an empowered family and improved finance management for the household. As part of the Women-Link initiative, women have started saving at-least Rs.10 weekly for both short-term and long-term goals. Grameen Mittras who are leading a digital financial revolution in their districts, guided and trained by Grameen foundation, help build trust in the community towards formal banking systems and digital transactions primarily using Aadhaar Enabled Payment System (AEPS powered by NPCI) which means that the beneficiary only needs Aadhaar number linked to bank account and their thumb/finger impression to do a financial transaction.
Trust is a strong emotion when we talk about digital financial inclusion, especially when it comes to these women who are vulnerable, and have protracted access to information and resources. In times of COVID-19 when marginalized people are suffering the worst, I am also over-whelmed to see the poise and dedication by which Grameen Mittras have come forward to serve as banking agents during COVID-19 pandemic situation.
Key learnings that we take from these anecdotes and baseline assessment are:
1. Moving up the ladder of social empowerment and financial enablement goes hand-in-hand and need constant efforts to make environment viable for these women.
2. Small but important efforts like goal-based savings goes a long way in building financial capacity of bare minimum literate rural woman.
3. An influencer in form of a friend — Grameen Mittra is like a guiding torch in the tunnel of social and financial confusions.
“There is a very positive impact of goal based savings and financial planning on women’s lives in our village, dependence on our gharwala (husband) has reduced and we all have started to save to fulfil ours and kid’s wishes” told Sarita- Grameen Mittra with Grameen Foundation India trained under Women Link Project supported by Wells Fargo.
Written by Anchal Aggarwal, Research Analyst — Grameen Foundation India