- The response has been astonishing; women have been coming in droves to open their own personal accounts and also do the paperwork for opening accounts in their spouse's name.
- In just one month of financial drives, nearly 120 women opened accounts (primarily for themselves, not their earning husbands) with our support.
The role of our project centre: We are not ourselves a financial institution, neither are we into microfinance. Our goal with the financial inclusion drive was to become a mediator of banking related information for those urban poor who:
- do not fully understand the ins and outs of banking,
- do not have easy access to banks for getting started with the banking process
- are unsure about the personal or business loans for which they are eligible.
- Will my money grow if I put it in the bank? At what rate?
- If I have a zero balance account, will I get an ATM card? A credit card?
- Can I take loans from your bank even if I have an account with another bank?
Just as with entrepreneurship and livelihoods, access to information seems to be a critical prerequisite to facilitate true inclusion even in the banking sector. But a distinction may be made between information that acts as "exposure" and information that acts as "education".
For example, information provided through a one time workshop with a hundred people makes for an excellent exposure session but does not "educate". However, a centralised resource where individuals can come in with queries on an ongoing basis, and not just learn about bank accounts but about how to integrate banking into their economic behaviour, that is education. And that kind of sustained information source appears to be a key factor for ensuring financial empowerment.
Our financial inclusion partner : Allahabad Bank
Our incentives for financial inclusion are clear - finances are a key constraint for entrepreneurs and women wishing to participate in the local economy. For Allahabad Bank, an incentive is to show that they have met the targets of the financial inclusion scheme pushed onto the national agenda starting 15th August - the Prime Ministers's Jan Dhan Scheme. More on that below...
Our partner for this banking and financial inclusion effort is Allahabad Bank, one of the oldest national banks in India. It has typically had less clout in this region than say, the State Bank of India, and less reach in the slum communities. Hence it is quite keen to have us help them get new accounts (to the tune of nearly 200 by early October I believe!). In addition to opening bank accounts for urban poor slum dwellers, Allahabad Bank has also partnered with us to install an ATM Kiosk at our project site. Many account holders who have a minimum balance account are now using ATM cards, a first in their lives.
Opening Bank Accounts, Holding Financial Awareness Q&A Sessions, and linking with women's cooperatives who are already financial savvy but now need livelihood/enterprise development opportunities. Please place the mouse on the photo to read details about the images.
I mentioned above that our project's current partner for banking outreach is Allahabad Bank, and that they are pushing for helping urban poor open accounts because of the mandates under the Prime Minister's Jan Dhan Yojana. You can get full background on this scheme here:
Collaborating with other organisations
This past Saturday (20th September), I received a call from Ms. Nayana Mohanty, Founder & CEO of Swayanshree Mahila Samabaya Ltd., one of the largest financial member owned and managed cooperatives in Odisha (starting out as just a savings group for women from the poorer neighbourhoods of Cuttack).
I walked into what I thought would be a round table discussion about ways in which we could collaborate for women-focused enterprise development. Instead, I walked straight onto a stage (dias), and found myself one of the speakers at a gathering with 400 odd women.
But will our Bhubaneswar version of the Urban Micro Business Centre idea be able to address this need? The next 6 months might tell.
Building an Ecosystem for Women's Economic Participation
A number of interesting initiative targeting women's economic participation, are starting to pick up pace in India. One such initiative is the Bharatiya Mahila Bank, which focuses solely on women - better outreach, more customized banking and loan products, and a focus on financial awareness in addition to banking inclusion (click on logo to know more).
As the photo captions show above, I constantly aim to reach out to other local and regional organisations working with women in the realm of financial inclusion, enterprise development, and livelihoods. Thus our project is slowly becoming part of - and actually helping strengthen - this local ecosystem. I am a strong believer in collaboration between parallel organisations in order to create a comprehensive support system for a cause (and certainly for one as complex as women's economic empowerment), and it's good to know that we're slowly getting there.