October 19, 2018 by Bee Wuethrich
Earlier this month, supporters from the global financial services firm, Capital Group, joined Grameen Foundation to see our work in India. There, in the dead center of this country of 1.3 billion people, we met Sindhu. This is her story.
Sindhu lives with her husband, her seven-year-old son, her four-year-old daughter, and her husband’s parents in a 10 X 12 foot, one-room house in the village of Kelwad in Nagpur District. Her husband is a welder, but his work is inconsistent. Until recently, Sindhu herself earned less than 200 Indian Rupees (US$2.70) a day, cleaning houses.
Then, one day last summer, Sindhu’s husband attended a village meeting organized by Grameen Foundation to recruit volunteers to its training program in digital and financial literacy. At the time busy with work, he recommended his wife, Sindhu, to the program.
Becoming a Grameen Mitra
Sindhu trained for 15 days, each day gaining confidence and skills in basic finances, in the use of a smartphone and biometric device to access financial services, and soft skills to help her communicate with her neighbors.
Finally, she was certified as our first Grameen Mitra, translated as “Friend of the Village.” The day came for her to go door-to-door, and to show other women how they could pay their bills, repay loans, withdraw money and access government services, including the pensions India offers for seniors and a guaranteed minimum wage. And they could do it all without missing work and sacrificing a half-day’s income to visit the only bank near by.
Sindhu approached her neighbors’ homes with determination—and fear. The fear was justified. Doors shut in her face. Despite her training, despite the services she offered, she was not welcome. She was still seen as the one who did menial labor. What could she possibly have to offer?
Shunned because of her caste status, Sindhu feared her efforts had been in vain. She turned to Anand Deo, director of the Grameen Foundation program, and to Geetanjali Vankhede, the local Sarpanch -- the elected leader of six villages, and a woman herself.
Together they devised a plan. The Sarpanch would personally escort Sindhu on her motorbike, from house-to-house. Together they would call out hello. Together they would knock on the doors of their neighbors and explain the program and the opportunities it offered.
Doors began to open. Interest grew. The village women—who were not much better off than Sindhu—began to realize the benefits of the new digital financial services: It made their lives easier. It saved them precious time and money. And it gave them independence. By doing their financial transactions without relying on their husbands, they could gain control of their financial lives.
From outcast to leader
Sindhu became the first Grameen Mitra in our DIVE (Digital Financial Inclusion Via Education) program, funded by Citigroup Global Markets, which is training 100 Grameen Mitras who each will reach out to an estimated 1,500 households, benefiting up to 250,000 people.
Sindhu’s life—and that of her family and her village—is continuing to get better. Grameen Foundation partner, Alignus, has installed a Water ATM in the village. The solar powered system provides 20 liters of clean filtered water for just 5 Rupees (less than US$0.01), combatting water-borne diseases.
Sindhu has developed a side business, using her mobile phone to arrange water deliveries to village homes. Her husband has secured a part-time job maintaining the Water ATM. They are able to afford more nutritious food and have begun to slowly save for the future.
Sindhu radiates a calm pride. You feel it in her presence. You see the same pride in the face of her husband. The transformation of this woman and her family is profound. Previously shunned at every door, Sindhu is now leading a quiet revolution in the district of Nagpur, training women in financial and digital literacy so that they can open doors to their own brighter futures.
This is what a breakthrough looks like
It is a woman, and a family, confident and with new hope for the future. A family that is earning more and is more resilient, thanks to their own efforts and to an entire ecosystem of support, one consciously constructed for the empowerment of a poor woman.
For Sindhu, that ecosystem includes Grameen Foundation, Alignus, and the elected Sarpanch. It includes the Mitras’ husbands, and government programs that provide a digital infrastructure to extend financial inclusion. It includes our funders, and the support of donors like those traveling from Capital Group.
It was an honor to travel with Capital Group for Grameen Foundation and to witness their empathy and commitment to a world free of poverty and hunger. That is the world we aspire to build, to live in, and to pass on to our children. Will you be part of it?
Bee Wuethrich is Senior Director, Marketing and Communications, Grameen Foundation