Grameen to lead India Women's Economic Empowerment program

With support of the Ford Foundation and in partnership with Grameen Foundation India (GFI) and Grameen Capital India, Grameen Foundation USA is leading the 18-month Women’s Economic Empowerment in India program to catalyze women’s financial inclusion and entrepreneurship in rural India.

The first of the program’s two core activities, designed in collaboration with GFI, Haqdarshak and BharatPay, includes onboarding 400 new female Community Agents, known as Mittras – or “Friend of the Village” in India. To date, Grameen has trained more than 240 Mittras in digital and financial skills with lessons that overcome low literacy rates by using technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, interactive voice response, and multimedia over mobile phones. Once trained, the Mittra’s, equipped with a smartphones and biometric identification devices, provide their neighbors, predominantly low-income women, with digital access to financial resources needed to improve their lives.

The 400 new Mittras selected from within Nashik district of Maharashtra are expected to serve 200,000 rural clients in the area. Because each Mittra earns a small fee per transaction, she also becomes a self-employed entrepreneur.

“We have witnessed the power female financial workers, drawn from their own poor and rural communities, have in transforming the lives of their neighbors,” said Prabhat Labh, CEO of Grameen Foundation India. “It is heartening to imagine the potential this expansion will release – how many more women will now have financial access and new-found agency to positively impact the security, health, educational opportunities and futures of their families and their communities.”

In addition to driving financial inclusion among low-income populations, the project will establish a scalable model of social entrepreneurship that creates self-employment for young women and empowers communities through increased access to financial and livelihood service. Over five years, the model has the potential to empower ten million end clients and generate 10,000 jobs.

The WEE program’s second core activity is the launch of an Agricultural SDG Impact Bond. Impact Bonds are pay-for-success financing instruments used to link socially conscious private investors with enterprises that aim to deliver social outcomes.

India has a vibrant micro, small and medium-sized enterprise (MSME) economy, but most MSMEs still find it challenging to raise capital. This is often due to the complexity of procedures to access capital. Social enterprises in India also flounder due to a lack of collateral or guarantees.

In response, GFUSA will capitalize on innovative models from South Asia to channel new sources of investment into agriculture and agriculture technology social enterprises that are empowering smallholder farmers, especially women, in the agricultural value chain with the goal of increasing their income and ultimately reducing income inequalities in communities of India.

Specifically, the grant from Ford Foundation will be employed by Grameen Foundation USA to provide a First Loss Default Guarantee (FLDG), which will function as a guarantee to those impact bond investors and funders who invest in the Agriculture Impact Bonds. As a result, financing will become accessible to agriculture MSMES in India, who may want to start small, haven’t been in business too long or don’t have other backers.

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