In midst of rural poverty, 1.3 million people gain access to financial services through women's networks

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Women-based networks of community finance workers are overcoming barriers that prevent 1.7 billion people worldwide from gaining access to formal financial services in poor communities. The networks, organized by Grameen Foundation, have brought financial services to nearly 1.3 million people through hundreds of newly trained community finance workers.

“A new model of female finance workers, drawn from the communities they serve, is transforming access to financial resources in poor and rural communities,” said Lauren Hendricks, Executive Vice President of Grameen Foundation. “Many of the finance workers live in poverty and have limited schooling—yet they are on the front lines of empowering women to build better lives.”

Known as Grameen Mitras in India and as Community Agents in the Philippines, the women participate in training programs that overcome low literacy levels by using technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, interactive voice response, and multimedia over mobile phones. Once trained in digital and financial skills, the community agents provide their neighbors with digital access to financial resources needed to improve their lives. The agents earn a small fee per transaction, making them entrepreneurs in their own right.

In India:

  • The Digital Inclusion Via Education (DIVE) program has trained 110 low-income women as “Grameen Mitras” (Hindi for “Friend of the Village”). Equipped with a smartphone and a biometric identification device, they have connected 250,000 people with digital financial services. The Mitras go door-to-door visiting young and old alike. Since November 2018, they have generated transactions worth approximately 25 million Indian Rupees (US$358,650) in Maharashtra state. Citigroup Global Markets CSR provided initial funding.
  • Since October 2018, the Youth Champions for Digital Finance program, funded by Experian, has trained 300 local youth to be community finance workers. In the Bhandara district of Maharashtra, they have connected more than 31,000 community members to digital financial services.

In the Philippines:

  • The Community Agent Network (CAN) of 2,286 finance agents (75 percent of whom are women) working in 423 villages have connected more than one million people to digital financial services across scattered islands. Most CAN agents operate sari-sari (small neighborhood) shops and are equipped with a table-top digital financial platform that connects people with banks, utility companies, government agencies, and businesses. With funding from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, in three years, CAN agents have generated more than 4.3 million transactions valued at 1.3 billion Philippine Pesos (US$24.9 million).
  • Grameen Foundation’s WomenLink program is building on this momentum. The program, funded by Wells Fargo, is training another 450 community agents to extend financial education and to provide access to financial services to tens of thousands more women.

Globally, women compose more than half of the “unbanked.” Limited education, restricted ability to travel outside one’s home, and mistrust in the financial system are among the barriers to women’s financial inclusion. Poor women therefore lack access to basic services--including savings, loans, and insurance—needed to cope with emergencies; invest in health, education, and small businesses; and exit poverty.

“Grameen Foundation’s women’s networks overcome these barriers,” said Elisabeth Rhyne, managing director of the Center for Financial Inclusion at Accion. “Women who are already known in their community are more trusted than distant banks. Door-step or corner-store financial services offer valuable time and cost savings for women with little of either to spare.”

Changing Lives

“As poor women open up the world of financial services to their communities, they are also helping themselves,” said Prabhat Labh, CEO of Grameen Foundation India. “They are earning money, learning skills and offering services. This strengthens their community standing and their decision-making authority inside and outside the home.”

Rukma Chaudhary, a Mitra from India’s Nagpur district has dwarfism, and her husband suffers from polio paralysis. Though initially hesitant to join the Mitra program, Chaudhary became a role model within her community, working with the support of her husband.

“My association with the Mitra platform has helped me break out of barriers imposed on me by my physical condition since my childhood. It has reinstated belief in my own abilities,” says Chaudhary. “People now look at me with respect, not pity,” she adds.

In the Philippines, Anita Camilon, a primary school teacher, has acquired new financial skills through WomenLink. Average pay for public school teachers in the Philippines is US$4,356. Therefore, “You just have to make do with what you have,” she says. Nonetheless, guided by financial training delivered via SMS, for the first time, Anita has begun saving for retirement, and sharing financial know-how with her co-teachers.

Partnerships have been another key to success. Labh notes that the DIVE program has partnered with microfinance institutions, service organizations and government agencies. One partner distributes organic farming supplies while another distributes portable solar water purifiers. Some Mitras have begun selling organic seeds and fertilizers to local farmers, others are selling the water purifiers and using their newly acquired smart phones to manage their budding enterprises.

“Every partnership provides Grameen Mitras with opportunities to expand their business offerings and better their lives,” Labh says.

For more information contact:

Bee Wuethrich, USA: Mobile +1 (206) 427-0368
Tanvi Gupta, India: Mobile +91 7875019951
Christine Jeanne Violago, Philippines: Mobile +63917 518 4111

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