“To awaken the people, it is the women who must be awakened. Once she is on the move, the family moves, the village moves, the nation moves” – Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru

In India, 23.6% of the entire population lives in the peril of chronic poverty, barely able to secure their family’s needs. Every day children, women, and men die from preventable diseases associated with poverty- starvation, diarrhea, malaria, tuberculosis, death in childbirth, etc. The lives of people living in extreme poverty are continuously threatened by lack of food, the risk of disease, hazardous work, and precarious living conditions. They experience discrimination, harassment, humiliation, and sometimes-even threats of death, often just because they are poor. This pandemic Covid 19 is further pushing these already poor and vulnerable communities into unemployment and poverty.

Poverty nullifies economic and social rights such as the right to education, health, adequate housing, and food or safe water. Financial inclusion can play a pivotal role to fight extreme poverty & it is widely believed that it aids inclusive growth, economic development, and financial deepening. Specifically, it expands poor people’s access to financial services, increasing their economic opportunities, and therefore improving their lives. Up to two billion people worldwide, however, are excluded from the financial system, especially in developing countries. Ironically, those who have the most difficulty acquiring banking products and services are often those who could most benefit from them, which is why financial inclusion can play an important role in reducing poverty and inequality to fulfill the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals.

It is increasingly recognized that consumers of financial products and services need financial education to make informed decisions about important financial matters. Poor households are often severely cash-constrained, innovations that can help them manage cash more efficiently and smoothen their consumption can significantly impact their welfare.

Grameen Foundation India has been working with low-income groups across different parts of Maharashtra. Grameen India’s work towards empowering women began through financial inclusion. The DIvE (Digital Inclusion Via Education) project, funded by Citi Corp and supported by the NPCI(National Payment Corporation of India), in its first phase reached 250,000 people in Nagpur and sensitized them about the different financial tools and products available such as BHIM, UPI, RUPAY Card and AEPS.

In India, a total of 294.8 million accounts have been opened, including 17 million from rural and semi-urban geographies, and close to 80% of them were into a dormant stage. The story of Nagpur isn’t very different from the national average.

We realized, though training and sensitization can build awareness, they won’t help this population to adopt a ‘digital’ way of life. The second part of the project, therefore, led to a deeper engagement with the communities. We identified rural women entrepreneurs as agents of change, also known as Grameen Mittras. These Mittras, after being trained, help the community members to undertake financial transactions with the help of their mobile phones.

The path to finding these entrepreneurial women was not an easy one. Rural belts in India are plagued with gender-based inequalities. After weeks of engaging with the family members of some of the women in Nagpur, Grameen finally had a cadre of 300 Grameen Mittras ready to bring about behavioral change in their communities.

Today these Mittras are actively working towards driving financial inclusion and digital literacy. Apart from sharing information on different financial tools and services, they also help with goal-based savings and other methods to plan their long-term finances. Old people who earlier had to visit the bank to withdraw their pension have benefitted the most. The Mittras gained trust and respect by bringing all the financial services to their doorsteps.

Several Grameen Mittras have received accolades and have been applauded for their work. Harsha Dongle and Komal Mahesh Meshram, two such Grameen Mittras spoke about their transformative journey at national level conferences and were lauded for the change they are bringing in their communities. This network of change agents created by Grameen is poised to drive deeper financial inclusion building a more inclusive society.

Grameen’s “Three Touch Model” talked about creating awareness, nudging, and finally adoption. This model has worked very well for the Mittras in driving a sustained behavioral change in their communities.

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