Nirmala Deka from Kobikara village in Assam’s Darrang district was a simple tenant farmer, struggling to make ends meet, until a few years ago.. The wife of a carpenter, Deka became part of a women self help group (SHG) in 2015 and after undergoing a financial training course, she began linking people in her village to social security schemes, bank accounts, and insurance policies. She earned the trust of the people through her services and today, she is a member of her village panchayat.
Juri Hira, who lost her husband in December 2017, was unable to provide even two square meals for her children. She enrolled in a similar training programme in January 2018, learning about financial products available for people in her village. She helped over 1,722 beneficiaries in accessing formal credit, farm insurance and clean cooking gas, earning a service fee of Rs 83,060. Today, she no longer has to worry about food for her family.
Both Deka and Hira have been beneficiaries of Mein Pragati project – CRISIL’s financial literacy and inclusion initiative to empower socially and economically disadvantaged sections of society by strengthening their financial capabilities.
The project began in Assam in 2014 and was subsequently replicated in Rajasthan. Being a financial services company, CRISIL was location agnostic for rolling out CSR activities.
“So we decided to refer to Crisil Inclusix, an index that measures financial inclusiveness at the district level. Looking at the most financially exclusive districts, we zeroed in on the north east. Within that, we looked at parameters like the availability of supply side infrastructure, connectivity and social status of women. We then further zeroed in on Assam and that is how our journey began,” says Maya Vengurlekar, Chief Operating Officer of the CRISIL Foundation, the credit rating agency’s CSR arm.
CRISIL’s annual report suggests a direct correlation between the company’s net profit and annual spend on CSR projects. Between 2015 and 2018 (CRISIL follows January-December financial year) the company’s CSR spend grew at an annualised rate of 7.6 percent from Rs 5.8 crore to Rs 7.3 crore in CY18.
In the same period, its net profit on a standalone basis grew at an annualised rate of 7.7 per cent from Rs 222 crore in CY15 to Rs 277.5 crore in CY18.
Vengurlekar says while women in Assam’s villages were aware of their responsibilities as a homemaker in terms of managing finances, they didn’t know the very nuanced and technical aspects of financial products and services (like bank accounts, loan, insurance), how to access them and how to choose products relevant to their financial situation.
“Those were the aspects that we decided to address through Mein Pragati initiative,” she says.
“The programme now has three pillars. The first pillar is about creating knowledge and awareness for which we use our peer-based learning content and methodology. We train these women, called Sakhis,” Vengurlekar says.
The second stage is facilitating linkages after awareness creation because once women become aware, they want to access those financial products and services. “We facilitated linking of various products like Sukanya Samriddhi Yojana, Atal Pension Yojana or basic insurance products as part of Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana with the target group.
“The third pillar is sustaining the momentum to ensure behavioral change. For this we created a trained cadre of women from the same community, who act as our touch points on an ongoing basis. We also made this cadre self sustainable through a service fee model by supporting everyone in their village to access financial products as well as social security and government benefits,” she says.
This cadre of trained Sakhis is confident community leaders are they are earning from the work they are doing for the community. “That gives them high level of dignity in how community perceives them,” she says.
Deka says the entire process of training and empowerment, boosted her confidence. “Not only was I able to help people in my village, I was also earning income. I was then approached for contesting the Panchayat elections and was elected,” she says.
Out of over 400 Sakhis, 48 contested the elections and 14 of them won. “Today, they are office bearers. They no longer work in the capacity of Sakhis but they have become a big support for the cadre and our programme has received immense boost with these sponsors in the community,” Vengurlekar adds.
(Rashmi Pratap is a Mumbai-based journalist specializing in business, financial and socio-economic reporting)