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Connecting The Poor To The Potential

Enabling the poor, especially the women, Grameen Foundation, continues to fill in life for women like Shanti who long for a better future but short on cash and assistance

Photo Credit : Swati Narayan/IndiaSpend


Labouring in the field, amidst the monsoon rains, summer heat and the winter chills, Shanti's life was at the helm of seasons. Today, seven years after first being introduced to Sonata, the loan program, Shanti is the owner of a small general store and in tune with an entirely new schedule of seasons. The program helped her move away from poverty to a secured life, expanding her inventory and dreams.

Enabling the poor, especially the women, Grameen Foundation, continues to fill in life for women like Shanti who long for a better future but short on cash and assistance.

Operating in India since 2000, Grameen Foundation India,a wholly owned subsidiary of Grameen Foundation, a global nonprofit organization, brings innovative and sustainable solutions to the fight against poverty and hunger. Together with local partners, they equip families, women, and smallholder farmers with resources and services that expand financial inclusion, strengthen resilience, enhance health and improve livelihoods.

With support from Citi Foundation, GFI partnered with Sonata, a microfinance institution, and Oxigen, a payments service provider, for developing and testing digital payment channel for the rural low income clients of the MFI to repay their weekly loan instalments. This was aimed to enhance mobile financial capability to the delivery of mobile financial services, leading to increased usability, and therefore behaviour changes for the poor.

"The movement today, is not restricted to just GFI, it has now become a broader industry initiative", says Steve Hollingworth, President and CEO, Grameen Foundation.

Focussing on harnessing the digital technology to connect poor families to the formal economy, along with providing essential information and market opportunities, Steve explains the challenges, "Digital-based solutions to poverty are not as simple as hitting "send" on a mobile phone. While it is relatively easy to create a financial app or a mobile health app, it is far more difficult to develop and deliver digital services that can make measurable differences. This needs to be backed up by a network of trusted and skilled people on the ground".

Chandni Ohri, CEO at Grameen Foundation India, says GFI has taken forward the Poverty Measurement Tool - Progress Out Of Poverty Index (PPI), created by Grameen Foundation almost a decade ago, to help organizations measure the poverty levels and address the poverty situation in India effectively. The other tools like multi dimensional index, human development index (HDI) etc, posed a problem of being too large and complex to be used by practitioners to measure poverty." 

"So things like - Oh they live in slums so they must be poor. But within the slum, there are layers of poverty, there are household which are better off and worse off than the others. The idea was to create a tool that the practitioners can use- easy and cost effective, reliable data and could be compared across", says Chandni.

"For India we pick up the NSSO survey. Out of the 200 odd questions in the survey, we pick up 10 which are amongst the most correlated to poverty via statistical analysis. Things like education level of the household head, number of children, assets". GFI has partners like Cashpor that operates across Bihar and UP, who were the earlier users of PPI.

There are evolving definitions of assets today. From pressure cooker it's evolved to mobile phones, shares Chandni in light humour.

Apart from the providing technical expertise, GFI's engagements range from building institutional capabilities, providing grants and technical support to Microfinance Institutions (MFIs) in India and other flagship programs including digital inclusion. From 2005-2008, GFI has unlocked close to $100 million in debt for MFIs through an innovative guarantees program.

In January 2016, India's Ministry of Health and Family Welfare launched a national mobile health program developed by Grameen Foundation and BBC Media Action called Mobile Kilkari and Mobile Kunji which calls pregnant women and mothers on their mobile phones, delivering crucial health information targeted to their stage of pregnancy or their infant's age.

Eliminating the middlemen comes as a secondary purpose of the programs and gets covered alongside the main objective, "The primary purpose of the foundation is to get the poor an access to the services they need, in the most cost effective and efficient manner. Amongst this there is a secondary benefit that the middlemen might get eliminated", says Steve.

After assisting the government with its agenda of financial inclusion through Jan Dhan Yojana, Grameen Foundation now wants to access what kind of services people receive and their relevance. "We want to make sure that the poor can get required information to use these services appropriately", says Chandni.