For women of Gomtipur, a small community on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, Jayashree Vyas, Chairman, Shri Mahila Sewa Sahakari Bank , is a messiah. "Thanks to Jayashree behn and Sewa Bank, I have learnt to save. I have enough capital for my tailoring business and have also invested in the banks savings scheme for childrens education. Today, my son is working in a private company in Surat," says Geeta behn.
Gomtipur has over 750 women who not only have saving accounts with the bank but have also invested in its financial products such as Mangal Prasang, which enables women to save for their daughter's wedding, Chinta Nivaran, an emergency fund, apart from a pension fund. Varsha behn, who makes a livelihood out of making torans and took a loan of `30,000 for her son's education seven years ago, has now got her daughter-in-law to invest in the bank's pension scheme, where she puts in `1,000 a month.
It has taken Vyas, the Sewa Bank head honcho, two decades and endless hours of counselling and education to instil this level of financial awareness among women. Before this, the women used to save, but only for a rainy day. "They would withdraw the money in a short period. We realised that despite having saving accounts, they were going to moneylenders to borrow for things such as medical care and weddings and other social occasions. Long-term savings were absent."
Vyas got women from the informal sector to set goals and list avoidable and unavoidable expenses. "We took the concept of lifecycle needs and asked what their major expenses were. They were festivals, education, marriage and buying assets. We told them to buy insurance for emergencies and save in products that we designed for festivals and wedding/education of children."
Apart from organising financial literacy workshops, the bank also produced small films on financial literacy. The most popular of these is 'Ganga Jamuna', a story of two friends, one of them a smart investor and the other financially illiterate; the smart investor moves on to having a better life. "The biggest challenge was to convince them to plan for old age. The immediate response was why should they save when they did not know if they would live for that long."
However, there was a big advantage. In rural markets, if a product appeals to a few women, others also buy it. "It's not like urban markets where people dont like to talk about their finances. Here, if one person benefits from a product, she recommends it to others. Word of mouth has worked immensely for us."
Sewa Bank has five lakh customers, of which one lakh have enrolled into the pension scheme and two lakh into the insurance scheme. On an average, a woman invests `750 per month. Vyas' goal is to double customer numbers in the next three years. ~