A white paper titled ‘Finclusion– Empowering Women through Digital Financial Inclusion’ – identifying issues and barriers, especially for rural women, in adopting digital finance and offering solutions – has been released by L&T Financial Services (LTFS). This paper is based on learnings from the company’s Digital Sakhi (DS) programme as well as results from the assessment survey conducted after one year of implementation. The paper proposes that digital financial literacy of women benefits not only women but also their families, communities and the ecosystem at large.

The Digital Sakhi programme was launched in three districts of Maharashtra – Pune, Osmanabad and Solapur – in June 2017. It was further scaled up to 20 villages in Dhar and Bharwani districts of Madhya Pradesh in March 2018, and is now being extended to Villipuram district of Tamil Nadu and Boudh and Balangir districts of Odisha.

The year-end assessment survey showed significant improvements as compared to the initial baseline study. The survey was conducted on a sample size of 1,481 respondents across the three districts in Maharashtra. Some of the main highlights are:

  • 36% increase in use of digital modes of payment in the target villages
  • 60% increase in volume of work done by women entrepreneurs
  • 08% increase in overall annual revenues of women entrepreneurs
  • 100,000+ community members sensitised on digital modes of payment

The paper states that there are multiple benefits of digital inclusion as the additional funds are spent on healthcare, education and nutrition of the family, as well as for income-generating activities. It also identifies issues and barriers, especially for women, while adopting digital finance:

  • low literacy levels
  • low financial awareness
  • knowledge gap on digital transactions
  • lack of bank branches
  • poor internet connectivity
  • frequent power shortages
  • data-security uncertainties
  • resistance from merchant community towards digital financial services
  • last-mile connectivity issues
  • restrictions in mobility of women within largely patriarchal communities
  • limited use and ownership of mobile devices

The paper has proposed collaborations and collective action among service providers, organisations, governments and NGOs with focus on women-centric product design and a thorough onboarding process and support procedure.

The Digital Sakhi programme’s most noteworthy impact has been furthering the inclusion of women in the household financial decision-making process. Prior to the programme, all major financial decisions were mostly taken by the male head of the household. The survey results have shown that more women are now actively participating in the financial decisions of their families. Sensitisation of family members of these women is an integral part of the programme.

The programme has claimed to impact more than 2 lakh lives. The company’s spokesperson informs CauseBecause that to date 1,221 women have directly benefited from this programme in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. By comparing the baseline and year one survey, the company’s conclusive finding is that there is an increase in volume of work and revenues of women entrepreneurs.

Manoj Shenoy, CE, Wealth Management, and group head, CSR, L&T Financial Services, says, ‘Digital financial inclusion is a multi-step process with basic financial literacy being the first, leading to digital financial literacy and inclusion. We believe that the learnings from the Digital Sakhi programme that are documented through this white paper will provide all stakeholders a window to the advantages of onboarding rural women into the world of digital finance and the transformative effect it can have on the country.’

About the Digital Sakhi project model

The three-year DS programme was conceived after the findings of the baseline and needs assessment study in 2017, aligning with the government’s financial inclusion agenda and UN’s SDG 5 (gender equality).

Under this programme, Digital Sakhis are identified from the community and trained extensively on digital financial literacy, leadership and technology. A Digital Sakhi is a rural woman between 25 and 50 years of age, equipped with a digital device preloaded with digital financial literacy (DFL) modules and the skills and knowledge to impart DFL training to women in her village. The DFL modules were prepared in-house at LTFS to help the Digital Sakhis in disseminating information on digital payments and other relevant government schemes.

Another part of this programme is up-skilling women entrepreneurs of the community – who are practising agri-allied trades – in their respective trades to help yield better produce. They are also trained on enterprise development wherein they are taught to collaboratively develop market linkages and ascertain higher bargaining rights. Training is also conducted on business transactions through digital modes by the Digital Sakhis.