On International Women’s Day this year, Experian is reaffirming its commitment to female financial literacy and inclusion through a series of innovative social initiatives across Asia. A growing body of research suggests that more female workforce participation in a country corresponds with higher GDP, as does greater gender equality overall. And a crucial element of this is boosting financial education and inclusion for women, widely seen as one of the most effective means of reducing poverty in emerging economies.
With that in mind, Experian is sponsoring and collaborating with non-governmental organisations such as Aidha and Pact, along with social enterprise iCare Benefits, to spearhead a range of innovative social programmes imparting financial and entrepreneurial skills to disadvantaged groups of women in Vietnam, India and Singapore. “In today’s complex and fast-changing world, there is a widening gap between those who are able to participate in the digital financial economy and those who are not, and being left behind,” says Ben Elliott, Chief Executive Officer, Experian Asia Pacific. “Women are often disproportionately disadvantaged in this area – that is why Experian is committed to helping bring financial access to women in Asia Pacific. With our unique experience in unlocking the power of data, we have built clearer or wholly new credit profiles for women, giving many of them access to the formal financial system – and control of their economic future – for the first time.”
Experian’s Financial Inclusion Initiatives
Giving low-income people access to digital financial and government services
Identity-verification for the poor: Our Prove-ID identity-verification technology is facilitating the creation of online identities, so citizens can access Aadhaar, India’s massive biometric and online identity database. This enables many of the poorest and most marginalised members of society to connect to government and financial services, often for the first time.
“Today, only 40% of India’s 1.27 billion people have bank accounts. Many are unable to access basic financial services or government assistance because they have no official identity,” says Elliott. “The Indian government is developing a Unique Identification Database for all its citizens, a process which takes time and immense resources due to the size of the population and the difficulty in reaching isolated rural communities. We are excited at being able to leverage our technical capabilities through the Prove ID system to quickly verify individuals online – and without paper records and local investigator visits – removing obstacles and allowing women and their communities to access financial systems and government assistance faster.
Financial services app: Experian has partnered with Grameen Foundation to launch an ambitious new digital financial-education programme. This involves recruiting and training 300 youth volunteers using GLeap — a Grameen e-learning App for digital finance which enables anytime, anywhere learning. In turn, these youth champions will teach some 30,000 individuals in remote communities in India on how to access and use digital financial services.
2,500 women gain financial literacy and entrepreneurship skills
Village banks and microloans: Working with non-profit international development organisation Pact, the Mekong Vitality 2 project has provided 1,095 women in Vinh Long province with basic financial education, access to formal lines of credit and microloans.
As their property is usually held in the names of spouses or male relatives, many women in Vietnam have no collateral with which to obtain formal credit. So using Pact’s signature WORTH model, groups of 20 to 25 women were encouraged to form village banks for weekly savings and loans, allowing them to start or grow small businesses. Group savings and loan histories were also collated and used as the basis for constructing financial identities that allowed them to access other appropriate lines of credit.
Incomes increase eightfold: Through the WORTH model, these women increased their income from US$1 a day to $8 a day each on average and have collectively saved about US$50,000. Using these saving as seed money, group members issued each other more than US$150,000 in credit to, primarily, start or expand small businesses in livestock or produce. As women entrepreneurs often face challenges in accessing formal credit, Mekong Vitality 2 worked to build financial identities of participating women for sharing and linkages to financial institutions. As a result, 103 women have received loans from local financial institutions, totalling more than $114,000.
The impact has been nothing short of transformative and has also enabled the first generation of young adults in these villages to afford to go to university. The women’s groups have also become support networks and reduced levels of conflict within these communities.
Protection from loan sharks: Building on the achievements and lessons of Mekong Vitality 2, Experian and Pact designed and launched the financial education project Prosper, in cooperation with social enterprise iCare Benefits.
In the pilot phase this year, 1,500 female factory workers are being taught basic principles of financial literacy, which is reducing their vulnerability to loan sharks as well as boosting their access to formal financial services and reducing loan defaults. The women meet in workshops using adult learning and participatory methodologies to booth their confidence and practice what they learn. After the trainings, there is a marked improvement in their awareness of good saving, spending and borrowing habits, with many adopting improved practices such as recording their expenses for the first time.
The goal: Reaching 2 million women: The aim is to develop this curriculum so it can be extended to 2 million female factory workers in Asia by the end of 2019.
“Mekong Vitality 2 and Prosper are two great examples of how financial inclusion programmes targeted at women can have a positive outcome on their families and communities,” says Kurt MacLeod, Pact’s Vice President for Country Programs and Operations. “It has been encouraging to see participants become proactive in their financial decision making, which is helping them to own their futures.”
Domestic workers learn to manage money, launch businesses
Courses for domestic workers: Since 2016, Experian and Aidha – a women’s charity in Singapore – have collaborated on a financial-literacy project to support female foreign domestic workers to attend two nine-month courses, with corporate mentors teaching the women about money management, computer literacy, leadership and entrepreneurship. Aidha currently has 1,000 women attending their courses annually, with the goal of doubling this number within 2 years.
The courses have been a resounding success: students increased their average monthly savings by 40% after the first course and by nearly 80% when they became alumni of the second course. Alumni also doubled their ownership of productive assets and over 40 percent launched their own businesses.
Jacqueline Loh, Chief Executive Officer of Aidha, says, “When these women were empowered with the knowledge and skills to better manage their finances, the end-results were just tremendous. We have seen them make great strides in improving not just their lives but those of their communities as well. The partnership with Experian has helped us to reach these women, and we look forward to expanding the programme further.”
In 2018, Experian will work with Aidha to take their financial-literacy programme to another 1,000 women in Southeast Asia by enhancing the digital and online aspects of the syllabus, enabling them to reach women outside of Singapore, including their alumni who have returned home.
Elliott says, “The success of these programmes highlights the importance of achieving gender equality not just in the boardroom and in politics, but in the population at large. Experian strongly believes achieving gender equality is possible, and would encourage organisations and individuals to volunteer their time and money with groups such as Aidha, iCare Benefits and Pact, who make a real difference.