By Aanchal Aggarwal and Rajesh Sinha
As India continues to grapple with the unprecedented humanitarian crisis due to the pandemic COVID-19, Grameen Mittras, working as our front line workers have emerged victorious for their fellow community members in the Bhandara district of Maharashtra. These women have turned this moment of crisis into an opportunity and have exemplified unwavering spirit and determination by offering financial and non-financial service to their communities.
Recruited, trained and supervised by Grameen Foundation India (GFI), Grameen Mittras are social entrepreneurs, providing a range of valuable financial and non- financial services to the community, such as Goal Based Saving, Financial Capability, Digital Literacy, Bill Payment, Mobile & DTH Recharge, Government to Citizen services, Solar Products and Access to finance. There are 28 Grameen Mittras serving more than 2,000 households across the Bhandara district of Maharashtra. Due to their strenuous efforts, these women have been able to record a landmark
number of transactions (INR 2.2 million) in the months of April and May, 2020 proving further, how important their contribution has been towards their communities in this pandemic.
Asha Bisen works as Grameen Mittra in the Rengepar village of Sakoli block in Bhandara. In her own words, “I wanted to be a Grameen Mittra to earn and financially support my household. In the process of being self sufficient, I also get to support the most vulnerable in this pandemic”.
She recalls when an elderly woman from the community knocked at her door for the first time amidst COVID-19 and asked her if she could help her withdraw the funds from her PMJDY account. She was in dire-straits and needed to withdraw the money from her bank account but couldn’t travel to city due to lockdown. People were anxious in the village and needed money stuck in their account but none of them could travel to the nearby bank due to the lockdown. It was that moment, I decided to recontinue my business.” She ensured that everybody wore a mask,
maintained social distance and washed hands with soap prior to availing the services at her doorstep. Asha’s case underscores the situation of many of the Grameen Mittras who had their moment of reckoning during this pandemic and were successful in winning over the community’s trust. Their timely support and role during this pandemic have made them a critical part of the communities’ ecosystem and it has added to their self-esteem, more than ever.
Facilitating Financial Services
Grameen Mittras have been the mainstay of the community for accessing the financial services during this pandemic. They have conducted close to 10,000 transactions during April – May 2020 and have served close to 3700 unique customers. A granular look at the pattern of usage of the services accessed through Grameen Mittras unveil that highly demanded services are - Withdrawal, Direct Money Transfer and Mobile or DTH recharge. The lockdown turned people towards Grameen Mittras for accessing financial services and women like Asha saw their businesses grow during this phase.
Asha Bisen shares how her business has evolved and more people have started coming to her doorstep to avail financial services. “Earlier I was providing services to about 30 percent of the villagers but now I provides service to 70 percent of the village”, said Asha. The pandemic has forced the rural communities gravitate towards Digital Financial Services.
The courageous act of Grameen Mittras of putting themselves in the centre-stage amidst this pandemic to serve people has helped them gain dignity within their household and community. Asha’s husband aptly sums it, “She is remarkable. She took best decision to become Grameen Mittra and now I am confident that she will guide our kids too to make the best of themselves.”
Like the rest of the world, the pandemic threw the rural communities into an unchartered territory and the need of awareness about precautionary measures was more than ever. Concept of social distancing, wearing masks, regularly washing hands were alien to them. In such a scenario, Grameen Mittras played a pivotal role in delivering the behaviour change communication at the community level. Many of these Grameen Mittras used art as means to storytelling and drew Rangoli in their veranda or public places with messages on how to stay safe in these
times. Many of these Mittras also used the opportunity to help their communities further by stitching and selling masks, Mittras distributed masks for free to PWDs(Person with Disabilities) & senior citizens.
Asha Bisen offering services through her system set up in a field for people’s access
At a time, when the world is fighting COVID-19 and people are left tattered, when social distancing is a part of culture and banking is accelerated more towards digital modes, Grameen Mittras continue to be relevant for expanding the net of formal financial services and women economic empowerment.
(Aanchal Aggarwal is a Research Analyst and Rajesh Sinha is the Project Manager at Grameen Foundation India)