Grameen Foundation India has trained over 20,000 poor women in using mobile and digital finance solutions: Prabhat Labh

By Anusha Ashwin

Grameen Foundation India (GFI) is a social business organization and a wholly-owned subsidiary of Grameen Foundation that catalyzes double bottom line approaches to serve the poor. GFI works with partners to make health information and financial services more accessible to poor populations through the use of digital technology. Its mission is to enable the poor, especially women, to create a world without poverty and hunger.

In a conversation with Voice&Data, GFI’s newly appointed CEO, Prabhat Labh, elaborates on how digital technology is a significant driver in enabling poverty eradication and making healthcare more accessible in the under served communities. 

Voice&Data: When was the Indian subsidiary of Grameen Foundation formed and what is its purpose?

Prabhat Labh: Grameen Foundation is a global nonprofit that harnesses the power of technology to deliver a vital mix of financial, agricultural and health services and information to the world’s poorest people, especially women. We combine digital expertise, local knowledge, and strategic partnerships to drive innovation that enable women, smallholder farmers, and poor communities to build their assets, educate children, protect health and strengthen resilience.

Established in 2010,Grameen Foundation India (GFI) is a wholly owned subsidiary of Grameen Foundation. GFI’s focus is on developing solutions to drive access and usage of a range of financial services particularly targeted at the last mile. Our partners include commercial banks, mobile network operators, microfinance institutions, healthcare providers and others. 

Voice&Data: Grameen Foundation has adopted the mobile way to fight poverty! Could you elaborate on how this is enabled?

Prabhat Labh: GFI combines our deep understanding of the lives of poor and our domain knowledge in digital finance to ensure that front-line workers and poor households throughout the developing world have the capability and skills to leverage the power of digital technology to improve their lives. We have deployed our award-winning prowess in client-centered design to create integrated solutions that truly respond to the customer needs. Our information and community technology (ICT) solutions for small holder farmers combined with human networks bring real time information about cropping practices, weather patterns and market price trends to the small holder farmers so that they can improve production and derive greater value from their produce.

What makes our digital finance solutions effective is that it not only addresses barriers from the user perspective, it also helps the financial providers increase their outreach, reduce costs and serve their customers better while keeping an eye on commercial viability. Over the past 18 months, we have trained over 23,000 poor women clients in using mobile and digital finance solutions. 

Voice&Data: It’s just a few months since you assumed the role as CEO of GFI. What are your plans to execute digital technology in upliftment of the poor?

Prabhat Labh: Leading Grameen Foundation India is a very exciting opportunity indeed! My vision for GFI is to focus on a holistic approach to financial inclusion and digital finance, which moves beyond simplistic access to a bank account or payment system to a system where digital finance can make a real difference in the lives of poor.

Voice&Data: With Grameen’s intervention how have villagers adopted to the digital applications?

Prabhat Labh: India has experienced tremendous economic growth and urbanization in the past two decades, but poverty remains a significant challenge, especially in rural areas. An estimated 30 percent of Indians live below the poverty line and only 27 percent of low-income adults can access financial services at a formal institution. Digital technology offers exciting new ways to reach these communities. GFI has been successful in expanding services to help members of women’s groups repay their microfinance loans safely using mobile phones. GFI has been instrumental in supporting the national roll-out of mobile health tools for pregnant women, new mothers and frontline health workers.

With local Indian partners, Oxigen Money and Sonata, Grameen Foundation aimed to enhance the capability of Sonata, a leading microfinance institution in delivery of mobile financial services, leading to increased usability, and behavior change for the poor. This project helped foster strategic partnership that reduced the cash management burden and associated risk for the MFIs.

The program has trained over 23,000 clients in mobile financial services, of which over 7,000 clients have already carried out at least one repayment transaction using digital channel. 10,000 clients have e-wallets on their mobile phones, and over 3,000 clients have already used the service for at least three times for their regular loan repayments. This payment option has been introduced at 18 branches of Sonata and transactions have started flowing in.

Voice&Data: How has mobile phones and mobile applications brought a significant change in agri, health and financial aspects of rural population?

Prabhat Labh: With the massive changes on the supply side, such as Aadhar Enabled Payments using biometric authentication and the universal payment interface, we are already seeing a massive shift in how rural population uses financial services. The convenience and reduced cost associated with using mobile applications is a big driver. We are yet to see a significant shift penetration of these innovations in agriculture and health systems. We see the digitization of agriculture value chains and use of mobile phones for influencing behavior change as the most promising arena for the next wave of transformative innovations, and that’s where our work will be focused most deeply.

Voice&Data: Could you explain about the services offered under Mobile Health services especially MOTECH? How does this technology help cure/prevent TB & AIDS? What are the other services that MOTECH enables?

Prabhat Labh: Our technology platform MOTECH enables government agencies to strengthen maternal and infant health by giving frontline health workers and women better access to vital information and services.

In 2016, India’s Ministry of Health and Family Welfare launched a national mobile health program developed by Grameen Foundation and BBC Media Action to promote desirable health behaviors.

Mobile Kilkari program engages pregnant women and mothers through mobile phones, delivering crucial health information targeted to their stage of pregnancy or age of the new born. By 2016, close to 1 million mothers and pregnant women had received crucial health information.

In association with World Health Partner (WHP), through a rural provider network MOTECH for TB delivers quality and timely access to tuberculosis diagnosis and treatment to Bihar’s rural population. MOTECH is used as the foundation of an integrated system for suspect tracking, treatment adherence and service monitoring.

Treatment Advice by mobile alerts (TAMA) based on MOTECH platform helps HIV/AIDS patients with the help of pill reminders, appointment reminders, and heath information.

VoicenData: What is GFI’s Bankers without Borders and Integrated Mobile Financial Services?

Prabhat Labh: Bankers without Borders (BwB) program was launched by Grameen Foundation to create a platform to mobilize, engage and leverage the talent and skills of the private sector to support poverty focused social enterprises worldwide.

By partnering with Fortune 500 companies such as JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Google etc, BwB connects social enterprises with talented professionals with expertise in diverse areas such as banking, management consulting, technology, marketing, M&E and human resources to meet a wide range of strategic and operational needs.

BwB has more than 2,200 business professionals, academics, students from 173 countries who are ready to contribute their time and expertise to strengthen over 210 poverty fighting organizations in 43 countries.

In partnership withOxigen Services and Sonata Bank, GFI is scaling its digital financial services and financial education initiative. With support from the Citi Foundation, the program delivers integrated digital banking services and education to Sonata’s female borrowers to increase mobile financial capability among women from low income communities. The program has so far reached out to over 27,000 women in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

The project has received several national and international awards such as the 2016 Mondato Award, the 2016 NASSCOM Social Innovation Award and was also a finalist at the Wall Street Journal financial inclusion awards for 2016.

The project reduces Sonata’s cash management burden and lets it focus on its core business, while Oxigen provides a digital transaction channel to the poor. GFI enabled selection of the appropriate payments partner, negotiated the terms of partnership, piloted the model, trained the staff and clients and mapped data and financial flows between the two partners.

Grameen Foundation India has also developed an e-learning application called G-LEAP for scaling up the Operational Leaning and Digital Literacy for Sonata branch executives and clients for a wider reach and help in uptake across clients.

Voice&Data: What is your opinion on the Indian government’s involvement in creating awareness on the benefits of mobile technology? What more can be done by the Government to further the awareness?

Prabhat Labh: The Government has played an extremely pro-active and supportive role in creating the supply side of digital finance. What it can do more is to focus on the demand side barriers that incentivize greater adoption and usage. The tendency to over-regulate will stifle the competition and also make it hard for the end beneficiaries to start using digital financial services.

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