Abright orange bus is parked in Maralur Dinne, a village in Karnataka’s Tumakuru district. In the shade of that bus, 32-year-old Varalakshmi is trying her best to sell a garland of plastic flowers for 20 to a woman who wants a discount.

A few women around are criticizing Varalakshmi’s sales approach while others point out the good stuff. “You made good eye contact with Salma (a prospective customer) and paid attention to her and that made her buy despite not getting as big a discount as she wanted," said one of the women encouragingly.

This little skit and the feedback session is part of a two-day workshop on financial literacy by Buzz India, a programme run by Bengaluru-based non-governmental organization (NGO) Navya Disha Foundation. The orange bus—a mobile classroom called Buzz—is driven to various villages and women are taught simple bookkeeping and financial planning, among other things.

The Prime Minister’s Jan-Dhan Yojana (PMJDY), launched in 2014, has further propelled India’s drive toward financial inclusion. According to data available on PMJDY’s website until 2 December, 194 million bank accounts had been opened under the financial inclusion scheme. But if financial inclusion is to be achieved, experts argue, financial literacy has to be addressed first.

“It’s not just money. If it (finding answers to problems of poverty) was that easy, people would have found the answers by now. Even when people have money, they end up becoming poor. How they deal with money is a behavioural aspect, and that’s what we want to instil," said Uthara Narayanan, who runs Buzz India for Navya Disha.

Navya Disha works to alleviate poverty, but, given the thrust on financial inclusion, in 2012 it added the mobile school that works on financial education. Equipped with training material, the bus serves as a classroom anywhere in a village.

Buzz India is CitiBank India’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) project. The Citi Foundation, the philanthropic arm, as part of its India Innovation Grant programme, gave Buzz India 30 lakh out of a total grant of about 12 crore that went out to seven non-profits in 2014. Through the grant, Citi looks to promote innovative financial education and inclusion programmes that are scalable.

Citigroup is looking to give a similar grant in January to organizations working towards financial literacy. More than 290 NGOs and social enterprises have applied and the group is in the process of shortlisting finalists.

“Financial inclusion is a key agenda of the government and the banking industry. But to achieve financial inclusion, education is one of the first steps. Through this grant, we are looking to encourage innovation among non-profits in delivering financial education and building financial capability," said Debasis Ghosh, public affairs officer, Citi India.

Financial inclusion has emerged as a key theme for grant-making bodies such as Omidyar Network, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and the Gates Foundation.

For Omidyar Network, one-third of its investments worth $160 million goes into financial inclusion programmes.

“Traditionally, we were focused on investing in enterprises that give credit to micro enterprises, but we are moving to a model where we want to focus on digital financial inclusion," said Anuradha Ramachandran, director, investments, Omidyar Network. She said digital solutions help reduce the cost of financing to 3% from 11%. “This improves the scalability of organizations in addition to easy availability of credit."

Citi’s India Innovation Grant is expected to benefit over 580,000 women, youth and children and one among them is Varalakshmi.

Under the Buzz India programme, the women are taught how to maintain accounts, how to manage loans and business skills like how to attract and retain customers, besides leadership skills.

When Narayanan started Buzz India, she did a six-month-long pilot with some of the women she wanted to reach. Education was only half the challenge—to bring the attitude shift in the way they view money was the bigger challenge, said Narayanan.

The pilot showed that the curriculum and the duration of the classes had to change. Narayanan also decided to go to individual villages in order to prevent drop outs. Buzz India has so far gone to 125 villages where they have trained more than 5,500 women.

In a survey Buzz India conducted to study the impact of their work in June 2015, they found that 13% of the 300 women surveyed had started a business, and more than half had been able to increase their savings by over 50%, said Narayanan. They are now looking to start another programme called Buzz Plus, in which they will help these women tie up with social enterprises. Narayanan has applied for a Citi grant this year too.

“We hope that the skills we build in them will help them take charge of their own problems and come up with their own solutions," said Narayanan.

With inputs from Nisha Thunga K.

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