This week BSR launches HERfinance, a collaborative initiative aimed at increasing financial inclusion for low income workers in global supply chains. Like its parent initiative, HERproject, HERfinance brings together partners from various sectors—in this case, financial service providers, multinational companies and their suppliers, and non-profit organizations to educate workers in the supply chain about using formal savings accounts, budgeting, and talking about finances with family members.
HERfinance has been in the works for a while, and I’m particularly excited about this new effort for a number of reasons:
- The need is enormous. A staggering two and a half billion of the world’s adults—the vast majority of whom live in the developing world—do not use formal financial services to save or borrow money. And women tend to be more excluded than men from the banking system. Because HERfinance targets manufacturing and agriculture supply chain workers, who are predominantly women, women stand to gain disproportionately from this effort. As such, our financial capability curriculum will contain modules specifically targeted to women.
- HERfinance focuses on savings. While true financial inclusion only exists when people have access to a broad range of financial services, a formal savings account is a gateway to financial inclusion for the unbanked. By establishing formal savings accounts, people can build creditworthiness, and learn how to budget, save, and invest. In my view, there has been insufficient focus on savings and perhaps excessive focus on microcredit, and HERfinance will highlight the importance of savings.
- We will address both supply and demand. In addition to providing financial capability training, which will help drive demand for formal services, we will also bridge the gap to financial products. While HERfinance will start with a training curriculum, our goal is to eventually work with financial services providers and factory managers to automate payroll and expand the choices low income workers have in how they store their income.
- This is BSR’s contribution to the field. By leveraging our organization’s strengths in supply chain sustainability, and workforce empowerment, we will be able to demonstrate how companies across all sectors can expand access to finance.
Next month we will go to India to introduce HERfinance to our initial participating factories, select local partners, and conduct a needs assessment of our target audience. This will help shape our training curriculum both from a content and delivery perspective.
Early next year we will launch pilot programs in these factories and measure how our work is impacting beneficiaries—how it is improving morale, reducing payroll delays, and changing behavior. We’ll want to know how many people have moved from saving their incomes in cash under their mattresses to saving in a formal bank account. We’ll ask how many people have begun to create savings goals such as for school books for their children, or for medicines they need on a regular basis. And, how many people now understand their rights as consumers of financial services—how to protect themselves, and how to take advantage of the financial safety nets provided by the government.
HERproject has already reached more than 200,000 women since it first launched a few short years ago. HERfinance is poised to do the same. And while that may be a small population in comparison to the sheer number of unbanked people in the world, it is only the beginning and is further proof that the HERproject model works for all stakeholders involved—workers, factories, and the companies that purchase goods and services from them.
Which successful financial inclusion initiatives are you aware of that are targeted to low-income workers?