Integrating tech into rural programmes: Lessons learnt along the way

Besides COVID, the year 2020 will also be remembered as the year when disruptive innovations made possible by technology moved from ‘futuristic’ to ‘mainstream’. Today, access to and usage of digital technology is no more just a vision, but has become a way of life for a large majority. Virtual meetings, virtual celebrations, e-commerce, tele-commuting, e-commerce enabled by smart logistics solutions have all moved beyond early adopters to large majority.  Historically, social impact organizations have shied away from investing in digital capabilities. Fast forward to 2020, technology is now being looked at as the core engine uniting teams and stakeholders across geographies leading to tangible impact.

At Grameen Foundation India (GFI) while our head office and field staff transitioned into virtual workspaces, our Grameen Mittras, GFI’s change makers have been using technology as part of their core business process for a while now. Powered by our mobile application Grameen Mittra Connect, which offers an intuitive and use-friendly interface for its users at the front end, but a robust and scalable platform with numerous API integrations at the back-end, the App brings home varied financial tools and services to the rural hinterland. Recruited from the rural community and trained and supervised by GFI, these Mittras are social entrepreneurs, who bridge the last mile gap by providing a range of valuable financial and non- financial services to their fellow villagers, such as goal-based saving, digital literacy, bill payments, mobile & DTH recharge, information on Govt. schemes, solar products, access to finance, micro insurance services, and menstrual hygiene products for the women in their community. While this deep data and digitally driven journey may have just begun, here are some of the lessons we have learnt along the way.

Keep it simple

This pandemic is not just a humanitarian crisis, but also a care crisis. Working women have had to constantly juggle between work and domestic responsibilities. 42-year-old Madhuri Rewatkar from Nagpur, a Mittra & a home maker states a simple one stop application makes her job much easier when she is talking to her fellow villagers. “to have everything from information on loans, bank schemes in one application has allowed me to manage my time better. Only when poor people are made part of the mainstream financial systems, they can get access to credit, exercise goal-based savings leading to investments, buy assets and insurance to protect themselves financially”. While the Jandhan accounts were widely successful and helpful in these times, the number of ATMs are simply not enough for everyone to use their accounts effectively, therefore disrupting the last mile access in many ways, said Sunil Kulkarni, Chief Business Mentor at Oxigen at a webinar GFI co-hosted early this year.

Intelligent digital platforms can create sustainable impact
Our research tells us social impact can be made with the help of smart social algorithms that can be accessed remotely.  In the Covid-19 induced lockdowns, the people in the informal sector were one of the most adversely affected segments. This included daily wage and migrant workers, who lost their jobs due to the lockdown. In these situations helping the most vulnerable and affected people through unconditional cash transfer has validated that tangible social impact can be achieved if the right tools and mechanisms are in place.

Data is the new currency

Grameen is collaborating with Experian India to test out an AI based alternative credit scoring tool specifically targeted at the marginalized communities who do not have a digital footprint. This will help this population segment access loans sans the tedious paperwork, besides opening a pathway for the un-banked people to access formal banking products, making the entire system more inclusive. The insights generated by this initiative will help many microfinance in further tailoring their financing products to better meet the needs of the low income groups.

“Technology can be a great equalizer when it comes to health care, education – to the point where rich, poor, middle class can all get the same benefits.” – Jeff Greene

When it comes to training or sensitizing low-income people remotely, smart applications that house wealth of content centrally can help increase knowledge at a very low marginal cost. At Grameen, our improved GLeap app does this by imbibing interactive & engaging course modules on everything financial inclusion! Jayraj Nath, Director of GFI’s tech division says – Human centric design plays a pivotal role for us. We, at the tech centre take pride in our work and stand in solidarity with the Indian rural women in their journey to achieving complete financial inclusion and also ushering the community around her towards this change. We are staunch believers of the famous saying “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” and hence we are committed to inculcating “Ease of use” in whatever solutions we provide. But at the same time one should not forget that regarding implementing innovative technologies we have never been frugal, be it using Pentaho OLAP Engine, Amazon Redshift Data Warehouse or Elastic Search Cassandra NoSQL Store.

Grameen Foundation India

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