Kimberly Davies is a Program Associate for the Microsavings Initiative, which is part of Grameen Foundation’s Solutions for the Poorest program. This is part three of Kim’s blog series. If you haven’t yet, we recommend you read part one and part two of her blog post series.
While I like to plan ahead, one overcast day in Varanasi, India, I quickly learned that you can’t always anticipate what comes your way. Upon leaving the offices of CASHPOR (our microfinance institution partner) with our project manager, we were faced with a drizzle that quickly turned into buckets of pouring water. The busy streets became increasingly chaotic as everyone scurried for shelter, forcing us to pull our motorbike over to wait for the rain to stop. As the road began to flood, we became concerned about the laptops, cameras, and mobile phones in our backpacks, and realized that we needed to get out of the rain quickly to shield our things. We hopped into an auto-rickshaw as our only alternative transportation. Since the rickshaw did not have doors, the rain streamed into the car. The engine began to stall as it flooded with water, but somehow we made it back to my residence. This delay forced us to cancel a call that evening, even though it had been scheduled for weeks. What would have just been considered a heavy rain in Washington, was a flood in Varanasi, and prevented people from necessary travel and daily business.
The unanticipated ordeal opened my eyes just how many unknowns there are in developing areas that prevent the poor from predicting what obstacles will hit them down the road. This uncertainty is why we see a need for the poor to have access to risk-management tools, especially access to savings products, to act as a shield against shocks.
In India, as in most developing areas, women are working extremely hard to improve their financial situation. As I visited the women in their residences, I was amazed at their entrepreneurial spirit and their ability to create business niches such as repairing old cardboard boxes with a staple gun or creating tiny plastic bottles with a manual machine. CASHPOR’s clients struggle not because they lack a work ethic, business sense, or intelligence, but because they happened to be born into an impoverished area and do not have access to enough risk-management and incoming-generating tools.
Due to the regulations in India, savings are not yet offered at CASHPOR. However, I firmly believe that these women have the right to the same tools that we have to manage our own finances, which is why we have people working around the clock on this savings project. Through an innovative approach, we are on our way to finding a feasible business plan and a new strategy to provide the first savings products at CASHPOR to improve the lives of its clients.