Empowering Women Entrepreneurs: How Spherule Foundation and Samhita CGF are Fostering Digital and Financial Literacy for Lasting Change
One of the key challenges for the marginalized community in India, is Digital and Financial Literacy. They are deprived of many benefits and information about many government schemes relating to insurance, pension, health and finance. Also, now using a smartphone is no less than using a computer. A person with a smart phone and internet can do multiple businesses sitting at home. For the above reasons, the Government of India too is spreading awareness about this.
Despite massive growth in account opening, there is evidence that India’s digital finance push is having limited impact due to account dormancy and low levels of usage. 48% of people with an account at a financial institution made no deposits or withdrawals from that account over the past year. Account dormancy is higher among populations with lower access to technology, such as poorer and rural populations. Often on ground, we have come across many such small businesses that are informal, solo-run and/or family owned with very limited human and capital resources. Lack of sufficient financial and digital literacy that curtails use of technology for business management, leading to inefficiencies and subsequently, impacting profitability. No standardized bookkeeping practices, resulting in poor visibility on cash flows, DSO etc. Consequently, there is a poor understanding of business metrics like margins, input-output map, cost loading etc. that lock micropreneurs is a perennial cycle of underperformance and dwarfism. In addition, with no proper ledgers and transactional/accounts data, small businesses are locked out of the formal credit markets and e-commerce, that push them into a debt trap with informal lenders, and/or inhibit business growth in the long run. For this purpose, our organisation, Spherule Foundation, with the support of Samhita CGF, took up the task of educating 2000 such women micropreneurs collectively from Delhi, Gurugram and Belgaum, and providing them with basics of digital and financial literacy, along with teaching them a money management tool ‘Mera Bills’, which is an android application to record the business transactions, along with several other features, that can help an entrepreneur to understand their own business better.
Objective of the Program
The objective of the program was to educate 2000 women micropreneurs in basics of the digital and financial worlds, along with teaching them a money management tool named Mera Bills. With the help of the digital and financial literacy provided to the beneficiaries, and the Mera Bills application, the participants would get an overall understanding of their incomes and expenditures and should be able to take better decisions for their venture, which will help them grow the business. At the end of the program, the participants should be able to maintain their accounts and track their profits and losses efficiently.
For this program, we targeted the semi urban localities, where women are now empowered enough to run a small scale business. During the survey too, we found that maximum women who have now started handling or running a business, lack in basics of digital and financial literacy which is actually slowing down their plans of expanding or increasing their business. But the women were definitely interested to gain knowledge of the same. Positively, the women micropreneurs were able to manage the current business scale, and were eager to gain knowledge and wanted to increase their technological appetite. In the past couple of months, our team has on-boarded over 2000 such women micropreneurs. Most women come from very humble backgrounds, where the man is usually the only bread winner in the house. In most cases, the woman is the first from their family who is now contributing to the family income too
Activities Conducted in the Program
This project has been initiated with the vision to empower the small women entrepreneurs. This project aims at helping women with low technological literacy and give a helping hand for their business. The purpose of this project was to promote digital & financial literacy amongst small women entrepreneurs.
Through this project, women entrepreneurs who did not have access to a smartphone or save their work record data manually have learnt how to record and manage their own businesses through the Mera Bills app. This program has created an impact on more than two thousand women entrepreneurs.
1. Survey and Onboarding of Participants
Filling the Survey Forms: The main objective of this survey was to collect data from our beneficiaries. This was an open questionnaire where we asked about basic information specific to this program, that would help us understand the various patterns of our beneficiaries. The number of members of their family, a little about their business, their methods of book keeping, the vision of their business & their willingness to adopt digital tools were some of the questions asked in the survey.
2. Digital & Financial Literacy Training Sessions
In these training sessions seen above, held for all our participants across Delhi, Gurugram and Belgaum, we sensitized women about digital literacy and finance literacy through teamwork and training. We encouraged them to use digital modes of payment and bookkeeping for their own business. We taught them the basics of various social media apps like youtube, facebook and instagram, and how to use the voice function to search for anything.
3. Training of Mera Bills Application
Women being taught the Mera Bills Application either individually or in groups as per their availability: In Mera Bills training, we introduced Mera Bills app and their benefits with our beneficiaries. We made women aware about why and how to save their income and expenditure in this app which will be helpful for their business. We taught them how they can send reminder, receipt, invoices to their customers so that they don’t have to suffer loss only due to lending. We taught them how to view their monthly income, expenses and monthly reports as well as records for previous months so that it can be easy for them to keep track of the transactions of money in their business. We had created WhatsApp groups for our beneficiaries so that they can clear their doubts regarding Mera Bills app and their functions.
After completion of the training of women entrepreneurs, they were assessed either online or offline. From this assessment, we learned that most women have got a fair knowledge of using a smart phone and have understood the importance of money management. From the answers to this assessment, we ensured and measured the effectiveness of our training. As the answers were checked immediately, we explained their wrong answers there itself and gave a couple of more examples. More than 60% participants were comfortable to give the exam online, which showed that they had really started using their smartphone to a good extent.
1. Survey & Onboarding in the program:- During the initial survey and onboarding in the program, our trainers and field executives faced some challenges with the participants, as to why are so many questions being asked in the first meeting itself. Even after explaining the entire program in brief, we saw an attitude of ‘resistance to change’ in the beneficiaries. We observed that some participants from the marginalized communities want some form of benefit immediately. While 60 to 70% participants got converted in the first meeting itself, the solution to onboard the remaining participants was another meeting with a more in-depth conversation about the benefits of the program, and how this knowledge will help them in their entrepreneurial stint. Even with a little resistance initially, we were able to onboard more than 2000 participants in the first few weeks.
2. Conducting literacy sessions: – The next challenge that we faced was organizing the literacy sessions on the basics of digital and financial knowledge. As every participant had their own slack hours in their ventures, it was difficult to get a common time from the batch for the session. Due to this, our trainers carefully made the time tables of the session, where maximum participants would be present during a session. We got a good support from the participants as well, as they knew these sessions would only benefit them in the long run. For some participants who couldn’t make it to the sessions, our trainers took their sessions one to one, by meeting them at their place of business. A module was shared with them too, which had all the YouTube links about our syllabus, so that they could gain the knowledge at their convenient time.
3. Mixed group of participants w.r.t to knowledge:- Our batches of the literacy sessions were usually of 25 to 30 participants. The challenge we faced here was that this was usually a mixed group. While some participants were already familiar with some concepts, others had to begin from scratch. We luckily did not have a hard time figuring this out, as the participants with better knowledge, not only were patient with us, but also helped other participants to understand the concept directly relating to their business.
4. Family owned smart phones:- A major challenge we faced was that when the participants came for the sessions, some of them could not carry the smart phone with them, as the smart phone belonged to either their husband, or their children. This caused a major roadblock in their understanding, especially during the training of the Mera Bills application. With such beneficiaries, our trainers had to put in more hours of work, as during the sessions, we had to make them practice the application on someone else’s phone, resulting in longer hours of the session. Our trainers also made them practice the app in the late evening hours, once the smartphone was in their house. Even though this challenge still persists, where we have seen a better activity on the app by participants having their own personal smartphone, we have seen a positive trend in the other women now saving money to get their own smartphone. They have understood the host of benefits that come with a smartphone, and are eager to get one for their own use.
5. Will their business increase? This was a question that could not be answered in the short duration of the project. While everyone were aware of the benefits in having a better digital and financial knowledge, was it really increasing the profits in their business? We did lose some beneficiaries in this process, but as the weeks went by, we observed some better decisions being made by our participants. The maximum benefit was received by those who were regularly checking the weekly report on the Mera Bills app, where the performance of their venture was comprehensively visible. The amount of fixed costs and variable costs were reduced, and more SKUs were added by the participants in their ventures, resulting in more transactions each day, which ultimately led to a better revenue and increased profits. We used these experiences and shared it with our other participants as well, proving how necessary was the knowledge of the finances of their business, which can help them increase their turnover and profits steadily over a period of time.
We have observed a positive shift in the frame of minds of our participants over the course of the program. The key outcomes of the program were:
- Better Level of Confidence: 60% of our participants were assisted by one of their family members in doing business. Through our program, most women entrepreneurs are now confident of managing the venture on their own, as they have a better understanding of their business.
- Change in Perception: Prior to our program, many of our participants who were involved in tailoring, teaching and some form of art, used to look at their venture as a hobby, and a means to earn some extra pocket money only. Our program helped them understand various metrics related to a venture, and the potential it holds if managed properly. They too now consider it as a venture and a profession which can help them earn a sizable income.
- Greater Vision: In our literacy sessions, our trainers have given our participants ampleexamples of how big businesses too were started very small and with a very limited capital. But the key to grow a business is first to understand all the incomes and expenditures of the business. More than 1000 of our women micropreneurs now hold a greater vision of growing their business. They do have a lot family responsibilities too, but are poised to grow their venture not only to earn additional income, but to also provide employment opportunities to others.
- Interest in Digital Tools: Through our program, we have observed a positive shift in our participants with respect to digital tools. Firstly, the many features of the Mera Bills application gave our participants a better understanding of their venture. Also, through our literacy sessions, our participants started using many other tools like the UPI payments, calendar, notepad, whatsapp business, google lens, youtube and other social media apps like facebook and Instagram. Our participants now explore and try other apps and features on their own too.
- Better understanding of the Business: Perhaps the biggest outcome of this program, our participants now have a comprehensive view of their business which enable them to take informed decisions regarding their venture. This was possible through the Mera Bills application, where every participant have used the features which best suit their requirement. Over 45% of our participants are still active on the application at the end of the project, and 10% are regular users. Other participants, though not active on the Mera Bills platform, have shown interest in digital education and advanced entrepreneurship too. To sustain these outcomes, our trainers have identified 15 such participants, who have been able to grow their business in the past couple of months, and have demonstrated good leadership qualities. They have also used the Mera Bills platform to the fullest, and eager to gain knowledge about advanced entrepreneurship methods. These 15 participants can act as KOLs ( Key Operating Leaders – community leaders who help in the project ) in the future, who will support other participants for any of their business needs. Our trainers have also prepared whatsapp groups with their participants, where informative videos, news, techniques and challenges are regularly discussed. They have also been able to exchange business among themselves, as we have a variety of participant ventures. This networking has also proven beneficial to participants with similar businesses, though looked upon as competition, they have also been able to grow together as they are solving common problems of the venture together.
1. Pushpa Devi
- Background: She belongs to a middle-class family background; She has only completed his primary education. She was doing sewing work for 7 years only for family and herself but in the period of covid, her husband lost his job. Faced with financial problems, she took up sewing and opened a rented shop in Sohna to support her family.
- Her business – She runs a small tailoring rented shop in Sohna. Her sewing works well. her customers seem happy and satisfied with her fine work. She does it with great passion. She also receives bulk orders sometimes which keep her busy, though business volume overall is low.
- Microsoft-REVIVE journey: Pushpa was already satisfied with the way her business was running, even though she was not very capable of managing the finance part of it, as her husband used to help her. After our trainers made her understand the importance of managing the entire finances of the business by themselves, she did join our program. Though there were not too many transactions that she required to do, she started understanding the various aspects of a business and got more interested to learn them. As she started using the tools we taught her, she started exploring more apps by herself, whenever she got the time.
- Change in perspective: Pushpa was always unable to adjust her income and expenditure money records given by her customer. At the same time, due to not being much educated, she has also faced cases of cheating from some of her customers. Then she needed her husband’s help to manage their work whenever anything related to finance came up. Now she no longer needs the help of her husband to maintain her records, and the exposure she has got from our program has encouraged her to gain knowledge of finance, banking etc.
- Benefits of the program: The most important advantage is that she has got to know money management for her small business. The reminder feature is also very helpful for her, and exactly noting down which customer owes her how much is something she likes. Now she can have digital proof of who owns her how much, so that she can always convey the same to the customer. She hasn’t faced any such cheating in the past couple of months, as she records such transactions immediately, where customers ask for options to pay later. She used to feel that these conversations were really awkward, of asking her own money from her relatives and friends. She used to incur losses or almost 1000 to 1500 rupees per month, and thus the debt on her business had grown to almost 10 thousand rupees. But the main reason was that she wasn’t paid on time by her friends and relatives, who used to take her for granted too. This vicious cycle has stopped now. Now that she also knows how much exactly she is making from her little business, she is able to plan the amount of debt she can give to her customers each month, and she sticks to those metrics now. Currently she can afford to give upto Rs 1500 as debt to her customers.
- Visions & interest in digital tools. – Her small rental business is doing well but was heavily in debt. She wants to expand her medium of work to a digital platform, for which she started to learn from online courses and also from YouTube and also wants to work with YouTube and different selling platforms. She knows it is an uphill task, but her confidence and willingness to learn these platforms is worthy of praise.
- Background:– Rekha Devi comes from an extremely humble background. She is the first woman in her family to actually operate a business. The only digital tool she used was UPI Payments through PayTm or PhonePe, which she found very troublesome in understanding, but was convenient to collect money from her customers.
- Her business – Currently she owns a communications and mobile accessory shop which she operates with her son. She also has a small grocery shop with limited items required for daily needs by all the households which her daughter in law helps to manage. She does have a space available and wants to expand her business by keeping more items in her shop, but she is limited by the knowledge she has related to managing a business.
- Microsoft-REVIVE: With our program, she was excited to understand the digital tools that help in managing a business, and various other aspects. She was too dependent on her son or daughter to understand her own business, which she wanted to change. She found that opportunity with our program and decided to join us.
- Change in Perspective: This program has definitely helped her gain knowledge and access to various tools required to ease her operations in the business. Not only knowledge, but her confidence to single handedly operate her business has increased tremendously. Her children can now leave the shop and do other work too, as Rekha ji is now confident to manage the shop single handedly.
- Benefits of the program: She has now learned about UPI frauds and basically what all to avoid, as she always had a doubt whether someone would do that to her during any payments. She has also learned about the importance of documentation and money management through our program, and is trying her best to understand more concepts related to this. With the help of the Mera Bills app, she has got a good understanding of how much her business is making in terms of sales and profits, and by using these metrics, she has been able to reduce the costs associated with both her shops. She got to know that with both her shops getting a revenue of approx 30,000 to 35,000 together, she needs to make sure to keep her fixed costs as low as possible to earn maximum profit. She was also able to save money by not hiring a helper in her shop, as previously her family was deciding on spending 4 to 5 thousand rupees to hire a staff for money management.
- Her Vision: Rekha ji does have space available for expansion of her business. She had the vision of keeping more articles in the shop to increase her revenue, and now she looks forward for the same. With more confidence now, she is sure she can handle bigger amounts of inventory and transactions in the near future. She is also interested to learn the computer now as well as some advanced features of various apps taught to her.
3. Urmila Devi
- Background: She belongs to a middle-class family background, was married at the age of 17 and lived with her husband’s family in Surat Nagar of Gurgaon. After facing many ups and downs in life at an early age, she started her studies with the help of her children and their tuition teacher. Facing a lot of difficulties at the age of 35, she opened a vegetable shop but also suffered losses. Now she has been running a small general shop for the last 6 years. She is honest and sincere and always eager to learn something new.
- Her business – She runs a general store now. With the earnings from this shop, she helps her husband with the expenses of his house and children’s education. Now she plans to increase varieties and area of shop in the near future.
- Microsoft-REVIVE journey: Even though Urmila did use a couple of applications prior to our program, we did give her exposure to various other apps and knowledge about the importance of money management in any business. She wanted to increase her operations but was still unsure of how much she is earning and spending. With the help
of our program, she is now using our money management tool Mera Bills to get insights about the growth pattern and expenses of her business.
- Change in perspective: Urmila did require help from her husband at all times, whenever anything related to finances used to crop up. Even for banking services and government loans, she was unsure of the processes. Now she does not need help from her family members to maintain her finances, and all the exposure she has got from our program has only made her hungrier for knowledge of other domains of the business. Her family, especially her husband, looks at her as an independent woman now.
- Benefits of the program: Though Urmila already did have a basic knowledge about the smartphone, she could now understand the true potential of it. Using the Google Play store is something that she learned, as now she randomly looks for useful applications too. Even in the Mera Bills application, she was one of our first beneficiaries to try the app
on her own and understand the features. As she is already experienced in doing business, she has never been able to grow the business to the scale that she wanted. The mainreason was not understanding the important metrics. With the help of Mera Bills app, she has used the reminder tool, and also records some transactions which are particularly
rare in nature, like requests from customers who ask her to keep material of some specific brands, like Oreo biscuits. With the help of weekly reports, she has understood that such stock which are not part of the 80% items sold from her shop, also do bring in 20% of her revenue which she can concentrate on increasing. She is able to make better strategic
decisions with her husband now.
- Visions & interest in digital tools. – She now wants to pursue her work digitally. She is now contacting Blinkit and Grofers for her store items, and is also willing to study the competition, in hopes of being one step ahead of them. She knows it’s a tough task, but she is eager to increase her knowledge base, and has also requested for an advanced entrepreneurial course from our trainers.
“My name is Shruti, and I have my own coaching classes. I have always been passionate about teaching and have started coaching children since I was in the 9th grade. The Mera Bills platform has helped me understand my business much better now, as I record every transaction and get the reports. I am able to plan better now. Also, in the literacy sessions, I learned new things about frauds, about businesses and also about the Digi Locker application & Eshram cards which was very helpful. I too will help the marginalized ladies in my area to spread this knowledge.”
“My name is Arti, I am a Yoga Teacher. I did not have a smart phone until very recently. After I got my smart phone I used it like any other basic phone only. Then I started using it for some entertainment purposed to watch videos on youtube, facebook and Instagram. I enrolled in this program to increase my knowledge about technology and digital tools. I did not know that a smart phone can be used for so many purposes. I had a good experience using the Mera Bills app as it helped me make simple systems of my business, without using a book and a pen. I have now started using various other applications and also use video calling for my online Yoga Classes. Being digitally literate does make your life easy and you can do much more”