Melanie French is the senior marketing and communications manager at Global Impact. In this role, Melanie contributes to the organization’s marketing efforts for workplace giving and employee engagement. More importantly, she attempts to keep commas in place and capitalization under control, serving as lead writer and editor for the organization. Melanie currently resides in Memphis, Tennessee, with her husband, daughter and scruffy dog. Although she loves to travel and experience new cultures (her first job out of college was as a flight attendant!), Melanie now spends most of her time drinking lukewarm coffee and chasing her toddler – which is why she needs coffee in the first place … and also why it is lukewarm.
On the heels of International Women’s Day yesterday, it feels appropriate to be featuring one of our charity partners that stresses the importance of closing the gender gap – as both a path to equality and a key to ending poverty. The Grameen Foundation empowers the poor, with a focus on women, by equipping them with digital resources to gain greater economic freedom and power. These tools include mobile money and digital farming to help families manage their finances and agricultural businesses thrive.
But it’s not easy to introduce new devices and processes to a community, especially when you’re asking them to trust those unknowns to manage their money or their livelihood. We have all been in situations where we were asked to try something new. Sometimes it’s exciting, and other times we are apprehensive about the change.
When the Blackberry and iPhone first made their entrance, I felt pretty skeptical. Who needs or wants to have access to email at all times? Why would I search the internet from this tiny device when I could use my computer? What is the point of a phone with a camera when I already have my point and click? Little did I know that the smartphone would become so commonplace that my everyday tasks now seemingly depend on it.
Our mobile devices have become a critical instrument for staying in touch with loved ones – no matter the distance – accessing news and weather updates, and managing our finances, health, travel, and more. My husband is currently in the process of filing our taxes from his phone. Neither of my banks have a physical presence here in Memphis where I live. To deposit a check, I simply open the app and submit photos of the front and back. The money “magically” appears in my account – sometimes even on the same day. We can even pay back friends and family with a single text message!
This type of innovation – access to is changing the world, including the communities served by the Grameen Foundation. Although they encounter individuals who are skeptical of new technologies, wondering, much like I did, how and why they should trust this novel device, the Grameen team has developed a creative solution to assuage those apprehensions and deliver these life-changing, digital tools to those living in poverty.
Instead of placing new technology in the hands of an unknown person and expecting that they can have an impact, Grameen’s Community Agents program trains individuals already living and working within a community. These individuals then serve the financial and agricultural needs of their neighbors who may not have the skills or education to use the technology themselves. And because the Grameen Foundation is focused on empowering women, the community agents are mainly women and so are their clients.
Community Agents are what make the Grameen Foundation Model so uniquely effective. Because no matter how well designed a mobile solution is, it can’t work if people don’t use it. Extremely poor populations don’t have the Internet, many cannot read. And none of us wants to use technology that we don’t trust or understand. That is why our approach uses trained, digitally-enabled members of the community to support and provide wireless connectivity for people living in remote, rural areas. A familiar face, financial service agents offer reassurance and trust, often with a paper receipt, when it seems impossible that money could travel invisibly through the air. Farm development plan agents share more than digital farming plans, they share their expertise and experience as agronomists.
With technology to support mobile money and digital farming, Grameen’s Community Agents help alleviate the obstacles their neighbors may otherwise face, like traversing long distances to pay their utility bills or learning new farming techniques. Before Harsha Tai became a Community Agent in Chargew, Bhandara, people like Lihaba faced an arduous trek on a weekly basis to access her husband’s pension earnings.
Now, with access to a mobile device, Lihaba and others have control over their money, and farmers can apply for loans and access the latest weather, tips for improving their crop, information about preventing pests and more. Through the intersection of technology, community, money and agriculture, the Grameen Foundation has truly developed a model to combat poverty, elevate communities and empower women. Since 2016, they have trained more than 30,000 Community Agents who can often assist around 150 families, creating a ripple effect within their villages.
How can you help? Customized volunteer and giving opportunities.
This concept of equipping people with the right tools to lift them out of poverty is the foundation of Grameen’s work. For more than 10 years, they have hosted the Bankers Without Borders initiative to connect skills-based volunteers with those in need of assistance. From crowdsourcing and coaching to a variety of pro bono options, Bankers Without Borders meets volunteers where they are in terms of skill, time commitment and schedule.
The Grameen Giving Circle program presents corporations with a reciprocal employee giving opportunity. Donors are educated about the pressing issues in international development and kept up to date about the ways their donations are helping women break through everyday obstacles.
Our team can help your company create a specialized volunteer or giving opportunity with Grameen Foundation. Reach out today to get started!