Under a mattress, tucked in a pot, or swiped and stuffed in a husband’s pocket. These are just a few of the places a working woman’s savings might end up in the Global South. Thanks to the HERfinance project, low-income women in Brazil, India, Indonesia and Mexico now have a fighting chance to gain financial savvy, protect their savings and pull themselves and their families out of poverty.
HERfinance, part of the HERproject mission started by global nonprofit organization Business for Social Responsibility (BSR), works by providing low-income workers with practical information about personal finance in a culturally relevant manner through a series of brief workshops that take place in the workplace. Some of these employees are then selected to serve as peer trainers for the rest of the workforce and for members of their communities. This peer-to-peer model creates a powerful ripple effect along existing communication networks. Beginning as a pilot program in India at the end of 2012, HERfinance received a founding grant from The Walt Disney Company.
In India, HERfinance brand partners include Ann Inc., Levi Strauss, Talbots, Li & Fung, Primark, and Timberland. The brands provide access to suppliers and assist in obtaining commitments from the factories’ management. The factories provide access to their workforce, as well as time and space to conduct the training. Local NGO partners, which are familiar with the cultural and social environments of each region, conduct training for the employees and mentor the peer educators on an ongoing basis.
The HERfinance curriculum—which BSR developed based on globally recognized best practices in financial literacy training—has been reviewed by experts such as Microfinance Opportunities, Better Work, and Women’s World Banking. It covers topics such as financial planning, savings, budgeting, borrowing responsibly, and how to talk about finances as a family.
Why is a financial education program like this important? More than 2.5 billion adults, or 75 percent of the world’s poor, do not use formal financial services to save or borrow money. With education the poor—particularly women—gain proper knowledge, skills, and attitudes toward financial management. They can learn to save, build credit worthiness, invest, and reduce risks related to illness or loss of employment.
Women represent between 60 and 80 per cent of the global export manufacturing labor force and 70 per cent of the agricultural labor force. Supporting financial inclusion for women employed in the formal sector can help them invest their earnings in nutrition, health, and education—areas that women prioritize for spending—leading to social and economic improvements in their communities and countries.
Business also wins. In India, factory managers reported a reduction in turnover and brands such as Levi Strauss & Co. noted that stakeholder relations have improved all along the supply chain.
The HERproject mission empowers low-income women working in global supply chains through workplace programs promoting health, economic empowerment, and women’s rights. Women are targeted in the project not because of their vulnerability, but because of their potential to effect change within their homes and communities.
The powerhouse behind the project, BSR, is a global nonprofit business network with offices in Asia, Europe and North America. For the past 20 years BSR and its 250 member companies have worked to build a just and sustainable world through consulting, research, and cross-sector collaboration.