- Dr. Sarika Kulkarni

   Chief Executive; Raah Foundation

A Story of Change

“It was a repetitive cycle of extensive hardships and struggle, and however we tried, could not break it. But now it's totally changed for me and I am changing it for others too”, Vanita's (name changed) eyes sparkle as she speaks.

Yes, it's a story of hardships and struggle. But moreover, it's a story of resilience, hard work and creating self-identity.

Vanita was working at a mall at Thane before Corona pandemic struck in 2020. Very soon she lost her job due to lockdown and had to be back to her tiny village, in Jawhar Tehsil of Palghar district in Maharashtra.

Other than a small grocery shop, she didn't have any source of income back then. Eventually she and her husband started working on daily wages under MNREGA scheme, but still the earning was miniscule to meet the ends.

Over a year passed in that struggle. In 2022, Raah Foundation, as a part of their Sustainable Livelihoods program, approached Junglepada village and explained their plan to provide the digital and financial literacy training to the community. “Initially I was quite reluctant. I was not sure if I should invest my time in this and if it will really help me. But Raah team told me that I should at least try once and then decide”, says Vanita.

Inspite of multiple doubts in mind, Vanita joined the Digital literacy training to become an E-Dost. This training focussed on BankIt app functionalities and biometric device to do various banking operations like cash withdrawal, mini statement, balance enquiry to name a few. The women were given hands-on experience to work on the app and understand its functions.

“Trainer dada told that we can get one rupee commission from the Bankit app if we use this app. He taught us how to avail state and national level services like creating PAN card, land records, AADHAR card and many more with the Bankit app”, Vanita shares very excitedly, “This was the moment my mind started changing!”

She then slowly started helping community members for simple banking operations. People in the community would need a whole day to travel to bank even for balance enquiry as there were only one or two buses. They would also lose their daily wage. With a service through Bankit app, Vanita not only saved their travel time and money but started earning commissions for herself.

Vanita being a self-motivated woman, did not stop there. She started helping for creating Aadhar card, PAN card, digital land records and more services like these through app and soon became a trusted E-dost in the community.

Vanita's journey did not stop there. With the great interest, Vanita joined Raah's financial literacy training sessions along with few other women of her community. An expert started financial literacy training, module by module, explaining financial planning, budget, savings and why it is essential. In next few days, she spoke about banking & banking facilities, loan, investment and self-help groups.

Raah also trained them on Mera Bill app which was useful for microbusinesses like small grocery shops or flour grinding machines etc. and provided them with the smart phones as well to use this app.

Post the training, Raah gifted a piggy bank to all the women participants to motivate them for daily savings. Though a humble start, we knew, it will go a long way!

The app operations were simple and in vernacular language making it easier for rural communities to comprehend. Initially Vandana started using Mera Bill app for keeping records of her grocery shop. After a month, she could see the profits she earned, stocks and the pending payments. This built her confidence in running and growing her business slowly and steadily.

When she was asked by Raah to train other women of her community and village on financial literacy, she agreed within no time. She was trusted by women of her community so much that they started keeping their piggy banks with her and ensure that their family does not spend money unnecessarily. Through this initiative, she trained over 270 women of her community and the work still continues. Vandana's dedicated efforts slowly motivated women of her community to use their bank accounts, deposit the small amounts and start earning interests as well.

Gradually settled and earning money through E-Dost work and her grocery shop, Vandana has developed self-identity and is a proud micro-entrepreneur, an inspiration to other women.

“The profit and loss are a part of any small or big business. But the courage and motivation to start, is very important and Raah trained us so well that I could dare to step forward. Whenever I meet didi from Raah, I feel the warmth of a family”, Vandana expresses her gratitude in soft words.