India's booming economy... and everyone else, by Nina Robbins

India’s booming economy is thrusting the wealthy of India into the ranks of the world’s richest, but how about everyone else?

After my first two and a half weeks trying to find my place in the charming chaos of India I can confidently say that the sight of a traffic jam caused by a 52 sheep pile up, the shameless stares of complete strangers on the streets and the new function of my hands as dinner utensils is quickly become routine. The 6 Udaipur interns, including myself, are all stuffed with stories (and chipatis) and are enjoying a friendly competition for the most compelling chai rendezvous, most bizarre host family member and best Indian fashion sense. I could stand to learn a lot when it comes to the fashion sense.

On a more professional note, we are all gradually coming into our own development projects at our respective NGOS. I am working with the Sahayata Organization with a group of cheerful and motivated young professionals and a delightful supervisor nicknamed Babuji. The Sahayata Organization is as an emerging urban micro Finance and Livelihood initiative in Rajasthan. It was started by a team of professionals who were aware of the large gap that exists between traditional means of finance and the economically marginalized sector of society. Sahayata has successfully established itself as a revenue-based service provider in order to achieve the dual objectives of social and economic empowerment of the community as well as the sustainability of this intervention. Now Sahayata is in the process of expanding the organization to include a non-profit financial literacy program.

Not only will the financial literacy program be advantageous to the women of Rajasthan, but it will be one small step towards a more financial savvy India. India’s booming economy is thrusting the wealthy of India into the ranks of the world’s richest, but how about everyone else? In the last fiscal year the GDP growth rate was 9.1% and India’s economy established itself as the twelfth largest economy in the world and the second fastest growing economy, after China. However, despite the new boomtowns of Bangalore and Mumbai, most of the Indian population is still hovering below the poverty line, untouched by the rising national wealth. According to the new financial inclusion index, India is doing very poorly when it comes to the rate at which people use banking products and make investments. The financial inclusion index “is a measure of the availability and usage of banking services in key nations of the world, and is based on indicators like the number of bank accounts per 1,000 adults, numbers of ATMS, and amount of bank credit and deposits” (The Economic Times, 24/7/2008). In order for the majority of Indians to benefit from their profitable economy, financial inclusion must be the key priority for the NGOs, the government and banking institutions in the upcoming decade. Through our financial literacy program, Sahayata hopes to be a catalyst in the push towards a larger middle class and a healthy India.

Currently I am doing a needs assessment survey with our loan clients to evaluate their level of financial literacy and find out if they would be interested in a money management tutorial. The response from the clients has been overwhelmingly positive.

We have already recruited a great teacher from the nearby college who is well-versed in economic policy and financial management and we hope to begin the pilot project in two weeks. The pilot project will consist of three groups of women. One group will be familiar with basic financial terminology such as Budget, Risk, and interest. This group will consist of women that have bank accounts. The second group of women will have some idea of the basic financial terms but no substantial knowledge and approximately fifty percent of these women will have bank accounts and the other fifty percent will keep their savings in their homes. The third group of women will have little to no knowledge of financial management and will consist of women that do not use banking institutions. Our teacher will meet with each group twice a week for a period of eight weeks. After which each group will have a final examination so we can evaluate and monitor the success of the pilot program for each group.

I would have to say that the largest obstacle in the way of my success in this internship will most likely be the language barrier. However, with the help of our language teacher Retchna, we are speedily becoming acquainted with Hindi and in the interim, big smiles seem to be the best way of building a good rapport with new friends.

Namashkar,

Nina Robbins