Grameen Foundation India’s Pathway To Create Sustainable Impact At Scale

Grameen Foundation India is a pioneer in social development in many respects. Our unique value proposition is our ability to combine our insights into the lives of low-income people, particularly women, with a constant emphasis on innovation. As a social development organization, we need to embrace innovation, since we are dealing with deep-rooted and protracted challenges for which there are no obvious solutions. Our continuous process of ‘understand – design – test – adapt – learn – improve’ has helped us design and implement solutions that have an impact. So how do we integrate innovation in our work as we pursue financial inclusion and well-being?

Since its inception, Grameen Foundation has aimed to be an institution builder, assisting other social-impact organizations with product and channel innovations, human resource development and institutional capacity building. However, we realized that working with other partners limited our ability to address client needs. Institutional legal form and institutional priorities determined what products and services the clients would receive, which was not always what they really needed. We decided to change how we worked and have a deeper and more direct engagement with our intended beneficiaries-low-income women in rural areas.

While most private sector and government efforts treated financial inclusion as a supply-side challenge, we saw that adoption of any product or service was a demand-side challenge too. Lack of awareness and trust slowed adoption and continuous usage. We studied the financial lives of low-income people closely to identify the drivers and influencers in adoption and realized that the livelihood profile of a household played a more significant role in actual adoption and usage of any financial product and not just its supply. Awareness and trust, convenience and use cases – all had a role, and we had to integrate these in our model. This led to the development of what we now call the ‘Grameen Mittra’ modela network of last-mile agents who educate customers, take them on board and offer service easy to access.

‘Grameen Mittras’ are typically young women from the rural community recruited, trained and enabled by us to work as a micro-franchisee. They offer doorstep services that we have curated for the target communities based on our in-depth research. As self-employed agents, they provide a range of digital, financial, government-to-citizen and livelihood services to the community. We enable them with an Android phone and enrol them on our award-winning mobile learning platform G-LEAP, which helps them learn continuously about new products and services.

At the ‘India Competitiveness Forum’ held by the Institute for Competitiveness in October 2019, one such Grameen Mittra, Harsha Dongre, talked about her journey from being a housewife to a social entrepreneur. She is enabling the dreams of thousands of citizens living in marginalized communities by reaching financial and non-financial services to their doorstep.

Thanks to Harsha’s work, they build their financial resilience and work their way out of poverty through financial planning, reducing the cost of accessing financial services so becoming empowered customers. We have won awards from many organizations for our work and strategy, strengthening our conviction that we are on to something that is unique and creates an impact.

One of the strongest features of this approach is that we get an insight into the barriers faced by low-income people at different stages of their adoption journey and incorporates a robust strategy to address those barriers. Grameen Mittras do not wait for customers with expressed demand to come up and demand services. Instead, they convert latent demand into active demand through customer awareness and helping customer onboarding. This opens up a much larger universe of potential customers. Financial exclusion is a dominant theme in the universe of disadvantaged low-income women and people with low literacy and numeracy levels. The Grameen Mittra model expands our outreach to this universepeople who are truly excluded and underserved.

In addition to addressing the demand- and supply-side barriers, we also wanted the community to access a comprehensive range of products and services. Therefore, we have developed ‘Grameen Mittra’ as a convergence model, which brings multiple products and services to the community from different providers. We have collaborated with banks, digital payment companies, wealth management service providers, and organizations facilitating access to government-to-citizen services, water, health and sanitation products and renewable energy products. Grameen Mittras take their products and services to the community.

Our next big challenge was to create a sustainable model to deliver these services. It takes time to change the behavior of potential customers and get them to adopt our services, but most non-profits work with fixed-term projects. Therefore, we decided to convert some of our work into a social enterprise that will not depend exclusively on grants. This led to the creation of ‘Grameen Impact Venture (GIV)’ a social business owned and promoted by Grameen Foundation India. GIV has begun generating revenue by offering relevant and much-needed services to the community. GIV will not only aim to be sustainable, but it also work at an immense scale, an absolute imperative when you look at the Indian context. What distinguishes GIV is that it not only provides products and services, but it also invests in customer education and empowerment.

This strategy will require us to manage change on a huge scale since it is not just a new legal form. It also requires a complete mindset change and change in the organizational culture. Grameen always had the culture of being at the forefront of innovation and being a leader in deploying technology for development.

With all these changes, new business models, and the quest for scale and sustainability, we always keep three questions in our mind:
i) Why we are doing it?
ii) Who is the person we are aiming to impact and
iii) What is the change we wish to see?

These guiding questions ensure that we stay on track and not get into the all-too-familiar mission- drift. An organizational/ legal form and business model should help you get to where you want to be rather than dictate where you ought to be. We are talking about an organization that has the empathy and deep understanding of the lives of low-income people. We are also talking about an organization that is technologically savvy and deploys the latest digital technologies to do things efficiently at scale. And we are also talking about an organization which has a social impact at its core but is run like a business that can do things at scale and sustainably and has the ambition to impact millions of people, not just hundreds or thousands.