As India readies itself for the forthcoming festive season, dedicated women artisans are working tirelessly to handcraft exquisite traditional textiles for the festivities. Uluberia, a rural village in West Bengal, is home to small communities of artisan families who earn their livelihood by practicing the traditional craft of Kardhana. Kardhana (or Cutdana) work involves the use of specially cut stone beads that capture and reflect light at specific angles. These stones are meticulously sewn onto the fabric using delicate threads, resulting in a variety of intricate patterns and designs.

In rural India, where conventional gender roles frequently impose constraints on women’s ability to tap into economic prospects and financial assets, digital financial capability is a significant means of empowerment. While many women artisans in Uluberia lack formal education, they learned to make digital loan payments through interactive video tutorials offered by Accion partner Axis Bank’s Retail Microfinance business unit. By imparting women with the necessary knowledge and capabilities, digital financial capability enables them to proficiently utilize digital financial services, including mobile banking, electronic payments, and online savings, to effectively oversee their finances, launch entrepreneurial ventures, and enhance their overall well-being.

Mumtaz Begum, 33, resides in Uluberia village with her spouse and two children. Her husband lost his job at a city restaurant when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in April 2020, causing him to return home. They were left without any other source of income and eventually depleted their savings. In January 2021, they decided to follow their neighbor’s advice and began learning the art of Kardhana embroidery. They joined a group of skilled artisans and started earning a daily wage of 200 Indian Rupees (about $2.40). Mumtaz dedicated herself to improving her embroidery skills, often working late into the night. By September, she aspired to work independently and reached out to Axis Bank to secure a small group loan so she could set up a workshop within her home for herself and her husband. However, due to their limited educational background, they faced several challenges in acquiring orders from merchants, handling payments, procuring raw materials, and more.

Accion digital capability platform

To support customers like Mumtaz, Axis Bank Retail Microfinance collaborated with Accion to develop interactive learning programs specifically designed for low-income women. These programs aim to enhance their understanding of digital financial capability and facilitate the adoption of digital financial tools. Accion produced educational videos on topics such as digital finance and consumer education. These videos are interactive, based on adult learning principles, and available in different Indian languages. They allow self-paced learning through visual learning elements that make complex financial concepts more understandable. Visual aids, animations, and real-life examples can help demystify financial topics and make learning more engaging. The videos can also be viewed on smartphones, which makes financial education more accessible to a wider audience, especially women like Mumtaz who live in rural areas.

Accion’s programs include training on the Bharat Bill Payment System (BBPS), an integrated bill payment system in India, which helped Axis Bank’s loan officers guide customers on how to use BBPS to make their monthly loan repayments digitally. With assistance from Axis Bank’s staff to help build her financial and digital capability, Mumtaz made her first BBPS installment payment in February 2022.

After her initial exposure to digital finance, Mumtaz and her husband began reaching out to potential merchants who could place larger embroidery orders with the possibility of remote financial transactions. Her husband secured orders by phone and received advance payments via UPI, a digital platform that allows instant payments, from the merchants. They used these funds to procure raw materials, complete the work, and dispatch it through a courier service. Upon delivery, they received the remaining payment for their services digitally.

Ranu, an artisan in West Bengal, India
Ranu works in Mumtaz’s workshop to learn Kardhana beadwork and earn income for her family. Inspired by Mumtaz, Ranu also aspires to become an entrepreneur.

Now that her business has grown, Mumtaz has two additional women in her workshop, and she hopes to nurture them into independent entrepreneurs like herself in the future. She views this as her means of contributing to the community that supported her during adversity. One of these women is Ranu, a 19-year-old artisan who is training under Mumtaz’s guidance. Ranu also dreams of establishing her own workshop one day.

Banks and an expanding range of non-banking entities are seizing the opportunity to provide digital financial services to previously neglected and marginalized populations, potentially connecting with billions of new customers. According to the World Bank, millions of previously excluded and underserved individuals with limited financial means are transitioning from cash transactions to formal financial services, such as payments, transfers, savings, credit, insurance, and even securities, through mobile phones and other digital technologies. This transformation is ongoing and evolving rapidly as new technologies continue to emerge.

Digital financial tools are indispensable in today’s world, where technology plays a pivotal role in managing and safeguarding one’s financial assets. Digital capability empowers individuals like Mumtaz and Ranu to make informed financial decisions, leverage digital tools, and protect themselves in an increasingly interconnected and digital financial ecosystem.

Learn more about how Accion works to strengthen livelihoods for women in rural India through digital repayments and other financial tools.

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