From Helpless to Hopeful: How Being a Digital Mahila Changed Geeta’s Life

With support from UKaid Sakchyam Access to Finance Programme, Chhimek Laghubitta Bikas Bank Ltd., has deployed more than 150 women to become agents of the bank. Together known as the “Digital Mahila”, each woman is equipped with a tablet which she uses to electronically-record payments, disburse loans, and offer financial literacy. As the first women-led technology campaign in the microfinance industry in Nepal, this initiative has digitally-enabled female agents not only help build their own confidence and familiarity with technology but also that of other group members.

We met one such agent, Geeta Darnal from Khajura of Banke District of Nepal on a scorching hot day in Nepal’s Terai region. 28-year old Geeta has been a Digital Mahila for the last two years and says that this initiative has helped regain control of her life. She explains, while we follow her to see what her typical day is like.

Geeta’s day starts at 5 am. Before heading to conduct centre meetings, she has to get her seven-year-old son ready for school. “My husband doesn’t contribute to anything in the house. So I play the role of mother and father to our son,” she says. This responsibility has motivated Geeta to work harder. “Digital Mahila was an opportunity I could not pass up, as it meant I would be able to provide for my son,” says Geeta who gets a monthly stipend of NPR 12,000 for her work as the bank’s agent.

The meetings typically start by 7 am. “On an average I conduct 2 meetings in a day. Then I come back to office and finish up some paper work before heading home around 4 pm,” she explains while sitting in her office – a sight not typical for someone who has only passed the 8th grade. “Being semi-literate, I never thought that I would get to work in an office like this. This has really boosted by confidence and empowered me,” says Geeta who says that there is a new found respect for her in her community.

At 10 am, Geeta walks to her second centre meeting for the day. It is above 40 degrees Celsius but that doesn’t dampen her spirit. “The centre meetings take place in all sorts of places – under trees, inside a house, in a community centre, etc. – places where it’s convenient for everyone to attend.”

She gets right to work and asks the group members to settle down. “Using the tablet has had great impact. The meetings are conducted faster, the transactions are transparent and the women get introduced to technology,” shares Geeta. This particular group was formed a year ago and the members are happy with the way Geeta handles their finances. “Seeing her use the tablet gives us confidence too – that women are capable of doing such work,” shares one member. As we talk to the members, Geeta continues to call on individual clients, names of which she knows by heart, to deposit their monthly installments.

As we prepare to leave, we ask her how being a Digital Mahila changed her life. “Due to my husband’s lack of concern for providing to his family, I was struggling to put food on the table. I would have sleepless nights thinking about how I could provide for my son and send him to school,” she shares with tears in her eyes. “Thankfully, this opportunity came just at the right time. Now with the monthly salary as well as the little bit of vegetable farming that I do from the loan I have taken from Chhimek, I am able to send my son to school and provide for him.”

As parting words, Geeta wanted us to know that if given the opportunity and proper training, Digital Mahilas can be as effective as any commercial bank’s agent. “We might not have the highest level of education, but as Digital Mahilas, we have an advantage since we know the locality and the local people well and it is easy for them to trust us. There was a time when I was in awe of the bank agents – in awe of the confidence that they have and the respect they have. But now, I think that as a Digital Mahila, I am at par with the commercial bank agents,” Geeta says beaming.

 

Text/Photos by Ayusha Nirola, Sakchyam Access to Finance