When I met Maheswari in her small hut located in the remote part of Nagapattinam District in Tamilnadu, I could not imagine the path she had travelled to get there. There she stood in front of me as a confident Business Correspondent of Indian Overseas Bank, smiling along with her two children, husband and mother- in- law. Let’s rewind a bit. Maheswari belongs to a typical agriculture family. Her father and mother are agricultural coolies. She studied up to Class 12 and discontinued her education because of a financial crisis in the family.Then she got married to her husband who is a temporary employee working as a security guard in a rice storing warehouse. She tried to manage the day to day expenses through the meagre income she obtained from her husband. But unfortunately this was not enough to meet their daily needs. During this time she came into contact with the Sirkazhi Namathu Deepam Mutual Benefit Trust Federation (NDMBT) and was able to join a Self Help Group and got two loans to meet this gap but in vain. Then they pledged their one acre of land, got some money to fulfil their daily needs and they were able to educate their son. Around this time, a Manager of NDMBT came to her house to convince her to become a Business Correspondent. Maheswari was uncomfortable as it involved handling other people’s money and there was a risk involved. She became visibly upset when she came to know that she has to deposit Rs 25000. But the Manager did not give up. CARE supported her through the Banking on Change program and helped not only in turning around Maheswari’s thinking but also provide her with the required deposit in the form of a loan. To boost Maheswari’s confidence, she was provided training and she got a chance other Banking Correspondents. There was no looking back. Cut to the present. An aged woman came to meet Maheswari’s in my presence and I watched in rapt attention as they interacted with each other. The elderly lady wanted to withdraw money from her savings account.
Maheshwari with the hand held device
Maheshwari with the hand held device Maheswari took out a handheld device which she got from the bank with the support of CARE’s partner, AVVAI. She gave her biometric card to Maheswari who inserted it along with her identity card into the handheld device. Then Maheswari took her thumb impression to validate the transaction. Simultaneously, a voice message confirmed the transaction and Maheswari handed over the money. Today Maheswari has 450 saving accounts which she manages on a daily basis. Of these 165 are old age pension accounts. She is looking after an entire Panchayat which consists of five villages. Maheswari now feels secure and she is confident that she will be able to support her family. She also feels good that she is able to bring the financial services to the doorstep of the elderly and other people in her community who were earlier unable to access banks. She plans to open a mini branch of Indian Overseas Bank in her house to be able to provide other financial products like insurance.in the near future. I walked away humbled by the experience wondering how we can empower thousands of women like Maheswari to catalyse the change we want to see around us. Kaushik Mitra Head: Marketing and Communications