Penned by Board Member Ms. Alo Pal

Social Development implies social change and in Sharana our success is a function of the extent of social change we have been able to effect on a beneficiary with our model centred on empowerment. We therefore send children to school, enrol school dropouts into viable vocational training courses and empower women with loans to help them start a business. My anticipation therefore of the outcome of a day trip organised by Sharana to take 27 women to the Swami Vivekananda Rural Community College was rife.

The Institute had proposed a one-off scheme to highly subsidise their varied and professionally designed vocational training courses for a year for women. They were allowed to bring their children to the institute and were going to be given lunch, uniforms and a basic set of tools too. Even a partial pick-up transport facility was provided, from the main bus stop to the college. After the visit and orientation only 4 of the 27 opted for the scheme. This number to me was disappointing. Try as I might, 4 enrolments were just not adding up to even a sliver of a silver lining to the exercise.

Most of the women work as cooks and housemaids in the morning hours and some of them work in multiple houses. Making time for the college course while taking care of the children and house chores becomes a task and a demotivator. This subsidised highly professional upskilling opportunity going untapped therefore came to me as a big disappointment. For some of them, their husbands being wary and suspicious of their wives travelling a distance every day was a major deterrent. It is therefore sad but true that a quality vocational training course that was highly subsidized only for Sharana beneficiaries (reduced by almost 70%) and Sharana willing to bear fully the remaining 30%, still had such few takers. But then our outreach has always been our strong point and this fact has given us direction for our ongoing groundwork.

A post office saving scheme however saw greater success. This year our Community Development team is focusing on savings and financial awareness for our beneficiaries. What made the difference was the fact that an option is now available in the village, where the village postman facilitates the deposit and withdrawal of cash for the women, based on strong familiar interpersonal relations.

18 of 45 women from the village introduced to this savings scheme at the Post Office created their online Savings Accounts.

The penetration of smartphones has meant that the postman downloaded the saving app on their phones. The postman can come to their homes and conduct transactions on their phones for them in front of them. This will greatly benefit our women, especially with making saving fixed deposits from cash received as direct bank transfers from the Government under various provisions.

Following this, there was a session conducted especially for the parents of children enrolled in our creche. The Postmaster from Ariyankuppam Post Office along with his team visited our Angalakuppam centre. They explained the various saving schemes and options and encouraged them to start saving for their children. The results were encouraging as almost 70% of the parents opened saving accounts for their children under different schemes on the same day. A savings mindset though seemingly small over time can make a huge difference to the economic conditions of the communities and embed the same in the children.