When Women’s World Banking and Ujjivan Financial Services partnered under the Gender Performance Initiative (GPI), we knew there would be some interesting findings on how Ujjivan effectively serves over 1 million women clients. Ujjivan is a strong institution with a commitment to serving only low-income women. The GPI pilot represented a way to both test the gender indicators with a leader in the field, as well as enable Ujjivan to measure and prove how well they are serving women as both clients and staff. Little did we know, the data and analysis that came out of this pilot had both business and social applications that went far beyond our expectations.
At the core, the GPI pilot includes a full analysis of a microfinance institution’s (MFI’s) client database. At Ujjivan, the team examined portfolio risk at all levels, demographics such as age, education, marital status and household composition, operational issues including group size and meeting frequency, client finances and household assets, and loan information (number of loans, loan size, as well as the purpose of the loan). As Ujjivan conducts routine analyses on its database, many of the findings were expected. There were, however, some surprises.
Photo Credit: Arup Handar
A key area explored through the pilot was client protection. The Smart Campaign has made great strides on setting the industry standards around client protection, and has identified Ujjivan as a leader in this space with its recent Smart Certification. As part of the GPI, we wanted to explore the areas of client protection that are most important for women. Women’s World Banking has found that women tend to avoid voicing concerns (at least publicly) and may not feel comfortable asking questions; therefore, feedback mechanisms such as call centers/helplines, suggestion boxes, complain resolution processes, customer satisfaction surveys and exit services were seen as a key area to track. In fact, clients are often unaware that feedback mechanisms have been established by their MFI and are available to them. In order to respond to this need, Ujjivan gave their women clients a “Dos and Don’ts” card which outlined complaint-resolution procedures, and saw an 88% increase in customer inquiries and complaints within six months. This was an incredible opportunity for Ujjivan to respond to client needs and improve service to women.
One of the most interesting findings to come out of the pilot was on social outcome indicators. In Mary Ellen Iskenderian’s recent post, she discussed some of the data findings at Ujjivan around family well-being. Here we wanted to mention another outcome for women that we feel is extremely important: self-determination. When we think about women’s empowerment, measuring self-determination through loan usage can be an interesting proxy as it demonstrates whether a woman client is actually controlling business income.
Most MFIs track loan purpose – who uses the loan and how - as part of the standard application process, however there is a risk of inaccuracy in this data. Given the fact that many MFIs set specific targets to serve women entrepreneurs, loan officers (and clients) may believe that women who say they are using the loan for their own business will be more likely to get approved than those requesting loans for businesses owned by family members, and therefore they may over-report this loan purpose. However, the woman-as-client-in-name-only phenomenon leaves her more vulnerable, not more empowered, because she is contractually obligated to repay a loan she does not, in reality, control. Only by getting unbiased data on loan usage can we begin to understand outcomes for women.
Ujjivan has addressed this problem, as its commitment to serving women extends to supporting their families. Loan officers are trained to ask the question of loan purpose neutrally, encouraging women clients to report whether the loan will be used for her own business or that of a spouse or child. By mining this data, Ujjivan found that 72% of their women clients used loans for their own income-generating activity. While the data is not perfect, it is far more accurate than that of most MFIs because of the way staff collect the data, and gives Ujjivan a tool to better tailor products, as well as understand outcomes for women and their families.
Finally, through the pilot, we were also able to explore some advanced geographic analysis. We conducted a regional analysis at Ujjivan which compared the institution’s market penetration (measured as number of services points) to the target population’s income levels. This analysis can provide evidence on Ujjivan’s presence in the lowest-income areas of the country and, in conjunction with data on competition, can also be used to make growth decisions on outreach to women.
These findings have not only provided key evidence in the selection of the final gender performance indicators, but also demonstrate the applications of gender data - both operational and social – for MFIs. Beyond the role that robust gender data can play at the industry level, demonstrating outreach and service to low-income women globally, it is critical for institutions to make the most of the results that gender data analysis will yield. The impact will likely surpass your expectations.
------------Samit Ghosh is the CEO of Ujjivan Financial Services. Jaclyn Berfond is a Senior Associate at Women’s World Banking.