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Lessons on Leadership: Check Your Assumptions

When CRISIL Foundation first designed a program aimed at building the financial capability of low-income women in India, they made a few assumptions about what would work.

“One big assumption that we made is that [the women] don’t know, and we know, and therefore we have to go and share everything we know about formal financial markets – and that’s what would bridge the … knowledge gap,” said Maya Vengurlekar, the organization’s Chief Operating Officer.

This led to the creation of six hours of animation-based audio-visual content that, frankly, didn’t work.

“After completing this entire thing, when we went to the field, to our big shock, what we witnessed was that beyond half an hour, 45 minutes, this audio-visual [material] was not able to hold the interest of our audience,” said Vengurlekar, in a recent interview with CGAP. “It was really, really disheartening, but we couldn’t ignore this big lesson.”

Vengurlekar shared her story at the inaugural CGAP Leadership Series on Customer Centricity event in New Delhi, India. She encouraged financial service providers and others who work with low-income customers to learn from her experience. CRISIL Foundation stepped back from its original model, invested in researching what would work, and field tested those ideas before proceeding.

“The moment you’ve put your focus on the impact that you are creating, your entire process gets designed to maximize that impact,” she said, “and that’s how you become customer-centric.”

CRISIL Foundation is the corporate social responsibility arm of CRISIL, a global analytical company providing ratings, research and risk and policy advisory services to the world’s largest banks and leading corporations. The foundation’s flagship program is focused on empowering women by strengthening their financial capabilities. In its third phase, the program aims to reach out to 100,000 women in rural Assam.

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