Monday, January 03, 2011

To New Beginnings...

As 2010 comes to an end, I can’t help but reflect back on how the past 12 months have been. Very clich├ęd, I know.... but such reflection is accompanied by a deeper understanding how I’ve changed in the past one year and if I was the driver of change elsewhere.
Needless to say, 2010 was largely defined by the last 5 months that I spent working in the southern tribal belt of Rajasthan. I must admit, for the first 3-4 months I felt like I was shooting in the dark, perplexed by the complexities involved in the work I was doing. But now after nearly 5 months of trying to find my way, I finally have greater clarity on my work and the direction it needs to take. This realisation comes at an apt juncture as we move into the New Year. While I do not have any big resolutions, my jingle for 2011 would be “To New Beginnings”..... to fill my year with the start of something new, something meaningful and something much larger than myself.
On December 15th, 2010, I piloted “Samruddhi” – a wealth management programme for migrant households in the block of Gogunda, 40 kilometres north-west of Udaipur. I feel excitement, enthusiasm, a tinge of naivety, idealism and nervous anticipation all at the same time. While it is too soon to assess whether Samruddhi is of sound design both on paper and on the ground, I feel content with the effort that has gone into conceptualising and initiating it. Clearly there are ‘miles to go before I sleep’ and I am wide awake as never before.

There have been a few challenges along the way. For instance, how do I help a family gain more lucidity on their own goals and their current financial reality? How do we rebuild trust after one has been through a bitter experience like insurance fraud or dealing with government bureaucracy? Are we capable of making them believe in a product/service/ scheme after they have been disappointed once? And if yes, how long will that take and at what cost will it happen? Anecdotes of bad experiences from the field fill my mind with doubts about how much value will I be able to add to these families. Will I always have an answer for every family’s problems? And if I do have an answer, how dependent is it on a third party? I suddenly realise that 2 years is hardly enough to do what I have in mind and 5 months have just whizzed past me.
I have incorporated a financial literacy programme both for our staff members and our beneficiaries within Samruddhi. As service providers, we realised that we ourselves do not possess the expertise to guide families on the right financial plan for them. So a key component of Samruddhi is to provide training to our field officers on financial concepts, products and services and the ability to understand a household’s financial needs, goals and aspirations. While I am able to train my staff, I wonder how I will be able to fill gaps in my understanding of financial services for low income households.
The financial literacy model for our beneficiaries is slowly shaping up. Thus far, I have developed and pilot tested two literacy tools with our beneficiaries. The first one called “Paison ka Ped” is an interactive tool that uses no text at all and hence well suited to our target audience. The second (for which I haven’t decided a name yet) is primarily for our female clients as well as female household members of male clients. This tool provides a simple way to track monthly household cash inflows and outflows, which requires the client to neither write anything nor maintain complex worksheets. As I test these tools on different groups, I make small modifications in its design and delivery and am hoping it will be perfected soon.I will share more details on these tools after testing them with a few more groups.
I am aware that there are a zillion things that I myself do not know about wealth management and I hope that the forthcoming training will help me gain clarity on at least some of those.
The past year has been different, in an exciting, instructive and transformative sense. I have done things that I could never have imagined doing and lived in ways that I never thought possible. For me the highlights would be living in a mud house in freezing cold, bathing in the open next to a well, sleeping in a stable with a very temperamental cow, nabbing thieves in the village during Diwali, working as a temporary conductor for a buswala so that I could earn my seat, living out of a suitcase, attempting to drive a tractor, harvesting corn, cultivating coriander and mint at home and so much more. I step into the new year with fond memories of 2010, a greater desire for adventure and a deeper commitment towards my work here in Rajasthan. Happy New Year everyone!