When we talk of financial freedom for women, we automatically assume that urban women would be the first to comprehend the various financial options available to them. But as I discovered on a recent visit to the Avani community development project located in the Kumaon region of the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, rural women are actually more keen to learn how they can maximise their investments for a rainy day.
Established in 1997, Avani – named after the Hindi word for Earth – creates opportunities for viable employment through a self-sufficient and environmentally sustainable supply chain. Though both men and women are involved in the activities of Avani, the focus is largely on women, who constitute 85% of the participants in the various programmes, from textile production such as wool, silk, linen, yarn and pashmina to the production of natural dyes, among other activities.
My visit to Avani was an eye-opener as I saw the resilience of the women who were so dedicated to their work while balancing their duties at home. When I gave a group of women a presentation on the benefits of SIP (Systematic Investment Planning) and the wonders of compound interest, they realized how this was a better way of investing than the usual fixed deposits that they were used to.
“Time, patience and discipline – these are the three mantras you need to follow.”
I explained that taking care of investments was like taking care of one’s health. They found it amusing when I shared that it’s false to think that all urban women are aware about investing despite earning more money than them.
When I saw how easily they climbed down mountain trails, carrying heavy loads of pine needles on their heads, I used that as an example of how capable they were compared to me who needed help to walk the same mountain paths. “Financial planning is also about negotiating tricky paths,” I told them.
“Just like you are aware about the pitfalls and know how to walk mountain paths, you can have a similar approach to ensure your financial planning is safe and fruitful.”
That inspired them to think how they would first set aside even a small monthly sum of just Rupees 200 for their SIP, before they spent on their domestic budgets.
In fact, when I was walking in the forest, I came across some women and started having a general chat about my visit to Avani. Intrigued, they started asking more questions and I ended up giving them a presentation on financial management, right in the lap of nature!
India’s rural economy is considered a strong growth engine. According to a 2013 Accenture report, since 2000, per capita Gross Domestic Product has grown faster in India’s rural areas than in its urban centres: 6.2 per cent CAGR (compounded annual growth rate) versus 4.7 per cent.
Between 2009 and 2012, spending in rural India reached $69 billion, significantly higher than the $55 billion spent by the urban population.
Clearly, the opportunities for financial planning and empowerment abound in rural India. And as I discovered during my memorable visit to Avani, it is India’s rural women who can lead the way towards financial freedom.
Namrata B Durgan
Founder, MIRR Investments