BRAC Shakti is an incentive program that boosts women’s confidence with digital financial services (DFS) by surrounding them with the peer support they need to explore, learn, and gain comfort with new digital tools.
Mobile money is pervasive enough to have touched most households in rural Bangladesh and while awareness of DFS is high among women, many of them are afraid of adopting new tools due to digital and literacy barriers as well as social norms that make it unacceptable for women to rely on male agents to transact.
In 2020, we partnered with BRAC’s Social Innovation Lab and bKash to onboard women to mobile and digital financial services in rural Bangladesh. The goal was to incentivize their digital financial use by increasing their confidence at the moment cash-in and cash-out. Confidence is hard to build when people feel they don’t have the skills and abilities required to even try something new. During the prototyping process, we tested a number of ways to onboard women customers and create safe spaces to learn together— whether at the agent shop or away from the agent.
We tested an individual and group based model as a way to learn and build confidence—overwhelmingly the group based model did a lot better. We learned that women would rather fail in a group than alone and that until we can build their confidence in these services, they will rely on proxies. These proxies could be husbands, children, or other trusted people in women’s networks. So, we designed a group-based learning and incentive model, where a large component of the engagement was social. The program comes to life in a few key moments.
First, women are introduced to the program by their peers. They are then onboarded to a small group that holds weekly check-ins where they learn about saving habits and navigating household dynamics around finances. Every two weeks, women go with the group to cash-in. During these meetings, helpful learning guides who help them navigate the process and reduce her their proxy dependency. In addition to giving them a supportive environment, the program leverages gamified learning and meaningful rewards that align with their aspirations. As women deposit money, they earn rewards, such as cash back bonuses, access to entrepreneurial training, or a free health consultation.
The results of our live prototype were incredibly successful. Of the 40 women who were invited to participate in the Hoar region, 100% accepted; then 75% of groups chose the higher savings rate of ৳500 per week; and 100% of women completed the 4 week challenge. Our pilot will reach 5,000 rural women in the Hoar region in the first six months, with the goal of expanding beyond the pilot to reach more women and other regions.
In the live prototype, we heard feedback from women that the social outlet was just as, if not more valuable to them than incentives. We may learn that incentives are not necessary, or can be greatly diminished while still motivating key behavior. This would allow us to run incentive schemes at scale for a lower overall cost.
One key aspect of the design of BRAC Shakti was creating a program that was a viable business model for scale and sustainability. Working closely with BRAC and bKash, the BRAC Shakti program is designed to decrease incentives over time as women find more value in connecting to other services and the value of digital financial services. In addition, the cost of running the program is cheaper than typical acquisition costs for DFS providers, making it a compelling way for companies to expand their customer base.