MARKETS | Cesar Tordesillas, Indonesia

Uplifting women through financial empowerment

Women are increasingly balancing their acts of earning for the family while tending to their role as home makers. United Nation’s data revealed that one-third of all families are headed now by a woman as the sole-provider. Unfortunately the same report also shows that more than 700 million women world-wide live on less than one dollar a day.This global situation reflects what is happening in Indonesia. And there is a lot more to be done, according to Harry Sasongko, Chief Executive Officer of GE Money Indonesia.“We saw a unique opportunity, through the Bijak Dana Perempuan program, to leverage GE Money’s considerable financial expertise to make a difference in the lives of underprivileged women and their families in Jakarta,” said Mr. Sasongko.Bijak Dana Perempuan is part of GE’s global Banking on WomenTM corporate citizenship program that seeks to empower the world’s women by providing them with the knowledge and resources necessary to create opportunities for themselves and provide a better future for their families. In Asia, GE has reached over 16,000 women and students through its financial literacy programs for women and youths in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand, India and Japan since 2006.“In Indonesia, we felt that improving the economic well-being of women will have a positive ‘domino effect’ on improving other aspects of the society, as the majority of the underprivileged in Indonesia are women,” Sasongko explained. To kick start the program, GE Money went through a thorough process of seeking for a potential NPO (not-for-profit) partners, as well as identifying the key areas in which GE Money could help make a difference.GE Money found a good strategic fit in the Association for Community Empowerment (ACE), which was established by a consortium of 27 not-for-profit organizations as a means to provide direct assistance to poor communities with an emphasis on Participatory Community Empowerment. Working closely with ACE, GE Money targeted a small community in the Lenteng Agung area in South Jakarta, for the first phase of the program. “Our objective was to start the program on a relatively modest scale, to give us the unique opportunity to better understand their needs more intimately and tailor training programs accordingly. Along the way, we would identify community leaders among this group of women who can then take on more responsibilities such as ensuring the continuity of the program,” explained Mr. Sasongko.The results of the program were very inspiring with membership exceeding their plan by 67 percent. The participants’ combined savings level also surpassed expectations by more than four times and with half of the participants starting or expanding their own micro-businesses with microloans from the programme. Furthermore, none of the microloans ended up as non-performing loans, a feat that most financial institutions today would be envious of.“Going forward, our aim is to create a ‘multiplier’ effect, by expanding the scope of the second phase of this program. We hope that over time, the program will generate even more sustainable benefits to women and eventually benefit a bigger population in Indonesia,” Mr. Sasongko stated.The second phase of the program, recently launched in November 2008, aims to at least double the number of beneficiaries to about 2,500 people and expand the coverage to the Kebagusan area in South Jakarta.The magnitude of GE Money’s efforts to make a difference in women’s lives was not left unnoticed. Among the awards it was accorded the Best CSR Program by the Asian Banking & Finance Magazine’s Retail Banking Awards 2009 for the Bijak Dana Perempuan program.Mr. Sasongko said, “These accolades underscore the importance of women empowerment, and GE Money is proud to be able to make a difference to improving the lives of under-privileged women. The real winners are the women participants in the Bijak Dana Perempuan program. We are very encouraged by these women who have absorbed basic financial knowledge and expertise which they have leveraged to enhance the well-being of their families, and are aiming to take Bijak Dana Perempuan to a higher level of success in 2009 and beyond.”

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