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The Power of Partnership: A Corporate Collaboration to Advance Women’s Financial Inclusion in Pakistan

By Meghan Flaherty

Women did not feel comfortable transacting with JazzCash’ mostly-male agent network, leading to lower product uptake. Women’s World Banking worked with Jazz to partner with Unilever’s women entrepreneur training program to leverage each companies core competencies to increase value for their products and drive financial inclusion for low-income women in Pakistan.

At first glance, a telco and a fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) company might seem to have little in common. They operate in very different sectors and sell distinct products. But for Jazz, Pakistan’s largest telco, and Unilever Pakistan, the country’s leading FMCG company, there are also several key areas of strategic synergy.

Both of their distribution chains rely on small village shops as a key access point for rural customers, and both companies are interested in expanding and strengthening that channel. Most importantly, both companies share a focus on better serving the rural women’s market, recognizing a large untapped market opportunity for both digital financial services (DFS) for Jazz and consumer goods for Unilever.

The Opportunity to Reach More Women

Only 7% of women in Pakistan have access to an account at a formal financial institution. In recent years, the gender gap in account ownership has increased to 28 percentage points.[i] This leaves over 50 million unbanked women, the majority of whom do actively save for their families through informal means. A digital bank account such as the JazzCash mobile wallet could provide many of these women the opportunity to more securely and conveniently manage their finances.

Women’s World Banking’s collaboration with Jazz began with understanding why, despite Jazz’s focus on the segment, women’s uptake of the JazzCash account was lagging behind men.  Women’s World Banking soon learned a fact that we felt strongly contributed to this gender gap: approximately 99.9% of JazzCash’s ~70,000 agents were men!

Qualitative research with women consumers reinforced the team’s hypothesis that women often feel uncomfortable transacting with male DFS agents. This wasn’t surprising, given Pakistan’s strong cultural gender norms. Particularly in rural areas where gender norms are often more conservative, research indicated that a more women-friendly channel could have a meaningful impact on women’s access to DFS. And what could be more women-friendly than a network of local women entrepreneurs other women in the village already trust and engage with?

Developing a Win-Win-Win Model: JazzCash Guddi Baji

This insight led Women’s World Banking and Jazz to seek a partnership with Unilever, which several years before started the Guddi Baji (colloquially, “good sister”) training program for women entrepreneurs.

The goal? To build a model that effectively leverages each partner’s competencies to enable Unilever and Jazz to together include more women entrepreneurs in their rural distribution chains and reach more women customers. As an end result, low-income women customers would also gain easier access to DFS.

In order to create a win-win-win proposition for the three key stakeholders involved (Jazz, Unilever, and rural women), Women’s World Banking needed to help define what resources and commitments each stakeholder would contribute to the model, as well as the benefits each party could expect to gain.

Leveraging Diverse Capabilities towards a Shared Goal

Jazz brought expertise and field infrastructure to support the registration, training, and management of a DFS agent network. Unilever, along with its longtime local market activation partner Business Research & Support Channel (BRC), brought deep experience in engaging and training rural women entrepreneurs. How could these core competencies best be combined to make a winning proposition?

Women’s World Banking designed a joint field team model with representatives from both companies. These teams would onboard and train rural women shop owners as JazzCash Guddi Bajis. This included registering each participating retailer in the distribution systems of both companies, equipping her with knowledge of both JazzCash and Unilever products, and supporting her engagement of women customers through enhanced sales skills and promotional materials to improve shop visibility.

Ensuring Added Value for All Stakeholders

This model, however, is only as useful as the value proposition it delivers to Jazz, Unilever, and the women participants. How does this model benefit each stakeholder?

For one, each company could expand its retail footprint in hard-to-reach areas at a lesser cost by sharing the costs of onboarding and training rural women entrepreneurs, Since JazzCash and Unilever do not offer competing products, a network of shared women retailers held potential to drive increased customer traffic and revenues for both companies, compared to a smaller shop offering just one or the other.

Second, enhanced income from knowledgeably selling both JazzCash and Unilever products would put participating retailers on stronger financial footing. This would reduce the likelihood of shop closure or liquidity constraints, strengthening each company’s distribution chain.

In the longer-term, JazzCash Guddi Baji could also be the first step in a broader Jazz-Unilever partnership to potentially digitize payments throughout Unilever’s distribution chain, generating business growth for Jazz and significant efficiencies for Unilever.

For women shop-owners, participation in the JazzCash Guddi Baji program offers an opportunity for increased income through direct connection to Unilever’s distributors and additional revenue from JazzCash agent commissions. The program’s training sessions build knowledge and skills that could contribute to further business growth. Some participants feel that becoming a JazzCash Guddi Baji was also a leadership opportunity, given the enhanced visibility it could afford her within her family, business, and community.

Pilot Results & Looking Ahead

Women’s World Banking, Jazz and Unilever piloted the JazzCash Guddi Baji model for 8 months, engaging 32 women entrepreneurs. The pilot clearly demonstrated that participation in the program can increase business earnings for women retailers: JazzCash Guddi Bajis in the pilot earned an average of $9.40 per month from JazzCash commissions, and top performers gained more than three times that. The pilot also showed that with the right training and support, rural women can become active DFS agents, building confidence and transactions over time. The pilot onboarded 566 new JazzCash customers, 42% of which were women.

Interviews with both JazzCash Guddi Bajis and their customers also indicated that women agents hold strong potential to be a solution to increase rural women’s uptake of formal financial services because they offer a channel for access and understanding that women can more comfortably engage.

The pilot also identified how the JazzCash Guddi Baji model could be improved to enable effective scale-up. For instance, through more focused selection criteria to identify women entrepreneurs with potential to succeed in the program; enhanced training content and consistent delivery; to help generate customer demand around newly registered agents; and improved performance management of field staff.

The positive outcomes of the pilot, together with these operational learnings inspired all three partners to develop a “2.0” version of JazzCash Guddi Baji for broader roll-out. With the foundations of a strong partnership and a tested-and-refined model for building a more inclusive distribution chain, JazzCash Guddi Baji is poised to reach greater business impact for these two institutions and drive financial inclusion for low-income Pakistani women.

 

Have another idea for a partnership to advance women’s financial inclusion? We’d love to talk with you! Comment below or tweet at us (@womensworldbnkg and @megflhrty).

This project was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Photo courtesy of Unilever Pakistan

[i] 2017 Global Findex

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