Shop owners like Angeline can help neighbors access vital financial services
When local mothers need to buy milk in the early morning, or neighbors come knocking on her door late at night for medicine, Angeline is their rock. She runs her sari-sari (variety) store in Antique province in the Philippines 15 hours a day, catering to her neighbors’ needs. She gets a break at 5:00 pm, when her 11-year-old daughter returns from school to staff the shop for an hour. Meanwhile, Angeline’s mother runs a small business buying and selling young milkfish, a popular fish there.
Like mother, like daughter. Entrepreneurship runs in the family—and highlights an exciting dynamic in the Philippines. Unlike most other middle- or low-income countries, women in the Philippines are more likely than men to have a bank account, a savings account, or even a mobile money account. Filipinas have reversed the gender gap in financial inclusion. They are more open to using bank accounts and payment platforms to invest in education and in income generating activities, from small farms to small businesses.
Recognizing this dynamic, Grameen Foundation is finding new ways to accelerate financial inclusion in widely dispersed, low-income, rural areas. With our partners, we are tackling tough challenges. More than one-third of the country’s 7,107 islands have no banking infrastructure. “Only 43 percent of adults in the Philippines have formal savings accounts, fewer still have the means to make regular payments. The cost to access financial services is high due to the concentration of financial access points in towns and city centers,” says Gigi Gatti, Grameen Foundation's Philippines Country Director.
On the other hand, there are more than 500,000 registered “sari-sari” stores, where rural people purchase goods daily. Like Angeline, the vast majority of sari-sari owners and operators are women.
In a project funded by the JPMorgan Chase Foundation, Grameen Foundation and its partners are empowering sari-sari store operators to serve as digital financial service agents to their customers. This means sari sari store employees can help their customers send payments for services, transfer money to loved ones, deposit money into a digital account, and more – all through their mobile phones. This month, the Community Agent Network (CAN) project will activate 75 agents in the island of Panay. We will also test the approach with 300 agents in other geographic areas of the Philippines. The study will further inform the roll out of 600 agents in rural Philippines.
“Women in Filipino households are the family treasurers, and keepers of the safety nets for hard times. With the CAN project, women will now be able to avail of simple, yet important financial services such as paying their microfinance loan repayments, local bills and government payments, which is currently taking so much of their time," Gatti explains. "By leveraging the entrepreneurial mindset of women like Angeline and her daughter, the friendly neighborhood store can now add financial services, paving the way to community prosperity."