aidha-enriching lives of migrant domestic workers through financial education

aidha-enriching lives of migrant domestic workers through financial education

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

aidha provides a unique financial education program to domestic workers, empowering them with the tools that will help them break out of the poverty cycle

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

There are approximately 200,000 migrant domestic workers in Singapore. These women, often from Asia’s poorest countries, leave their families to become domestic workers in Singapore homes to find financial stability. They are the “hopeful poor” – their resilience and desire to break the cycle of poverty makes them seek low-paying jobs elsewhere. Remittances sent home support families, but many of these women find they don’t have any real savings left. They are caught in a vicious cycle where families become dependent on remittances, leaving little or nothing for the foreign domestic worker by way of savings or a financially-stable future at home.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

aidha seeks to break the cycle of poverty by helping migrant domestic workers develop savings habits as well as the skills needed to start up a sustainable business for their families. aidha has developed and tested a program delivering financial education, leadership and entrepreneurship skills which is unique and innovative in many ways: •the financial education provided by aidha leads to behavioural change: students not only learn budgeting techniques but also build real savings and then periodically invest those savings in income-generating assets. •aidha provides financial education and entrepreneurship skills in the context of an enduring peer support group, a model that is analogous to that underpinning successful weight loss programs. Structured meetings generate the support for our students to put their new-found knowledge into action. e.g. they share their budget entries with their peers, as well as communicate their savings goals and how they plan to achieve them.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

aidha’s program is divided into 2 modules of 9 months each. In Module 1, students attend a Compass Club where they learn to budget and save through the support of their peers and their mentor. They also attend a Leadership Club, where they learn communication and management skills in an hands-on approach: e.g. in every session, students stand up in front of the class to give a speech on management topics (think Toastmasters). The computer workshops complete the curriculum. Students cover the basics of Microsoft Office and the internet but also more advanced topics such as creating databases and designing sales material. In Module 2, students participate in an Advanced Leadership Club where they explore business topics in depth and develop their communications skills further. They also join a Venture Club, where they learn how to start and manage a business, including pricing and competition analysis, and create a viable business plan at the end of the course. Lisa, a Filipino national, had been working very hard for many years in Singapore as a domestic worker but had no savings when she joined aidha. When she completed our programme, she had built up enough savings to buy a cow back home. She continued to save and later bought a plot of land and has now set up a farm which employs 16 members of her family. aidha women who had worked for years and amassed no savings, are now the proud owners of cafés back home. They have cows and land, clean water, new homes and vehicles. Their children are productive in school. And they have pride and a sense of accomplishment.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

When it was established in 2006, aidha was a pioneer in providing financial education classes to low-income foreign domestic workers in Singapore. Whilst there are now a handful of entities that provide courses on money management, we believe that financial education delivered through traditional classroom methods does not work if it does not lead to behavioural change. aidha is unique in that it has created for its program a range of innovative action-based training for budgeting and savings, computer, communications and entrepreneurial skills.

Founding Story

Previously a full time academic at INSEAD, Sarah Mavrinac was inspired by her stint in the executive committee of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) Singapore. As a result of a study conducted by UNIFEM which showed that the foreign domestic workers in Singapore did not have access to financial education for their socio-economic development, she decided to take on the idea and started delivering classes from the function room of her condo. In light of the rapid success, and with $16,000 in seed funding from UNIFEM, she set up aidha as an independent organisation which would deliver quality business education to lower income women groups.
About You
aidha ltd
About You
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Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

aidha ltd

Organization Country
Country where this project is creating social impact
How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

Has the organization received awards or honors? Please tell us about them

•Dr. Sarah Mavrinac, our founder, was named Singapore’s International Woman of the Year in 2007 for her work with aidha and in 2008, she received the Singapore Social Entrepreneur of the Year award from the World Economic Forum’s Schwab Foundation.

•In April 2012, TEDXChange invited aidha’s executive director, Veronica Gamez, to give the keynote speech at an event that was broadcast in over 200 cities and countries worldwide. Veronica was also invited to the key speaker at Humaneity Inspires Singapore, which was broadcast on Humaneity television

•Barclays Woman’s Initiative’s Network (WiN) has been a key supporter of aidha since 2011. Fundraising initiatives by Barclays WiN and other Barclays businesses have resulted in over SGD$20,000 donated to aidha, Barclays WiN volunteers have also assisted in defining aidha’s business plans, reviewed aidha’s IT infrastructure & Internet requirements, held a laptop donation drive for aidha, recruited volunteers for the aidha mentor programmes, and sold aidha books to Barclays staff.Barclays WiN volunteers have also partnered with aidha volunteers to set up a separate fundraising team, who have organised several successful fundraising events in 2012.

•Barclay’s Operations team has been organising various internal fundraising initiatives and have raised over SGD$14,000 for aidha since July 2012, which will be matched dollar for dollar by Barclays.

•In addition to volunteering and fundraising by the Barclays WiN and Operations team, Barclays recently approved and paid a grant of GB£49,900 to go towards the funding of Module 1 of the aidha programme.

•The Australian Chamber of Commerce in Singapore has been a long term supporter ot aidha and has been sponsoring our financial compass clubs. The American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore has also partnered with aidha and generously provided classroom space to hold all our students for 2010 to 2012.

•Earlier this year, The Shirin Fozdar Foundation graciously established an e-library for aidha students and donated multiple Ipads for student use at aidha’s premises.

•Accenture worked with aidha in 2011 to revamp our computer workshop curriculum. the upgraded technology lessons now provide our students with the tools to become computer savvy in their daily lives.

•Singapore Management University (SMU) has agreed this year to fund and carry out a research project for aidha. Assistant Professor Rashmi Barua will lead the study, which is designed to examine the effectiveness of financial education on foreign domestic workers.

•The Singapore office of international PR communications firm, Waggener-Edstrom, has partnered with aidha to support our social media communications strategy.

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How long have you been in operation?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Which of the following best describes the barrier(s) your innovation addresses? Choose up to two

Access, Quality.

Social Impact
Please describe the goal of your initiative; outline what you are trying to achieve

aidha fosters life skills in budgeting, saving, and business management. Thanks to our courses, our students transform their world. They save, they invest. They build lives, and the small businesses that will spark economic change and development. aidha women are helping themselves and their families, but they not only share what they earn, they share what they learn. They tell their family and their neighbors about saving for sustainable investments: cows, land, businesses, education. Through word-of-mouth and by example, the tools to self-sustenance spread. What they learn at aidha, the savings, the planning, the budgeting, is contagious. As they grow and empower themselves, they become agents of positive changes in their families and communities.

Which barrier(s) to financial inclusion does your solution seek to address? (select all applicable)

Physical and other accessibility obstacles that prevent communities from reaching financial services, Other (Please describe below).

If you selected 'other' above, please specify which other barriers to financial inclusion you solution seeks to address:

Access to action-based financial education.

For which underserved or excluded communities will your solution create access to valuable, affordable, secure and comprehensive financial services?

Currently, our students are foreign domestic workers employed in Singapore, women who have typically worked in Singapore for years and amassed no savings when they join aidha, just mounds of remittance receipts. Whilst we charge our students course fees, these are are heavily subsidised and therefore our programme is affordable to this low-income domestic workers group. Most importantly, our research shows that our unique and innovative curriculum has an immediate, proven impact on empowering low-income domestic workers and facilitating their ability to become financially self-sustainable in the long term (for further detail please refer to the paragraphs below on our impact and on our type of operating environment and internal organizational factors that make our innovation successful).

Could your solution work in other geographies or regions? If so, where?

Our innovative programme is particularly suited to low-income migrant women groups, and aidha has built particular expertise in serving foreign domestic workers employed in Singapore. It would therefore be particularly suitable to expand to locations which typically have a large number of domestic workers, such as Hong Kong in the first instance, where the countries of origin are mostly the same as those employed in Singapore.

If your solution is dramatically successful, how will things be different in 10 years?

Migrant remittances to the developing world now top over a staggering US$300 billion. These remittances are having a huge impact on economic development of the receiving nations. The United Nations and World Bank now credit remittances with observable declines in developing world poverty. We believe that migrant workers, with the unique financial education programme and peer support that aidha provides, can be the force to make a significant dent in the estimated 1.7 billion people who live in poverty today and regenerate entire communities of the developing world.

What will have had to have changed to make this happen?

Most low income migrant workers are constantly surrounded by messages of their lower caste and their inability to break out of poverty. There can be no significant personal development until their self-esteem is rebuilt. To rebuild confidence, we help build voice. For example, at some point during each session, students take turns standing at a podium in front of the class and over time, the confidence grows. Another fundamental requirement for change is hope. At aidha we grow hope by helping all of our students ‘see’ and strive for their future, e.g, every student must define specifically what future she is looking for. The changes in financial management behaviour must also be persistent. There’s also a gulf between classroom learning and real life application. So, everything at aidha is about action learning. Our students must begin tracking expenses, opening that bank account, and depositing funds -these are key components of sustainable financial stability.

What has been the impact of your solution to date?

•Lives impacted: over 2000 students have now gone through our program since we first opened our doors. Each student represents an average of 4 to 8 additional family members benefiting directly from the savings built, the financial education received and the entrepreneurial skills acquired. This means that our program also directly impacts an additional 8,000 – 16,000 people in their own towns and villages.
•Financial Impact: our students adopt savings habits. Students have little or no savings when they embark on our program, but manage to save on average SGD$2,024 during the 9-month course. 9 in 10 aidha graduates continue to maintain a savings habit; most are regular savers who average SGD$216 per month, which for many represents more than 50% of their monthly income.
•Productive investments: 66% of aidha graduates have invested in 2 or more revenue -generating assets with their savings: land, livestock and building for business purposes - all are financed by their savings.

What is your projected impact over the next five years?

Currently, only 50% of the thousands of domestic workers in Singapore have 1 day off/month, meaning that many workers do not have the opportunity to attend aidha’s classes, which are held on Sundays. However, from January 2013, new regulations entitle all domestic workers to 1 day off per week, opening up a significant new segment of domestic workers who would then be available to participate in aidha’s courses.
•Lives impacted: We project to enrol 6670 students in the next 5 years. Counting the family members of each student, this will bring a total of 26,680 to 53,360 lives positively impacted.
•Financial Impact: Students will have built up SGD$13,5m in savings in the first module.
•Productive investments : 6670 new students will have invested in 2 or more income-generating assets.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

•Volunteers: there is a constant need to attract and retain volunteers with relevant expertise to teach our students, which we have managed to achieve by the innovating structure of our workshops, where our teachers are also mentors and take pride and responsibility for their class.
•IT platform: to operate more efficiently, we will need to develop a robust IT platform to manage all our students, volunteers, staff and donors.
•Funding: As a social enterprise, aidha funds 70% of its operating costs through course fees, whilst the remainder is met through fundraising. Maintaining this ratio is important, but can be challenging. However, as the number of students enrolled increases, economies of scale bring a more sustainable model that will bring aidha closer to self sustainability.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

Enrol, train and mentor 200 migrant foreign domestic workers employed in Singapore in aidha’s programme.

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone
Task 1

Engage in a successful student recruitment drive in Singapore through outreach and marketing

Task 2

Develop and nurture our partnerships with the embassies in Singapore that are home countries of the migrant domestic workers.

Task 3

Build up our volunteer team of trained mentors and computer workshop leaders.

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

Enrol, train and mentor 500 migrant foreign domestic workers employed in Singapore in aidha’s programme.

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone
Task 1

Increase our operational efficiency and administrative processes by developing our students/volunteers/donors databases.

Task 2

Develop of robust marketing plan to reach out the migrant domestic workers who will have a day off per week for the first time.

Task 3

Revamp the content and look of our website to increase visibility for potential students, volunteers and donors.

Tell us about your partnerships

aidha has successfully leveraged on our partnerships to engage various communities in Singapore, including businesses, universities, embassies and chambers commerce. Please refer to the section on awards and honors above for further detail.

Are you currently targeting other specific populations, locations, or markets for your innovation? If so, where and why?

The new regulation relating to the mandatory day off described in the paragraph on our 5-year impact presents aidha with a unique opportunity to reach out to thousands of domestic workers who previously did not have the opportunity to attend our programme and puts aidha in a phenomenal position for growth and scalability. In terms of expansion plans, the most natural target for aidha is to serve a similar constituency, but in a different location, such as Hong Kong, where aidha will be able to enrich the lives of thousands of domestic workers.

What type of operating environment and internal organizational factors make your innovation successful?

At aidha, we believe in the power of peers, that is, we provide financial education and build awareness of ‘how’, in the context of an enduring peer support group which ensures the practicality of the ‘do’. We leverage peer support, sustained ‘intervention’, the power of reward, and healthy competition. aidha women construct a community of friends who are accountable to one another (think ‘Weight Watchers’ or Alcoholics Anonymous). For example, once a month, aidha women announce their goals, challenges and successes to one another. There are cheers and tears and many rewards for achievement. This makes aidha’s programme unique and is one of the basis of its success.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list

Needs: classroom space, student/volunteer/donor database development, website development, marketing.
Offers: We can share expertise on our volunteer training. We can also explore the creation of partnerships with other organisations who serve low-income workers or similarly underserved groups which would be interested in replicating our curriculum for the benefit of the communities they serve.