Sarathi 

Bangladesh is the world’s second largest garment exporter, with the Ready-Made Garment (RMG) sector accounting for over 83% of the country’s exports and contributing approximately 16% to the GDP. The garment industry consists of more than 4,000 RMG factories and employs between four to five million workers of which almost 60% are women. Even though RMG the sector plays such a pivotal role in the economy of Bangladesh, only 34% of it was included in the formal financial system in 2016 when Swisscontact started to work towards the financial inclusion of RMG workers and their community members. The journey commenced with the “Sarathi – Progress through Financial Inclusion” project which promoted existing and customised market-based and scalable solutions. The project addressed various underlying constraints such as inadequate financial literacy and lack of access to formal banking services of RMG workers, inefficiencies of cash-based RMG factories, and lack of commercially viable business solutions for commercial banks to cater to the needs of the RMG workers. By 2021, thanks to notable government, industry, and private organization initiatives and the implementation of the Sarathi project, the financial inclusion rate of the RMG sector reached approximately 68%. However, within these five years, the financial sector of the country has also notably changed due to technological advancements. Adapting to these, Swisscontact through the “Sarathi – Improving Financial Health” project promotes access to modern, preferably digital, formal financial services that go beyond the possession of a bank account and improve the financial health of RMG workers and their community members.
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District Dhaka
23.810332
90.4125181
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District Gazipur 
24.0958171
90.4125181
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Narayanganj District
23.7146601
90.563609
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Tangail District
24.2513451
89.9167104
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Chittagong District
22.5150105
91.7538817
Project duration
2016 - 2023

The project

The Sarathi – Improving Financial Health project (November 2021-October 2023) aims at bringing Ready-Made Garment (RMG) workers into the sphere of formal banking services and improve their financial health. Good financial health allows a person to conduct day-to-day transactions smoothly, develop financial resilience and plan for a financially secure future. The project builds on previous project phases which focused on the wage digitisation of the RMG sector. Now that a large portion of the RMG workers which were previously considered as “unbankable” owns a bank account, the focus of the Sarathi project has shifted to promote customized, and preferably digital formal financial services in the RMG communities that improve the financial health of the RMG workers and community members. The promoted services include customized savings, insurance, and loan products. In addition, a new area of intervention aims at reducing RMG workers’ risk of losing their employment due to the automation in the RMG industry. Low-skilled jobs are usually the first to be cut. To improve their job prospects, the Sarathi project facilitates a skill upgrading training programme for low-skilled workers. Furthermore, interested women from the RMG communities can take part in an entrepreneurship training programme and receive support to start their own business. The project will conduct the following activities:

Component 1: Improving the financial health of RMG workers

  • Create digitized financial access points in the RMG communities in partnership with formal financial institutions.
  • Support formal financial institutions in introducing and scaling their micro loan, savings, and insurance products for RMG workers and their community members.
  • Partner with technology companies and international brands to create access to and promote good quality and affordable smart phones and tablets in the RMG communities to enable digitized financial transactions by RMG workers and their community members.

Component 2: Up-skilling female RMG workers

  • Facilitate the upskilling of low-skilled RMG workers, especially women, in partnership with the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) and international fashion brands.
  • Facilitate access to entrepreneurship training, incubation services and loans to aspiring women entrepreneurs.

Project goals

The project goals for the second phase (2021-2023) are:

  • 500 000 RMG workers and community members are reached through promotional and awareness activities.
  • 200,000 RMG workers and community members access the promoted formal financial health solutions.
  • 70,000 RMG workers and community members build regular savings.
  • 30,000 RMG workers and community members access short-term or long-term insurance plans.
  • 10,000 RMG workers and community members have a credit profile.
  • 1,100 female RMG workers complete a skills upgrading programme.
  • 400 aspiring women entrepreneurs from the RMG communities receive entrepreneurship training, incubation services and start-up loans from formal financial institutions.

Sarathi – Progress through Improved Financial Inclusion (2016 - 2021)

The Sarathi – Progress through Financial Inclusion project was one of the pioneering initiatives in Bangladesh that promoted the financial inclusion of RMG workers and their community members. It had done so by establishing effective partnerships with relevant stakeholders to promote wage digitisation, financial literacy, and access to suitable financial products that also benefited the RMG factories and commercial banks. Thanks to the project, RMG workers had for the first time access to formal financial services through their newly opened bank accounts, awareness regarding the benefits of formal financial services, and the necessary financial knowledge required to avail those services, such as formal savings and credit opportunities. The experience of designing and implementing sustainable business models helped Sarathi understand the industry dynamics and the needs of RMG workers and their community members, which now serves as a building block for the ongoing project.

Results (2016 - 2021)

  • More than 76’000 RMG workers salary accounts were opened in 49 RMG factories by four partner commercial banks, disbursing a total of USD 35 million per year in wages of RMG workers.
  • More than 200,000 people were made aware of the benefits of financial inclusion.
  • More than 17,000 RMG workers received financial literacy training.
  • Through the services from Sarathi’s four partner commercial banks, the project beneficiaries have access to a total of 113 Alternative Delivery Channels including 62 ATM booths, five fast tracks (ATM some banking services), 11 agent outlets, 20 POS terminals, 12 bank branches, and three RMG subbranches.
  • 10,000 digital transactions were conducted by RMG workers and their community members.
  • 8,000 RMG workers and their community members gained access to digital health insurance. 24,000 people availed doctor e-consultation.
  • 3,000 people gained access to a customised quick loan product.

Project partners

  • Bank Asia Limited
  • The City Bank Limited
  • Prime Bank Limited
  • Dutch-Bangla Bank Limited
  • Southeast Bank Limited
  • Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA)
  • 49 RMG factories
     

Financing partners

The Sarathi project is financed by the MetLife Foundation. It is part of the Swisscontact Development Programme, which is co-financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA. 

News

Bangladesh
Upskilling and reskilling
19.09.2022
MoU signed between Sarathi and Guardian Life Insurance Limited 
‘Sarathi- Improving Financial Health’ signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Guardian Life Insurance Limited (GLIL) to facilitate access to a customised health and life-embedded insurance product to 18,000 ready-made garments (RMG) workers and their community members within November 2022.
Bangladesh
Entrepreneurial ecosystems
17.07.2022
Sarathi Signs MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) with Nagad
‘Sarathi: Improving Financial Health’ signed an MoU with Nagad to promote and integrate digital financial services, especially digital transactions, into the daily lives of 17,400 RMG workers and their community members.
Bangladesh
Entrepreneurial ecosystems
07.07.2022
Paving the road to sustainable financial inclusion
Swisscontact Bangladesh and MetLife Foundation launched ‘Sarathi: Improving Financial Health’ to facilitate access to financial health solutions for low-income communities, especially RMG workers

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