Sarathi – Progress Through Improved Financial Health

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. This industry encompasses more than 4 000 RMG factories and provides employment to approximately 4.2 million workers of which almost 60% are women. Even though the RMG sector plays a pivotal role in Bangladesh’s economy, only 34% of it was integrated into the formal financial system when Swisscontact started to work towards the financial inclusion of RMG workers and their community members in 2016. At first the project promoted scalable existing and customised market-based solutions. It addressed various underlying constraints, including inadequate financial literacy and lack of access to formal banking services by RMG workers, inefficiencies of cash-based RMG factories and insufficient commercially viable business solutions for commercial banks to cater to the specific needs of RMG workers. In the past three years however, the country’s financial sector has undergone notable transformations thanks to technological advancements. Simultaneously, the financial inclusion rate of the RMG sector reached approximately 68% by 2021 through the remarkable initiatives taken by the government, industry, private organisations and the implementation of Sarathi project.
District Dhaka
District Gazipur 
Narayanganj District
Tangail District
Chittagong District
Project duration
2016 - 2024

The project

The Sarathi – Progress Through Improved Financial Health project is dedicated to bringing ready-made garment (RMG) workers into the sphere of formal banking services and improving their financial health. Achieving good financial health empowers individuals to conduct smooth day-to-day transactions, develop financial resilience and plan for a financially secure future. Building upon previous project years that targeted the wage digitisation of the RMG sector, the project now expands its focus. With a significant portion of RMG workers, who were once considered unsuitable for formal banking services, now owning a bank account, the project evolved to promote customised and preferably digital formal financial services within the RMG communities. This strategic approach is geared towards improving the financial health of the RMG workers and their community members, promoting a range of services, including customised savings, insurance, and loan products. Moreover, RMG workers face the risk of potential job losses due to automation in the RMG industry. Particularly low-skilled jobs, mostly held by female workers, are usually the first to be cut. To improve their employability and long-term job retention prospects, the Sarathi project facilitates a skill‑upgrading training programme for low‑skilled workers, with a particular focus on women. Additionally, in an effort to enhance the economic resilience of women workers, especially considering layoffs, the Sarathi project supports entrepreneurship for women within the RMG communities. Interested women from the RMG communities can participate in an entrepreneurship training programme and receive support to start or grow their own businesses. The project has been conducting 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 (November 2021 – April 2024) are:

  • 500,000 RMG workers and community members are reached through promotional and awareness activities.
  • 130,000 RMG workers and their community members (50% women) use digital monetary transactions.
  • 15,000 RMG workers and community members (50% women) develop a credit profile (an electronic record of one’s credit activities).
  • 70,000 RMG workers and community members (50% women) have access to formal savings facilities.
  • 50,000 RMG workers and community members (50% women) have access to short-term or long-term insurance facilities.
  • 1,100 female RMG workers (60% women) complete a skill upgrading programme.
  • 500 aspiring women entrepreneurs from the RMG communities receive entrepreneurship training.

Project partners

  • Nagad
  • Guardian Life Insurance Limited
  • Dutch Bangla Bank Limited
  • Dutch Bangla Bank - Rocket
  • Dhaka Bank Limited
  • Bank Asia Limited
  • Waadaa.Insure
  • AGAM International
  • SWAP
  • Young Power in Social Action (YPSA)
  • Rajesh Bheda Consulting BD Pvt. Limited
  • 90+ RMG factories

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 and the Happel 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. 


Entrepreneurial ecosystems, Upskilling and Reskilling, Sustainable agriculture
Digitalisation in Development
Bangladesh has experienced a notable surge in digital initiatives in recent years, aimed at modernising its infrastructure, enhancing service delivery, and fostering innovation. In collaboration with local stakeholders and government agencies, Swisscontact is implementing several initiatives to further advance digitalisation, to enhance service delivery, promote economic growth, and uplift livelihoods.
Upskilling and Reskilling
Sarathi and Bank Asia Limited collaborate to promote micro-savings among RMG workers
Both organisations will jointly support RMG workers and their community members to improve their financial health through easy access to small-ticket-sized and women-friendly savings products.
Upskilling and Reskilling
Swisscontact's Sarathi Project and Dutch Bangla Bank Limited (DBBL) Collaborate to Empower RMG Workers Financially 
Swisscontact coins partnership with Dutch Bangla Bank Limited (DBBL) to encourage RMG workers to increase income through more secure means of saving

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