Accelerating Pace in Solidaridad’s WomenConnect Challenge Project

Woman dairy farmer delivering milk at a Milk Collection Center promoted by Solidaridad

As constraints due to COVID-19 have eased since June 2020 in Bangladesh, Solidaridad’s field team has been stepping up field implementation of the project “Digital Inclusion and Empowerment for Women Dairy Farmers in Bangladesh“. USAID’s WomenConnect Challenge (WCC) was launched as part of the Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, a U.S. Government effort that aims to reach 50 million women in developing countries by 2025. Rolled out in February 2020, the project focuses on enhancing digital financial inclusion of women dairy farmers in Bangladesh and improving technical assistance for improved dairy farming through digital tools.

Dairy farming is the predominant source of income for rural communities in Bangladesh and most of the milk production is carried out by women farmers. Despite their heavy involvement in dairy farming, women rarely get their due recognition as dairy farmers. They also typically do not have any control over the money generated from the dairy business.

Through this project, Solidaridad will support 4,500 women dairy farmers in Khulna and Jessore districts to manage digital financial transactions, such that they receive money from the sale of milk in their digital wallets. The project will also build capacities of 8,000 women dairy farmers to learn and adopt improved dairy farming practices through the implementation of an Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system.

Women community mobilizers participating in training on digital payment systems and gender inclusivity

Adapting to the COVID new normal

During the early months of the project, the COVID lockdown posed severe constraints for the team to carry out field activities as planned. Nevertheless, to the best extent possible, the team continued to carry out several foundational activities remotely. When the lockdown was lifted, Solidaridad outlined appropriate measures and precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19, both among staff and project beneficiaries, and started implementation of field activities.

Over the past few years, Solidaridad has promoted the establishment of 15 Milk Collection Centers (MCCs) where women dairy farmers can sell the milk and get paid fair prices, based on the quality and quantity of milk delivered. As part of the current initiative, Solidaridad is developing a digital application called the i2i app that will collect data from the MCCs (quality and quantity of milk delivered, and the sale price of milk thereof) and link up to mobile wallets of women farmers, such that women are directly able to get the money owed to them.

So far, a beta version of i2i app with limited functionalities has been developed and installed in 15 MCCs for testing. Data related to women dairy farmers are being registered using the tool. A dashboard to display information such as farmers registered at the collection centers, milk quality parameters, number of farmers who have delivered milk, volume of milk, price etc. is also being developed.

Other features of the app such as sending data related to sale of milk and payments due to the women farmers via text and voice messages are also getting ready for testing. The app is expected to be fully functional with all its features operational by the end of December 2020.

Milk Collection Center entrepreneurs receiving training on the project’s digital payment system including bKash and i2i app

Capacity building on using digital financial management tools

Solidaridad has partnered with bKash, a leading mobile financial service in Bangladesh to provide mobile wallets for the women farmers. In the recent months, 75 women community mobilizers have been inducted into the project and are being trained in the practical  aspects of opening and managing a bKash account, so that they can, in turn, support the women farmers to set up and operate bKash accounts.

Since MCC operators are the ones who will update the famers’ records on a daily basis in the i2i app and follow up on making payments to women farmers through bKash, they have also been receiving training to use both i2i app and bKash systems.

Family members of women farmers being sensitized about the importance of financial inclusion for women 

Sensitization of family members to support financial inclusion of women farmers

For the digital tools to be widely adopted by the women farmers, it is important that their family members understand the importance of financial inclusion for women farmers and support them to use the tools. Hence, Solidaridad is training community mobilizers on concepts including gender inclusivity, women’s empowerment, digital inclusion, and financial management. The community mobilizers have started imparting the training at household level in the community.

So far, nearly 1,500 community members including women dairy farmers’ husbands, fathers, fathers-in-law and mothers-in-law have participated in these sessions. Project activities including registration with the MCCs, improved dairy farming, women’s empowerment, and dairy advisory services are also being discussed.

A woman dairy farmer outside a milk collection center in Bangladesh

Looking Ahead

A Human Centered Design study is underway to examine the needs and constraints of women farmers, to inform development of the IVR System and gather user feedback on the i2i app. Training sessions laying the ground for different project activities are being conducted, alongside the development of digital tools. Over the next couple of months, Solidaridad aims to complete development and testing of the digital tools, such that we can move towards their full scale implementation.

For further reading on this project: Solidaridad’s USAID-funded WomenConnect Project Gains Momentum

Read more about our work in Dairy.