Financial literacy training has been a major area of focus for Label STEP Nepal since 2017. To expand the successful program, the team recently piloted a further initiative to offer digital financial literacy for weavers and to train so-called financial literacy champions to serve as role models for their communities.
Building an ethical and sustainable fair trade handmade carpet industry is a multifaceted process. The first step is monitoring and supporting producers to ensure they are following the necessary laws and regulations to create safe and equitable working environments. An equally important step, however, is ensuring the workers are informed and empowered – allowing them to advocate for themselves and meaningfully contribute to conversations regarding industry advancements.
As weaving is often done by economically disadvantaged members of society – for whom access to basic necessities and education is challenging – Label STEP decided to launch its now successful Weaver Empowerment program. This program is delivered in targeted educational modules that help weavers and workers develop the skills and knowledge needed to improve their living conditions and general wellbeing.
The modules include: Health and Hygiene; Lifestyle and Citizenship; Workers’ Rights and Responsibilities; The Carpet Industry; Education and the Rights of Women and Children; and Financial Literacy. These modules are not fixed and can be combined or customized to meet the specific realities of different weaving regions and the needs of participants. In Nepal, Weaver Empowerment programs have benefited over 7000 industry workers so far.
Financial Literacy Training
In 2017, STEP Nepal recognized that a key issue confronted by weavers was a lack of effective financial management. This is caused in part by a lack of experience and formal education training. A good number of weavers in Kathmandu are young and have little experience living independently away from their families. As they earn salaries for the first time, these weavers are not informed on how to make responsible decisions with their money, often instead spending a disproportionate amount on leisure and pleasure activities without amassing any savings.
Accordingly, the STEP team in Nepal decided to place particular focus on financial literacy workshops, which have supported more than 2000 workers (60% women) since they began. Weavers have expressed how these programs have aided them in setting savings goals, which allows them to better support themselves, their families, and their communities.
“STEP financial literacy programs have inspired me to save on a regular basis, even if it’s a small amount. […] I am able to earn some interest and lend part of it to my friends under financial duress.”–Yam, Weaver, age 48.
The continued success and demand for these programs led Label STEP Nepal to pilot an additional financial literacy initiative across 2022 and 2023. The updated program was designed to train so-called financial literacy champions, who could then serve as role models for fellow weavers, and to provide additional training in digital financial literacy for the weavers.
Digital Financial Literacy Pilot Project
For the pilot phase, 52 weavers working with 8 different exporters affiliated with STEP participated in the project. Over the course of two, four hour sessions, STEP, alongside representatives from Prabhu Bank Limited, Aria Technology (financial management app), and Khalti App (digital wallet), provided financial management skill training to the select weavers. The training sessions covered topics such as developing money mindset, the importance of income diversification, managing income and expenses, household budgeting, opening accounts in formal financial institutions and banks, and using Khalti (or mobile wallets) for payments.
The weavers were also trained on a free financial management app called Sampatti, by Aria Technology, which helps to prepare budgets, track income and spending, manage expenses and savings, and plan for retirement. It can also be used completely offline once registered, which is important for weavers in areas where access to the internet can be limited. The initial phase of the program showed promising results, with a number of weavers opening bank accounts for the first time and many registering on the available apps. To ensure its continued success, the local team continues to provide regular check-ins with weavers to offer the support required for navigating these new systems.
Sustainable Skills for the Future
It is STEP’s hope that, with these financial literacy skills, weavers and workers will be able to better manage their income, support their families, and plan for their future.
“I am now saving on a regular basis. I am better equipped for medical emergencies such as treatment of a younger brother who has an illness. I am also able to cover the current maternity related expenses of my wife.”–Jit, Weaver, age 24
Helping workers build their knowledge and skills has a positive effect on the health of the handmade carpet industry as a whole. Ensuring highly skilled artisans are provided with all the tools and supports necessary for their wellbeing helps to preserve this ancient craft and contribute to a sustainable industry for years to come.