Solution Overview & Team Lead Details

Our Organization

Frontier Markets

What is the name of your solution?

She-Leads Bharat Financial Inclusion Initiative

Provide a one-line summary of your solution.

Working with digitally savvy rural women facilitators and a made by women tech platform to identify, support, and connect small women businesses with digital inclusion, access market linkages, and financial services to elevate their income

Film your elevator pitch.

What specific problem are you solving?

 In 2017, 41% of rural women had an account with a formal financial institution, compared to 35% in 2014. In addition, the use of digital financial services is also increasing among rural women in India, with 21% having made a digital transaction in 2017, up from 9% in 2014. 

However, there is still a large gender gap in financial inclusion in India, with only 36% of adult women having an account with a formal financial institution, compared to 50% of adult men. This gap is particularly pronounced in rural areas, where only 38% of adult women have an account, compared to 53% of adult men.

  • Insurance: Insurance coverage for rural women in India remains low. According to the Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI), only about 34% of rural women in India have some form of insurance, compared to 43% of rural men.
  • Goal Based Savings: A survey conducted by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) found that only 29% of rural households in India have any form of savings, and only a small percentage of these households have savings specifically for specific goals, such as education or health. The same survey found that there was a gender gap in savings behavior, with only 22% of rural women reporting any form of savings, compared to 36% of rural men.
  • Credit History: Even though over 10+ million women today run small businesses locally to support extra income opportunities for families, due to the informal structuring their earnings, contribution is never recorded, making it challenging for them to build credit history and access low-cost and customized financial solutions.
  • Access: 165 million households in rural India lack access to safe and reliable electricity, smartphones, internet, agriculture tools, quality appliances to help improve their quality of life. Due to lack of mobility, women are not accessing solutions where they live. Companies have not built local infrastructure to directly engage with rural households regularly to gain insights on demands preventing them from curating the right products or designing the right marketing strategies. The lack of digital financing options also creates inflexible financing preventing customers from accessing money to help with their daily purchases.
  • Mentorship: Without effective mentorship, women miss out in several ways: lack of awareness about opportunities, business technical skills, capacities and confidence, and poor customer management skills.

 Root causes include persistent patriarchal systems and social norms which outcast women from power and the ability to influence program design, and the fact that today’s programs are often not fit for purpose or fail to reach rural women. 

Fintech solutions are unable to design solutions catered to women with a gender inclusive lens due to access, data, and understanding. 

Problem Statement

How might we design gender-intentional, technology-enabled financial products and solutions that would meet a variety of financial services needs of underserved women and help women increase their income.

What is your solution?

Frontier Markets is on a mission to create “Saral-Jeevan (an easy life)” among rural households, with rural women playing a pivotal role. This is a digital-economic-gender focused social access platform which achieves multiple outcomes to support the progression of India’s socio-economic index:

  • Generate sustainable and long-term income opportunities for women: leveraging power of women as community leaders and social influencers to enable households to make smart financial investments, and unlock women entrepreneurial potential to earn long term income for their families
  • Encourage ease of living for rural households: creating doorstep delivery of goods and services in healthcare, finance, agriculture, , e-gov social services, digital payments, climate solutions and e-commerce which are in demand in rural markets, as typical existing solutions fail to address rural markets either in their reach or focus on solutions needed by rural communities.
  • Informed, designed, navigated by rural women for women: Rural women generating opportunity and economic empowerment for women through facilitation of certification, skilling programs, surveys to understand womens’ livelihood requirements and delivering solutions - potential to become India’s largest rural platform driven by rural women for rural women.

This is all done through our innovative platform: Meri Saheli 

  1. Assisted Social Tech Platform to address data and digital divide: FM has a unique rural-friendly, women-friendly phygital (physical + digital) platform designed specifically to overcome the digital divide in rural areas and for scale through dashboards and analytics. FM onboards and trains rural women as “Saral Jeevan Sahelis” who in turn, using our FM Meri Saheli App, are paid to gather market insights, educate rural women, and facilitate quality services to rural women locally. 

Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

We are committed to embedding gender equity, diversity, and inclusion in our work across our conceptual framework and practices. Our approach is focused on empowering women in rural India through market linkages, livelihood enhancement programs, and capacity building.

Firstly, our Sahelis earn an enhanced income by facilitating market linkages for self-help group (SHG) women in their communities. These Sahelis are exclusively women from the same communities as the SHG women they work with, ensuring that our approach is sensitive to local contexts and cultural norms. They earn a fixed monthly stipend for data collection and progressively additional variable income through the market linkages they facilitate. This approach ensures that women in rural India have access to income-generating opportunities, and our Sahelis serve as role models and mentors for these women.

Secondly, our focus on three types of market linkage solutions in Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan (animal husbandry, farm production, and non-farm production) has led to 500,000 rural SHG women having enhanced income that supports their livelihoods. We prioritize working with women who are most marginalized and have limited access to resources and support. Our enduring outcomes pathway ensures that these enhanced income opportunities continue beyond our interventions, as all actors involved have a vested interest in continuing to engage in these activities.

Lastly, our Sahelis gather regular inputs from 35-50 SHG women, giving them greater voice in the design and implementation of livelihood programs. This deep gender lens is the foundation for our new livelihood program design and implementation. By giving rural SHG women the opportunity to voice their demands and needs, we can identify and address women's constraints and desires, bridging the digital divide, and slowly breaking down biases perpetuated by the deeply rooted patriarchal system.

This makes our approach at Frontier Markets centered on empowering women in rural India by providing income-generating opportunities, designing programs with a deep gender lens, and breaking down gender norms and barriers to digital access. Our work is anchored in principles of gender equity, diversity, and inclusion, and we are proud of the impact we have made in improving the lives of women in rural communities. 

How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

Frontier Markets is India’s Leading Social Commerce Platform with Village-Level Presence for Last Mile Customers. Its unique approach amplifies the voices of rural India, leveraging insights to adapt to the evolving needs of rural customers while driving economic value for women. It has a network of 22,000+ rural women entrepreneurs called “Saral Jeevan Sahelis” who are bridging access gaps to bring products and services like climate friendly and clean energy appliances, digital payments, agriculture tools and services, financial and healthcare services and even government solutions to their doorsteps.

Frontier Markets trains rural women to become Saral Jeevan Sahelis who use technology to onboard rural women on its platform, collect data and insights on their needs, and help explain various opportunities for rural women based on their deep connect to rural families

 

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This is the profile of the Sahelis work

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With end to end logistics, Frontier Markets has deployed leased micro facilities that are managing order fulfilment, operations and after sales service With an Open-Data Platform, Frontier Markets has integrated all services in a single-entry point to help facilitate training, collect surveys, conduct awareness campaigns, end to end marketplace from lead generation to fulfilment all with real time data management


Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Help gather, synthesize, or use relevant data to inform the design of insurance products tailored to populations at greater risk of facing shocks such as climate disasters, health-related shocks, and unstable markets

In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

Jaipur

In what country is your solution team headquartered?

  • India

What is your solution’s stage of development?

Growth: An organization with an established product, service, or business model that is rolled out in one or more communities

How many people does your solution currently serve?

 Frontier Markets covers over 5,000 villages in 3 states of India (Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra) and has sold more than 50 million solutions to 1 Mn rural households in the last 3 years. With a focus on the 950 million people in rural India who represent a $100 billion market opportunity, in partnership with the India government, it is scaling it’s efforts to reach 1 million women and 100 million rural households by 2025 becoming the one-stop solution to help rural women access all SDG related solutions, and showcase digitally savvy women as the driving force for impact - from climate, to healthcare, to education, to economic prosperity.

Why are you applying to Solve?

We are keen to leverage the might of MIT solve to learn from our pilots, develop stronger data capabilities, and also leverage the platform that Solve provides to connect with like-minded peers. The funding will definitely support our ability to invest in open-source insights, conduct workshops, and learning agendas about the power of gender-centric designing. 

In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Human Capital (e.g. sourcing talent, board development)
  • Public Relations (e.g. branding/marketing strategy, social and global media)
  • Technology (e.g. software or hardware, web development/design)

Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Ajaita Shah

More About Your Solution

What makes your solution innovative?

Frontier Markets' innovation is its combination of investing in women, innovative technology, and driving partnerships for market linkages all through a gender-lens, and data-driven approach. We have spent years understanding rural markets, the power of rural women, the roles that NGOs and government play, and where market solutions can become assets to support both access and economic opportunities for women. 

  1. The Saheli initiative recognized that women do not have 8-hours/day to work because they are mothers, household managers, community leaders and farmers – we wanted to design a program where she leverages her asset: her social understanding of her local village, and work where she lives for a few hours/day. She is also not a sales agent, but rather an insights builder, communicator, and problem solver. We understood her strength in being able to get deep insights from her peers to help us better design solutions. 

  2. The tech platform is vernacular, AI-enables, and designed by rural women – we did not want to create another “e-commerce” platform, but rather an integrated platform: it’s a work management tool, survey tool, learning tool, and market place- we wanted it to be easy to use, and understood by all – today, all partners are able to integrate into the solution – it’s a super app, and also a one-stop shop solution for users. Our contemporaries that are delivering services to rural India, whether it be e-gov services, e-commerce, agri-tech companies, today, are all connecting on our platform because the requirement is a trust network of women that can reach the last mile which is what we offer. 

  3. Our approach is more effective than traditional responses because it leverages the power of data analytics to drive decision-making through women. We are also focused on feedback loops, driving the choice of products proposed to serve rural customers’ needs best, and evolving based on their inputs. Our model leverages gender-inclusive data to co-design solutions with product or service suppliers, who then offer these solutions to rural customers via our tech platform.

We take a systems-level approach to tackling the challenges of income opportunities for women by acting as an intermediary partnering with government, NGOs and market-linkage solution providers all connecting through our tech platform.

What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and how will you achieve them?

In the next five years, Frontier Markets plans to complete its transition from a solution provider to a gender-smart platform that supports other solution providers in reaching and serving rural communities better.

We will do so predominantly through our systems change initiative "She-Leads Bharat", which set out to be the first open-source platform for rural women, creating one million economically empowered rural women digital facilitators and onboarding 100 million rural women customers on its platform by 2030. 

In the next 3 years, our goal is to build a platform of 100k Sahelis facilitating services to 10Mn rural families by partnering with 4 state governments, 30 NGO partners, and 100 solution providers. We have already onboarded governments in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, and Maharashtra, as well as anchor partners like Primus Partners, Sattva, and 46+ market solutions organizations.

To achieve this, Frontier Markets we have set 4 strategic priorities:

  1. Blueprint & Expand our footprint: Frontier Markets will build NGOs' capacity to become digital champions and onboard their women networks as Saheli’s. More languages will be integrated into the platform to make it usable by multiple states.

  2. Targeted roll out of solutions in 4 areas of focus: Frontier Markets will partner to onboard innovative market solutions in clean energy, healthcare, agriculture, financial inclusion, digital training, and social services. 

  3. (Re)shaping the S in ESG: Working closely with our rural women community and partners, our goal is to offer a more meaningful action agenda for social inclusion among the corporate and investor community, providing measures and agendas that reflect the needs and concerns of vulnerable populations.

  4. Collective resourcing & insight-driven action: Frontier Markets is committed to mobilizing greater capital to support vulnerable, rural communities in India, strengthening its learning agenda, and targeting more open-source insights for all to adopt gender-smart strategies, products, and services. 

Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 1. No Poverty
  • 5. Gender Equality
  • 7. Affordable and Clean Energy
  • 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • 10. Reduced Inequalities
  • 13. Climate Action
  • 17. Partnerships for the Goals

How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

Total Solutions Delivered: 50,000,210 Direct Beneficiaries in terms Women/Men/Child: 4,902,862 Saral Jeevan Sahelis (Women Entreprneeurs) created: 35,000 Total Income earned by Sahelis: 30MN USD Carbon Emission saved: 2.9Mn tons

▢ Indirect impact created on that period 

Indirect Beneficiaries : Women/Men/child touched in the villages by our effort: 11,071,000

  1. 35,003 Sahelis income increased by 30-75% since they joined the Program.

  1. 1,008,041 Customers in our catchment area got access to Quality Products & services enabling a savings on pricing of 9% by buying from the platform vs. status quo options 

  1. Capacity Building Program that we initiated in our catchment area in partnership with Google & Mahila Money through their Women Will program of entrepreneur building, we estimate about 10% of the women will convert into it. We trained 350,350 people,  35,003 women entrepreneurs are certified. 

  1. 2.9Mn tonne reduction of CO2 emissions

 Frontier Markets uses multiple methodologies, tools, and metrics to collect data and measure impact across its operations, including:

  1. Product, market, and demographics mapping: FM captures key metrics such as customer profiles, needs, value proposition, adoption/conversion ratios, promoter scores, and product feedback to deepen its understanding of rural markets and customers. This helps optimize the product portfolio and rollout efforts across rural geographies. The data is collected and verified by FM's Sahelis, or women entrepreneurs, onto the Meri-Saheli platform.

  2. Real-time tracking and CRM: FM's rural logistics data warehouse enables real-time tracking of lead generation, sales conversion, fulfillment, and last-mile deliveries. The platform captures all end-to-end activities done by the Sahelis themselves, providing a real-time ability to track their productivity and income. FM's robust data and information management system facilitates digital management and analysis of all transactions.

  3. Customized market and impact evaluation: FM partners with third-party organizations to conduct custom-designed impact studies on typical development challenges, such as the effects of climate change on rural households. FM's proximity to rural households enables it to surface trusted, last-mile data on such topics and give voice to rural women and households.

  4. Recurring in-house or third-party verified impact evaluations: FM conducts impact audits every 2-3 years in collaboration with investors and partners. These evaluations use qualitative and quantitative reviews with the Sahelis, who provide validation and verification of sensitive community and household data. FM uses visualization tools such as Quicksight and Power BI to analyze and report its findings.

These methodologies, tools, and metrics enable FM to build customer profiles, deepen its understanding of rural markets and customers, and evaluate the impact of its operations in a rigorous and ongoing manner.

What is your theory of change?

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Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

Frontier Markets leverages technology through their Meri Saheli App, a digital platform designed with rural women entrepreneurs. The app serves as a needs assessment tool, training platform, and marketplace all in one. The needs assessment solution is a customizable survey tool that enables real-time, local data collection for building customer insights to curate products and services. The training platform has customized training and certification content to help build the capacity for rural customers, while the marketplace integrates all kinds of services from digital payments, financial services, e-commerce, essential services, and social services in one location.

The user interface is designed in local vernacular language and is voice-enabled for a customer-friendly experience. Frontier Markets has developed a robust information management system that tracks consumer demand, spending patterns, market mapping, and penetration through the Saheli network on a household level, analyzing key metrics in-depth, real-time. The data is used to build customer profiles, recognizing the opportunity to build a life-time track record of a customer who will partner with the company to buy other products and services in the future as well.

Frontier Markets follows an agile software development methodology to build the solution incrementally using short iterations, so that the development process is aligned with the changing business needs. The technology mix includes a mobile app for field-level users and web for branch/head office-level users. This approach helps capture and access accurate data daily through Sahelis, leading to better product decisions and customer satisfaction while increasing wealth opportunities for rural women entrepreneurs. Access to real-time data is only possible because of the technology and innovation of the business model.

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Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new application of an existing technology

Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning
  • Big Data
  • Software and Mobile Applications

In which countries do you currently operate?

  • India

In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • India
Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

For-profit, including B-Corp or similar models

How many people work on your solution team?

150 full time, 10 part time

How long have you been working on your solution?

Our platform was created 5 years ago

What is your approach to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusivity into your work?

At Frontier Markets, we are committed to promoting gender equity, diversity, and inclusion in all aspects of our work. Our Board of Directors is composed of three exceptional female leaders, Ajaita Shah and Paula Mariwala, as well as an Executive Director, Sharda Balaji who bring a wealth of experience and expertise to our organization. Additionally, our Board Observers consist of three females, Eva Yazhari from Beyond Capital Ventures, Virginia Tan from Tejas Ventures, and Audrey Selian from Artha Impact, and three male representatives, Loic de Fontaubert, from Engie Impact Fund, Mukul Mathur from TPG Rise Fund, and Vikram Raman, from Schneider Impact Fund, who are all inspired and driven by our gender-lens focus.

Our Senior Leadership Team consists of eight members, with five females, including our founder and CEO, Ajaita Shah, and three males who bring a range of expertise in finance, technology, and operations. Our Head Office Team consists of 22 staff, of which six are female and 18 are male. We have invested in the training of our female staff in digital and marketing skills to create positions with a strong focus on career development, aiming to help them move to senior leadership roles.

We are dedicated to creating opportunities for development for all, proud of our commitment to gender equity and our diverse team of leaders, and dedicated to creating and enriched by the contributions of both our female and male team members.

Community Leadership & Protection: We have a 24-hour call center managed by local women employees who host a weekly leadership session for the teams to understand the voices from the field, as well as make recommendations on inputs on our work, and/or evaluate and audit what’s not working. We have also created a women’s council of leaders which incorporates all of the female staff that are working closely with Sahelis and customers to host a monthly strategy session with the leadership teams to manage the same goals. Our hope is to increase such participation in surfacing rural priorities and agendas through our She-Leads Bharat initiative.

Impact-linked Investment, Company Policies & Governance:

In our investor agreements, we have built in policies and mandates that are catered to inclusive, impact oriented focus. Impact goals are reviewed annually and are an integral part of how we work and report back to our investors, partners and other key stakeholders.   From a governance perspective, this has meant that we created three Committees - i.e., a Climate Committee, a Gender Committee, and an HR Committee, where expert advisors, board observers, and directors through which members hold the company accountable for annual metrics and goals that need to be achieved to ensure an inclusive, impact oriented system is in place.



Your Business Model & Funding

What is your business model?

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Detailed Break Up of the Strategy:

  • Leveraging our existing platform of 20K+ Sahelis and technology platform, we will work with more corporate partners to conduct Go-To-Market pilots, data assignments for driving insights on rural customers; Revenue strategy: service fees paid via contracts, leveraging 50% net margins – value: increase FM’s profitability, as well as increase income for Sahelis, and unlocking innovative products/solutions for rural customers , specificially women
  • Leveraging our technology platform and experience in driving economic opportunities for rural women, we will be working with NGOs, govt, and other channel partners to create more Sahelis via their networks - we launched an initiative to take this to scale called “She-Leads Bharat” as a coalition to onboard 100K Sahelis and 10 million households on the platform to channel vital products and services by 2027. The platform builds the capacity of the NGO to use their own network to make Sahelis, while unlocking govt working capital for women entreprneeurs, and brings all market solutions to rural women. Revenue strategy: FM gets paid upfront by NGOs’ funders as a technical assistance model for 12 months, while also bringing Sahelis on the platform to unlock GTMs, and commerce. Value: instead of leveraging equity capital, FM is able to access revenue to build the Saheli network, we reduce turnaround time for creating Sahelis, we help sustain NGOs with income opportunities. 
  • Leveraging our tech platform and overall network, we will now work on driving more solutions on the platform to increase the value of goods we offer by partnering with e-commerce, and B2C platforms in agri, finance, and more. Instead of waiting for revenue to come via Sales, FM will be charging partners a 1% marketing fee (monthly) to use the platform for services. FM will be able to work ith Sahelis to get targeted feedback on solutions and provide inputs to partners help truly ensure product market fit.

Product and Service

Description

Agriculture

Partner with DeHaat, Big Haat, Samunati who are aggregators and have delivery, FM plays the role of demand creation

Clean Energy Products

Introduce all types of clean energy solutions on the platform via CEEW, CPI, Vilgro, SELCO to support a larger connect to services, and then provide delivery on credit from suppliers

Energy Efficient Durables

Partner with E-Comm platforms and conduct demand generation as they have their own delivery partners

Digital Financial Services

Loans, Insurance, Savings, with lens of gender, health, and climate.

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)

What is your plan for becoming financially sustainable?

We have been focusing primarily to get paid for the work we do, building a network of women through NGO partners, we get paid for digital transformation, we get paid for data and insights to help companies access better understanding of rural customers and their need, and we also earn income on facilitating transactions via margins. We also work closely with government, and bringing together blended capital through impact investors. We believe grant funding is critical to support innovation and disruptions to drive deep impact, but the business model can be sustainable. 

Share some examples of how your plan to achieve financial sustainability has been successful so far.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2022

2017

2018

2019

2020

2021

(Projection) (7)

(Actual) (2)

(Actual) (3)

(Actual) (4)

(Actual) (5)

(Actual) (6)

 

 

761644

1276712

1065753

2309589

2232877

3631507

Earned Income (1)

 

                                    -   

                                    -   

                                    -   

                                    -   

                                    -   

                                    -   

Grants (2)

 

                                    -   

                                    -   

                                    -   

                                    -   

                                    -   

                                    -   

Government Support (3)

 

                        761,644 

                    1,276,712 

                    1,065,753 

                    2,309,589 

                    2,232,877 

                    3,631,507 

Total

Revenue (4)

 

                          303,448 

                          966,640 

                      1,056,164 

                      2,229,781 

                      2,177,280 

                      3,598,612 

Total Costs (5)

 

                        458,196 

                        310,073 

                            9,589 

                          79,808 

                          55,596 

                          32,895 

Total Profit (Loss) (6)

 

                        526,856 

                        906,113 

                    1,114,873 

                    2,364,158 

                    2,667,779 

                    3,937,417 

Current Assets (7)

 

                        914,689 

                    1,251,118 

                    1,453,829 

                    2,635,573 

                    2,957,989 

                    4,562,732 

Total Assets (8)

 

                        256,777 

                        642,594 

                        462,268 

                        533,150 

                        138,771 

                        249,086 

Current Liabilities (9)

 

                                    -   

                                    -   

                                    -   

                                    -   

                                    -   

                                    -   

Debt (10)

 

                                    -   

                        296,572 

                    1,111,228 

                        750,000 

                    1,932,055 

                    1,852,397 

Solution Team

 
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