This article was originally drafted by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy for Issue 14 of the newsletter “Asian Trends Monitoring Bulletin” as part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Searchlight Process. For more Searchlight content on futurechallenges.org, please click here.
“Without aidha, I would not have achieved the goals for my future” says Norma, at aidha’s 2011 graduation ceremony. “I have developed a confidence in myself and now I can speak in front of many people. In the compass (savings) club I’ve learned how to budget my expenses and monitor my remittances; now I can say a big “no” if they (family) ask for money for no reason”. Around 100 foreign domestic workers like Norma attend aidha, a micro-business school for migrants located in Singapore, every Sunday to build the self confidence, financial literacy and business skills necessary to start their own business back home, expand their economic opportunities and end the cycle of contract migration. Over 1,200 students have enrolled in aidha’s programmes since its founding in 2006, hailing from the Philippines and Indonesia and increasingly India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and China. It is not uncommon for foreign domestic workers to have no savings after 10 or even 20 years of working in Singapore, as was the case for Susana, an aidha student. But, after nine months of the compass club and armed with budgeting techniques and her first bank account, she managed to save $960 that she is setting aside to establish a piggery business in the Philippines. The concrete impact of this programme is clear: on average, aidha students manage to save around $240 per month, just over half of the mean monthly salary. A recent survey with compass club alumni showed a 100% savings rate after completion of the programme.
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aidha’s curriculum is designed to leverage peer support with the assistance of mentor volunteers, with the first nine months comprising of computer workshops, a compass (savings) club and leadership clubs, modeled on the toastmasters format to build confidence and public speaking skills. During the second 9-month component, students continue to attend leadership clubs, as well as advanced business IT skill workshops, like advanced powerpoint and business accounting. From October 2011 students will participate in venture clubs, a revised entrepreneurship programme organised around the analysis of real-world business cases, a learning approach employed in the world’s most prestigious business schools. Video case studies developed by aidha will be screened to provoke discussion on all aspects of business planning from strategy, marketing, operations and business finance, affording practical insight into business problems and solutions and skill and confidence in problem definition. Importantly, students will also be introduced to a powerful set of role models in the case protagonists. It is aidha’s vision that the venture clubs result in the creation of hundreds more businesses in the Philippines, Indonesia, Burma and India following the success of aidha’s prior entrepreneurship course. A recent alumni survey of 52 entrepreneurship graduates revealed that 66% had invested their savings in two or more income-generating assets (e.g. land for business purposes, livestock, transport). Over 60% had previously set up a business, with 79% of these businesses still running and generating an average of S$361 monthly profits, a substantial sum in the Philippines and Indonesia. For 9-in-10 business owners, this was sufficient to support the monthly expenses of their families either partially or fully.
Looking ahead, aidha aims to scale up the delivery of the programme globally in areas where low-income migrants are concentrated, with the establishment of a branch in Abu Dhabi being the first step in this direction. aidha’s goal is to bring financial literacy and entrepreneurship training to 250,000 low income migrants worldwide by 2015 via a scalable learning programme that does not require subject matter experts (business school professors), but trained volunteer mentors that can help students to articulate and work towards self-defined goals. A major future challenge involves adapting to a rapidly evolving social enterprise funding landscape; alongside aidha’s first marathon fundraising campaign, the team is focusing its research efforts in quantifying the programme’s outcomes in anticipation that philanthropic donors and listings requirements for social stock exchanges will demand more and better performance metrics.