Practitioners Perspectives // October 22,2021

Tapping the Female Advantage to Make a Difference at the Grassroot Level

Featuring: Parul Seth Khanna , Founder and Director – PinBox Solutions

Featuring:

Parul Seth Khanna Founder and Director – PinBox Solutions

Parul Seth Khanna is the Co-Founder & Director of PinBox Solutions (Pension-In-A-Box), a Singapore-based Fintech enterprise. The company is committed to supporting digital pension inclusion in developing countries. Her work takes her to interior Rwanda, India, Uganda, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and Kenya to design a replicable and inclusive model and for contributory micro pension programs. Time and again she continues to be amazed by the way Women Spearhead Change! Read on to find insights on rural impact through microfinance and how rural women can drive change and create a ripple effect in their communities. 

What are some of the insights from your media tenure that leaders can benefit from?

Indeed, I have worked with BBC World Service Trust, NDTV 24×7 and CNBC-TV18 producing and conducting talk shows and meeting different personalities from all walks of life. What I experienced there was the instant gratification that you get right after a successful show. It can be an exciting experience, peaks of action and preparation. And then gathering yourself up for yet another episode and another meeting with a new topic of discussion. This helped me understand “Flexibility” and “Agility” – two key drivers for leadership success.

Working in the media industry gave me access to people from all walks of life, and I learnt that for acceptance from the masses it is a fine balance between how one looks, sounds and acts. I dress accordingly and speak humbly and look at things from their point of view. The lens with which people view media professionals can be very different, and we must tone down, consciously prepare ourselves to meet people where they are, rather than thrust our opinions on them. This has taught me a valuable lesson of acknowledgement and appreciation of the perspective of others, before I jump to judgements. As a women business leader, I call this Empathic Accuracy and Emotional Regulation skills that helps people to co-create and achieve the collective.

What are the sustainable options in the Micro-Finance landscape?

Did you know that in most developing countries, less than 10% of the citizens are in the taxpaying category? 80% of the population in these countries are self-employed and hence shall not receive any benefits of pensions. Paying any meaningful old age security through tax funded transfers is not possible. Reports suggest, that by 2050, the biggest reason for global poverty would be old age poverty. And these numbers are true for most developing countries. What is important to understand is that, people are routinely living longer, and the traditional joint family system is slowly disintegrating. Women are even more vulnerable to old-age poverty, since they live longer than men, get lesser income in comparable jobs and are in-and-out of workforce due to childbirth etc. Hence self-help and thrift are the only sustainable options.

Our programs are holistic and drive home the importance of saving- long term and short-term which leads to adequate savings to enable a dignified old age. This is for those who can save small amounts.  We mostly target women, since frankly it is women who drive the change within their marginalized communities. They are the ones who meticulously save for their families and bring their network together and galvanize them into action. We conceptualize and implement innovative financial literacy models and strategies, as well as technology-led outreach platforms for micro-pension and micro-insurance inclusion in developing countries. We have developed and implemented “gift-a-pension”, the first P2P eCommerce platform globally for pension and insurance inclusion of home help (maids, drivers, guards, cooks) and blue-collar workers in garment export units.

What motivates you to be in this space?

I would say women and technology. Frankly the women and their earnestness, the impact, the way we touch lives is the most beautiful thing that I have ever come across. Also, the fact that I have been surrounded by inspiring women in the family, grandmother, mother and mother-in-law. My grandmother was orphaned when she was 5 years old, but she went on to educate herself to become one of the leading gynaecologists. And later she conducted exclusive free clinics for the poor. So, the inspiration is so much from within the family as well.

When we interact with women on the field who could be milk farmers or domestic workers or small shop owners or tailors, earning a decent amount, they aspire to have savings to reach their family goals followed by personal goals. This burning aspiration in these women is what motivates me. As some wise man once said, uplift women and you will uplift communities. And this could be the story of any woman in Latin America, Africa, Asia or the Pacific.

Another thing that excited me is the cutting-edge technology we use to make financial experiences for the emerging middle class very easy and intuitive. What we learn is that the ecosystem pieces required to enable pension inclusion and savings/insurance already exists. Banks, national ID, payments etc. What is important is to bring all this together as a glue, through a single-window interface to enable a consistent and sustained experience for this cohort.

What is the source for your learnings and what have they taught you?

Sports taught me to play fair and do my best. And it kept me occupied and totally focussed. It taught me discipline and the importance of physical and mental preparedness before tournaments. Most importantly it taught equality and to respect differences as background does not matter. On the field everyone is a player on the team.

These values unconsciously carried on to my tenure in the media stint, and there I learnt to look at things from the opposite side without judging. And presenting facts fairly and neatly to the reader without drama and doing things for TRP. I was true to the core of my business and was the champion of responsible media.

And now the learning is on daily basis, as I am discovering so much from the women whose grit and determination is worth emulating. I learn from my mother, that we should be a student at all ages. Until recently she was intimidated by gadgets, but now is most active on social media and does most of her financial transactions through online channels. And I equally learn from my 18-year-old daughter, who likes to use her social media to raise awareness towards the urgent need to sanitation and women’s hygiene products to villages across India.

What can leaders learn from sports? As a national level basketball player, you should know.

Absolutely, this is a pertinent question and we all can learn much from Sports. Sports or Leadership, these traits will go a long way in establishing your individual identity.

  • Perseverance – Never to give up at any stage and give it your all
  • Play Fair – Never compromise on values and always maintain integrity
  • Teamwork – Learn to work with a team of diverse individuals and talents
  • Physical & Mental Health – Maintain a good body to achieve mental agility
  • Practice – Continuous and rigorous training helps achieve goals
  • Preparation – Preparedness for the event in all dimensions
  • Focus – Concentration on the goals helps to stay on track and achieve

Savings is an important aspect of securing short-term and long-term goals. However, we also understand the need for credit facilities. Both have to go hand in hand. Given the recent COVID-19, no one was prepared for this pandemic. However, it is has taught us some valuable lessons –

  • To live in the present: Stay healthy. Assist and lift others. Play fair
  • Be prepared for tomorrow: Anything is possible. Be sensible and plan your finances and save. Keep the focus.
  • Secure the future: spend carefully today and always live with dignity

You are in an unorganized sector (rural economics) what can the corporate world learn from this?

Frankly, it is not dramatically different. We use the same principles and business logic. Corporates measure through profits and we measure by impact while making some profits. We both function with the same rigour and for similar results. Only difference lies in the customer segment we both target. For example: The FMCG sector sells a bottle of shampoo in a nicely packaged bottle and sells the same quality of shampoo in a sachet, without a compromise on the quality of the product nor the service in a more affordable manner. We do the same!

What would you wish to tell women leaders who want to be strong and successful?

Just one thing, don’t compare yourself with others, learn from others. Follow your dream and work hard to achieve it.

Book or mentor who has shaped you?

A book that has inspired me in the recent past is: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty (2011) is a non-fiction book by Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo, both professors of Economics at MIT. The book reports on the effectiveness of solutions to global poverty using an evidence-based randomized control trial approach. This book won the 2011 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award.

Tell us more about “Saving the Next Billion from Old Age Poverty: Global Lessons for Local Action” with William Price and Gautam Bhardwaj

What we realised while working in India and other countries, was that there were not much learnings between countries on their lessons, aspirations or domain knowledge on digital pension inclusion. What has worked and equally what has not worked. So, Gautam, William and I worked with authors from over 30 countries to write about what was happening in their countries on micro-pension and had a section on thematic chapters, discussing administration, regulations, payment, financial literacy. I must admit that the book was very well received globally, and we are now working on the second edition.

QUOTE IN FOCUS

A valuable lesson is the acknowledgement and appreciation of others’ perspective before I jump to judgements.  I call this Empathic Accuracy and Emotional Regulation skills that helps people to co-create and achieve the collective.

QUESTION IN FOCUS

How has your journey as a woman entrepreneur shaped you?

The journey has been exciting, and let me put it this way, there has not been a dull moment. To be in the inclusion space and then to drive cutting edge technology with a very simple and intuitive interface, to allow low-income individuals (especially women) to access financial services without the fear of fraud, is indeed a very gratifying experience. And this has had a great impact on me as a person, the feeling of being able to make a difference in someone’s life can be a very transformative experience. But I must add, it is not a walk in the park!

Parul Seth Khanna Parul Seth Khanna

Founder and Director – PinBox Solutions

Parul Seth Khanna is the Co-Founder & Director of PinBox Solutions (Pension-In-A-Box), a Singapore-based Fintech enterprise. The company is committed to supporting digital pension inclusion in developing countries. Her work takes her to interior Rwanda, India, Uganda, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea and Kenya to design a replicable and inclusive model and for contributory micro pension programs. Time and again she continues to be amazed by the way Women Spearhead Change! Read on to find insights on rural impact through microfinance and how rural women can drive change and create a ripple effect in their communities.

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In my career leading and building high-performing teams, I enjoy inspiring & coaching employees to unlock their potential for maximum performance. The team's success is my deepest delight. Global Coaching Lab provides the platform to put this into practice every day and fulfill my passion of making others great.




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