Female Financial Freedom Across The Globe: Stanley Wong on LS&Co. and HERfinance

Levi Strauss & Co.
July 30, 2014

Kamala is a HERfinance peer educator in India. Prior to her enrollment in the HERfinance program, which promotes financial responsibility in the workplace, Kamala had little money in savings, and hardly a plan for the future. But upon enrolling, Kamala found out that saving money could bring her greater life security and a much brighter future: she’s now aiming to open up a store and run her own business. She no longer fears unexpected financial problems because she’s actively saving and investing in her future. As a HERfinance peer educator, she’s now teaching other women about the value of financial education and workplace empowerment.

This is just one of many success stories that have come out of the BSR HERfinance project—a relatively new initiative from BSR’s HERproject—which LS&Co. has partnered with since 2007. Aiming to empower worker wellbeing—and, especially, to support women in the workplace, HERfinance is educating low-income women around the world on how to be financially savvy and invest in their futures. These two programs along with the Levi Strauss Foundation’s ongoing work to improve the lives of apparel workers have served as the foundation for our Improving Worker Wellbeing initiative – which aims to go beyond the factory walls in addressing the needs of apparel workers.

Unzipped spoke with Levi Strauss Foundation Senior Program Manager Stanley Wong about HERfinance, LS&Co.’s partnership with the program, and our company’s mission to empower women in the global workforce.

UNZIPPED: What is the HERfinance Project and how is LS&Co. involved?

STANLEY WONG: The HERfinance initiative aims to bring low-income workers into the formal financial system and help them better manage their incomes. Based on Business for Social Responsibility’s (BSR) successful HERproject model, HERfinance links global brands, their suppliers, and NGOs to deliver a peer-to-peer education program on financial literacy to the world’s working poor. That includes the ability to understand how money works in the world: how someone earns their money, how that person manages it, how she or he invests it and how that person uses it to help others; as well as the set of skills and knowledge that allows an individual to make informed and effective decisions with all of their financial resources.

Like HERproject, which focuses on factory workers’ health, HERfinance is based on the premise that investing in worker livelihoods leads to tangible benefits for all involved. Levi Strauss & Co. is a brand partner that is piloting the HERfinance program and curriculum in two garment factories in Bangalore, India.

How does HERfinance empower women in the workplace?

In most sourcing countries, women make up between 60%-80% of the workforce in the ready-made garment and apparel industry. In many of these countries, the garment industry is where women first enter the workforce and become breadwinners. Women in the garment industry are either young and single, away from their rural homes for the first time, or married with children. Because of societal and cultural norms, their income is not in their control as these women may defer to parents or husbands.

From previous experience, we know that investing in worker livelihoods leads to higher worker morale and esteem. The program works by providing employees (women and men) with practical information about personal finance in a culturally relevant manner through a series of brief workshops. The employees selected to serve as peer trainers for the rest of the workforce and for members of their communities gain respect and esteem from this experience and training. This peer-to-peer model has the potential to create a powerful ripple effect for the women and men who participate.

Beyond the basics of financial literacy, the curriculum also coaches on how to talk about financial matters with family. This is a strategy to empower and enable women to take more control of their finances.

Who does the HERfinance currently benefit around the world?

At the moment, HERfinance is being piloted and operating in Brazil, India, Indonesia, and (soon) Mexico. It was originally piloted among garment and agricultural workers.

What success stories have you seen from HERfinance?

The HERfinance project is just completing its pilot phase (18 months or so). Some of the initial testimonials are very promising:

Why did LS&Co. decide to partner with HERfinance? 

Since 2007, LS&Co. and Levi Strauss Foundation has been a partner in the HERproject. The positive results and experience from the HERhealth program was one factor. Investing in and improving worker rights and well-being is a long-term goal and strategy of LS&Co. and LSF. Additionally, LSF is invested in “asset building”—the idea that, if given the right training, tools and opportunities, working poor and low-income people can save. Asset building refers to strategies that increase financial and tangible assets, such as savings, a home, and businesses of all kinds. Asset-building policy focuses on long-term development of individuals, families, and communities. HERfinance presented a good opportunity and an overlap of these two issues.

What have you loved best about working with the HERproject? 

Having been involved since 2007, it has been amazing how a simple idea to bring health information to working women evolved into something more. HERproject is breaking taboos and helping to reshape cultural norms. It is helping to build esteem and confidence in the participants, improving relations between workers and managers, and demonstrating the importance and value of investing in women.

For Kamala’s whole, extraordinary story, check out the video below—and for more moving testimonials about the power of HERfinance, you can find other incredible stories here.