Rich Returns From Poor Women Collecting Debts

Issue 10-09-17   |   Reviewer:   Thomas Coe


Power companies throughout the world are plagued with losses of revenue from either the illegal theft of electricity or the nonpayment of bills. These losses keep the power companies from being able to expand services or modernize equipment to lower costs.

In India, power companies have hired women to distribute and collect bills from customers in the country’s slums. There, the companies have put to work the graduates of their own grass roots literacy programs. They employed those gradates for another program, a local concept termed Abhas, meaning light. In this fledgling program, groups of women, who live in the same slums as the customers who cause the collection problems for the companies, are employed to distribute bills and collect payments from their neighbors. The success of the program has encouraged other women to enlist, for both the literacy programs as well as the potential employment.

The initial successes of this still small (hundreds in a population of over 1.25 billion) pilot program are so encouraging that the World Bank is seeking to mimic the program in other countries where governments and businesses have both a high level of illiteracy as well as a systemic problem with providing utilities and other services to the population (customers) and have the customers pay their bills.

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