Artoo Through Fresh Eyes

Three weeks ago, I arrived in India for the first time, eager to gain as much exposure as possible to social entrepreneurship in a country bustling with entrepreneurial spirit. I got this chance through an internship with Villgro Innovations Foundation, an incubator for early-stage social innovation. Excited and a little nervous, I wasn’t exactly sure what my experience would be. Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Artoo, which is one of the social enterprises that Villgro supports. The visit taught me two lessons: first, talented social entrepreneurs are in abundance in India, and second, they work with an authentic commitment to serving the poor.

The problem that Artoo strives to solve is not one that I was familiar with before arriving in India. I learned that loans from financial institutions are less accessible to bottom-of-the-pyramid (BoP) populations in India (and other low- and middle-income countries) in both urban and rural settings because of systemic and physical barriers. Financial institutions have a network of field agents in place to increase the accessibility of loans for BoP populations, but the paper-based process that field agents rely on is inefficient and is typically stunted by avoidable delays.

Screenshot 2016-07-15 16.19.08

Artoo is tackling this inefficiency by providing a paper-free, mobile-based platform for field agents from financial institutions to help them reach BoP populations. The digitization of the loan process avoids delays encountered in the paper-based process, like transportation time. The platform includes digital tools to cover each step involved in the provision of a loan, with specific products designed for financial institutions and their field agents to monitor the transaction.

Touring around the Artoo office, I was impressed by the level of talent of the people I met. Anubhav, a data analyst, showed me extensive and dense sets of data collected for each of Artoo’s customers each month to analyze field agent performance and productivity. Filled with graphics and lots of numbers, it was evident that the financial institutions that Artoo serves are well-informed. Shilpa, Artoo’s only in-house designer, showed me her hand-drawn mockups for the design of the Artoo website, and then demonstrated how she turns those designs digital. The attention to detail was impressive. Then I was led into a room with about a dozen people sitting in front of computer screens filled with code. Each developer described what he was working on before turning back to type out seemingly endless lines of code on his screen. The room gave off the impression of a well-oiled machine, with each person contributing to the smooth overall operation. By the end of the tour, it was obvious to me that Artoo employees are capable and skilled.

Discussions with my hosts, Thuy and Mradula, and Artoo’s co-founder, Sameer, demonstrated the company’s commitment to serving BoP populations. The energy with which Thuy and Mradula explained the problem that Artoo tackles, and its solution, was exuberant; their eyes lit up as eager smiles spread across their faces. Talking with Sameer about his strategic vision for Artoo and the opportunity he recognizes to make a meaningful difference in the lives of BoP populations was inspiring. It was invigorating to engage with people who clearly care deeply about serving BoP populations.

I am grateful to the folks at Artoo for hosting me and helping me understand part of the social entrepreneurship ecosystem in such a vibrant country as India. The lessons that I learned from my visit to Artoo provided me with the experience I had hoped for as I planned my trip to India, and the opportunity to gain this exposure firsthand is invaluable for me as I continue to explore social entrepreneurship. I am especially excited for Artoo’s future, because my visit showed me that Artoo has some of the key tools for success: talent and passion.

About the author:

Rebecca Singer | Villgro’s Intern

Rebecca Singer is a budding social entrepreneur interning at Villgro Innovations Foundation, an incubator for early-stage social innovation. Rebecca is currently completing her studies at Princeton University, USA, where she studies Music.
AAEAAQAAAAAAAAMKAAAAJDJhYjk4N2E3LTNmNGUtNGFiMS1iNjgwLThjYmRiNDA2MjY5NQ

Artoo & Ujjivan: The six-year journey and beyond

Around the same time as Artoo celebrated its 6th birthday, our long-term partner and first client Ujjivan started its journey of becoming a Small Finance Bank. The giant step was met with initial phenomenal success, when Ujjivan made its first Initial Public Offering (IPO), which was oversubscribed over 41 times and considered the most successful microfinance IPO in India’s history. At the cusp of our 6th year milestone and Ujjivan’s success we pause to reflect on our relationship with them.

13247934_1062477813787279_2804733488374788835_o
Ujjivan’s IPO. Source: Ujjivan.

The success of Ujjivan is a powerful statement about the value of providing financial services to the economically active poor, and the importance of digitizing such a business model from an early-stage. The underlying Ujjivan ethos has always been an innovative one. And it was this ethos that encouraged a startup like Artoo to build a one of a kind solution for financial inclusion.

In the August of 2014, Ujjivan successfully tested its first pilot with Artoo. Their foray into mobility solutions two years ago also marked the reinvention of the individual lending process, which was one of Ujjivan’s key market differentiators. The ambitious pilot spanned over 2.5 months, and Ujjivan disbursed 700 loans worth Rs.5 crore on Artoo’s platform.

“From a strategic perspective, we definitely need a handheld solution to improve our data quality and productivity. The field users embraced Artoo’s technology as it helped them reduce error rates and TAT (Turn around Time), and improve productivity. The pilot results are encouraging.” (Mr. Samit Ghosh, Ujjivan CEO)

Ujjivan was always a strong visionary in advocating and pursuing digital revolution to improve its field operations and Artoo was the first to convert their vision into reality.

Individual Lending (IL) has been Ujjivan’s turning point and will continue to be a solid base for their future growth. Artoo’s LOS has been playing a key part in digitizing the IL domain, and hence Ujjivan can confidently boast of being digitally advanced in this space despite the emergence of competition.

“Basically we look at the future, growth is going to come mainly from our individual lending to the micro SME sector and also for housing… Irrespectively of competition mounting on the digital front, we are already pretty advanced in digital technology.” (From Mr. Samit Ghosh’s interview on CNBC-TV18)

Today, as Ujjivan ushers into small finance banking operations, it’s decisively integrating its IT infrastructure and implementing core banking solutions by investing more than Rs.300 crore and partnering with several big names in the IT industry over the next five years. On 7th May 2016, the current and future technology partners of Ujjivan were invited to celebrate these new beginnings. This event was special because it showcased Ujjivan’s belief that technology is core to their business and how they identify themselves with innovation. It was a special moment for Artoo as we were invited to share the space with Wipro, Infosys, Cisco, Oracle, Microsoft, IBM, CRMNext, IndusSoft, and CraftSilicon. Veterans in the Banking, Financial services and Insurance (BFSI) domain were a prominent sight in the audience.

“To support the high volume business and to meet security and compliance requirements of different regulatory authorities, strong and secure systems are required at the core. We have selected all proven softwares in Banking Technology after carefully evaluating each system for the specific requirements. We are creating a strong IT backbone for the upcoming Small finance bank.” (Mr. Deepak Ayare, Ujjivan CIO)

These words of Mr. Deepak Ayare, Ujjivan CIO reflect how he envisioned this event to be an evening in the company of all partners to meet and collectively work towards one goal, that is, help Ujjivan lay the foundation of banking-level technology with the no or few hiccups. It was obvious that everyone should see each other as partners rather than competitors.

2016_may_story2_4
Sameer is one of speakers at Ujjivan’s IT & Mobility kickstart for its proposed Small Finance Bank. Source: Ujjivan.

Sameer spoke about his relationship with Ujjivan at this event. He first saw Ujjivan as an intern, where Kavita was already an employee for 3 years.

Ujjivan has been a great partner for Artoo, someone who is extremely innovative and ahead of the curve. When no one else believed in technology or smartphones, Ujjivan gave us a chance and was willing to try out something new. We identify ourselves with Ujjivan because they have become leaders from ground up. Their underlying spirit, the energy that drives them, it’s all centered around a sense of responsibility, right from the senior management to the front-line staff. We also envision our future in collaborating with other tech companies who could be our partners and allies in delivering complete digital lending solutions, besides supporting Ujjivan to be a strong technology-driven bank in the future.” (Sameer Segal)

Ujjivan’s IL is now fully digitized, and Ujjivan now captures the entire end-to-end loan process in a single visit, which has been pivotal in reducing operating costs and improving productivity. It is proven that digitization is the only way forward for such businesses and that without digitizing field processes, automation of back end processes is meaningless. When mobility solutions are inclusive to the end-user, it becomes a powerful value driver for a financial institution. Artoo firmly positions itself as an undisputed leader of the digitization development in this sector.

IMG_4764
Fully digitized Individual Lending at Ujjivan

Congratulations to Ujjivan for the new venture, and we’re happy to be a part of their new journey. From a pilot to a complete digital LOS, we have scaled the distance with them. Ujjivan envisions empowering the borrowers as their key strength, which also resonates with our ideologies of bringing technology and its innovations to the people who need it the most.

MFN 2016 Annual Meeting Report

Slide1
“The world is not binary. The future of microfinance will not be all agents based, nor will it be all self-service. There is a space where technology can coexist with, and even enhance, human interaction.”

Keynote by Sameer Segal

We invited Sameer Segal to the 2016 Annual Conference to get us closer to the emerging “fintechs” that are often a mystery to the MFIs. Sameer is the founder and CEO of Artoo, a Bangalore, India based startup that complements the MFIs by using inclusive technology to empower loan officers, improve end-to-end processes, and increase customer satisfaction. At its core, Artoo is a financial customer relationship management platform (“CRM”) that allows MFIs to manage the entire customer lifecycle from loan sourcing to post-disbursement servicing, all on a single platform. To date, Ujjivan, India´s third largest MFI, is successfully using Artoo´s technology. Sameer, the 29 year old CEO and founder of Artoo, shared his experience launching and developing this technological solution. The participants were left wondering how someone who knew little about the MF industry five years ago could come in and develop relevant solutions that serve our clients’ needs within a short period of time.

Artoo was born out of a summer internship Sameer did with Ujjivan, where he wondered why the world´s most intuitive technologies could not be applied to the bottom of the pyramid. His fresh entrepreneurial spirit allowed him not only to understand the problem and identify the opportunity to reengineer the end-to-end customer relationship process but also to come up with a valuable solution. He observed how established companies tend to automate existing processes and noted that many companies make the mistake of simply digitizing everything that is on paper and moving it to a tablet, but not enough companies spend sufficient time on thinking how a process should be redesigned once technology is involved (re-ordering steps, eliminating steps, inserting new steps etc.)

Slide1
As for the process of developing Artoo, Sameer highlighted the importance of iterative learning on building an impactful business. For example, he explained how the initial designs of the Artoo software for tablets demonstrated that it was not possible to please everyone, thus their design decision-making processes were focused on tradeoffs between the size of the device (male loan officers wanted larger displays while female loan officers cared about the weight of the device and wanted it to fit in their handbags), battery life (management wanted 8 – 10 hours) and features (customers wanted videos on the device to provide more information).

SameerSameer also talked about the challenge of building an entrepreneurial team, integrating people with specialized and complementary skills, and how entrepreneurs need to have skin in the game, for example, he stopped drawing his salary when in the initial phases Artoo only had 6 months of money in the bank.

Sameer is highly optimistic about the future. He is open to taking Artoo in various directions depending on how opportunities present, but at the same time he has it very clear that the company needs some strategic anchors around which it should grow. He calls these Artoo´s “north stars and guiding lights”, and defines them as three simple principles:

  • How do we make field staff happy?
  • How do we dramatically change economics of this model and its business results?
  • How do you radically improve the experience of the borrower?

This was a session in which we could radically contrast the speed and frugality with which an entrepreneur operates, versus the abundance of resources and slowness of mature MFIs entrepreneurial processes. We were quickly reminded of the early days of microfinance, when we were entrepreneurs finding a new business model to serve our clients. The session left us with a sense of urgency to rekindle our entrepreneurial spirit. We were also reminded that we are not alone in this pursuit, if we open our eyes to the world of financial inclusion around us there are great opportunities. We can get the best of both worlds if we are apt to find suitable partners with whom we could ally to build the solutions of the future.

Click here to read the full report.

2016 HasGeek Rootconf

26470346061_34f11b863b_z

Rootconf is an annual conference on DevOps and Cloud infrastructure spearheaded by HasGeek, which regularly conducts tech conferences and workshops. We missed an opportunity to showcase things at #rootconf about we have learned on managing Artoo infrastructure over the last year, but Shameer and I were excited to join in for couple of fun days. In addition to learning new things, we were looking forward to interact with like-minded people who were doing exciting stuff around DevOps and Cloud.

Rootconf cable
RJ45 cable used as Rootconf’s ID tag

Although I am not sure if this has already happened at other HasGeek events, but this year’s rootconf had a few interesting things to offer. The RJ45 cable was used as the ID tag holder, and a swarm of new-age Bangalore food start-ups served us food in lieu of food tickets.

People often complain about food at large events; however, our options were plenty and delicious at this year’s Rootconf.

Of the talks lined up at the event, I suppose there was a concerted effort to showcase higher quality talks on varied subjects, and speakers across the globe shared their experiences and interesting projects with us.

It was delightful to be a part of some good panel discussions on DevOps and databases in parallel to the talks stream. People shared their DevOps experiences with regards to system failures, disasters, and good design practices. At Artoo, we are adding more components and functionality to our software stack and have been looking around for best practices around system design, handling failures, performance and stability of the whole platform.

Some of the key takeaways from the conference around these ideas were:

  • 26470308721_cf83b277ed_zEmbrace failure and try to build systems that work even amid systemic breakdowns: This espousal runs contrary to what a new engineer would try to do: write code for all edge cases and try to control all parts of the system. This was a talk by Antoine (linked below), where he spoke about how we should go about planning systems considering that they would always keep crashing or running into some issues and yet how to continue achieving their functional goals. It spoke about managing communication and state across components in a system.

  • 26263596630_8c9f817ec7_zSimplicity (code, organisation): Continuing from the previous talk about simple components and communication, we then got into simplicity in the organisation communication and structures. The interaction between developers and operations at Snapdeal to maximize quality and output was captured very well by Yagnik in his talk. He sympathised with the DevOps crowd quite well and had a light-hearted take on this bitter-sweet relationship. For instance, he presented a slide where DevOps people were identified as faces with a blank look and long beard (When he said this and I looked around at the audience, there were quite a few people who met this description and were now smiling).
  •  26470359491_2c7e1e08e9_zLook for general problem solvers (example: SRE): This was from the DevOps panel discussions about how to approach and acquaint DevOps for people new to the field, how to hire people, etc. There were also brief references to Google’s Site Reliability Engineer role specs, which were released and made public recently. The emphasis here was on looking more for general problem solvers and moulding them rather than looking for an experienced full-time rockstar DevOps person, especially for startups. It was more of a debate on whether one should hire a person with pure skills on the infrastructure part or get people with superior cognitive abilities. Aditya Pattawari from Browserstack summarized it in a few words, “If we are hiring 10 people for a team of DevOps, we should have 2 of them who are completely experienced and have worked on a great deal of things in infrastructure, whereas the remaining 8 can be the problem solvers with high cognitive abilities, who are quick enough to grasp teachings from the 2 experienced ones.” “Dont rely on the 2 guys to stay for long though,” he chuckled.

I was thoroughly impressed by the sheer depth of knowledge of the people around me. What personally intrigued me was their capacity to unlearn and relearn. After the talks, we spoke to some interesting people and even distributed our fancy new Artoo bookmark. A few of them had specially flown down from the across the globe for this event, and we shared and discussed our experiences.

IMG_20160530_163859
Artoo bookmarks

Inspiration from: https://rootconf.in/2016/

My personal favorite talks from the conference were:

  •  Crash-only software (Digital Ocean, Antoine Grondin): A talk on what crash only software is, why you want it and how to implement it, with examples from large scale deployments at DigitalOcean on how to design for graceful handling of failures.
  •  An extension to the chaos engineering from Netflix (Netflix, Diptanu): The talk introduces Chaos Engineering and focuses on how complex distributed systems fail in large scale internet services. It discuss patterns and various techniques for designing highly aperatiovailable and resilient distributed systems that can heal from transient failures.
  • Managing the developer to ops communications (Snapdeal, Yagnik): The talk is intended to help understand how to scale operations and developers with the help of cultural and process changes that allow you to innovate faster with higher accountability and reliability.
  • Continuous deployment at scale (Etsy, Premshree Pillai): Learning about optimizing everyone’s productivity and happiness while building products at scale, through software tooling and culture.
  • PostgreSQL and MySQL war stories (Srihari and Colin): The first talk is about the failure scenarios we designed for the Postgres database cluster, the times when the designed system failed, and what we learnt from them. The second talk is about the MySQL ecosystem, which offers plenty of solution albeit with tradeoffs and how to look at all of the alternatives in an unbiased nature.

26464460592_797d337df4_z

For the complete list of talks and videos at the Rootconf
https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL279M8GbNsevAmMGz5SKSGDOQdQdlhBcq
For further reading on rootconf:
https://kushaldas.in/posts/event-report-rootconf-2016.html

About the author:

Shrivatsa Swadi | A Mobile Engineer (Geek)

Shrivatsa is a full stack developer at Artoo who supervises and mentors the engineering team. He is passionate about using technology to bring changes on the ground, especially to benefit those outside the grid.

Shirvatas

Artoo turn 6! – Looking forward

Slide1

Birthdays are a time for reflection. It’s a time to celebrate the creation of an entity and nurture its existence. Artoo birthdays are always special. It’s an Artoo tradition to celebrate birthdays differently each year. Last year, it was a picnic on the rainiest day of the decade in Bengaluru, with football and barbecue in tow. True to our innovative self, this year we decided to have a video competition about Artoo’s sixth birthday. The idea was to capture our wishes and hopes for Artoo as well as showcase why team Artoo is diverse and quirky. Although we had multiple projects going on in this month, we did find time to celebrate our birthday amidst all the serious work. Our families have been our support system since Day 1. It was wonderful to have them together again for a potluck evening with all of our friends. We were very pleased that our families and friends, could come to encourage us yet again, that too with all our favourite snacks.

The evening began with an introduction to Artoo by Sameer and Kavita – the work we do and the plans for the future. We became nostalgic of the year that had passed by when our milestone slideshow played. Each one of us came up to speak about one or more memory – fund raising, scaling to 400 branches and 4000 users, field visits, conferences, our rapidly growing team, and much more. We couldn’t have felt prouder reminiscing all that such a small team was able to achieve in the last year. We ended the evening with a  video collage of – investors, advisors, people of Artoo and friends of Artoo – wishing and sharing some wonderful moments and beautiful messages. Chetana and Anubhav were crowned the winners for their impeccable parody of team Artoo. It was funny, emotional, and a proud ride for us all at the same time us.

While we deck up the treehouse with love and fervour, we look back at all that we have done in the last 6 years. The one thing that has never changed at Artoo in these six long years is doing our best to make a difference for the better. We are driven by empathy and understanding that will translate into our products and services. But what matters most now is what we do next. The future belongs to those who create it, and we are committed to building a better future and be the voice of our users. We plan to disburse Rs. 3000 crore this year. With the simple principles in doing our business which we usually call them as “North Stars and guiding lights”, we are built to last and are working on dramatically changing the business model to make field agents and borrowers happy and guide them to improve their quality of life. We long to see the day when our users are not just field agents but the borrowers themselves. In the early days of microfinance, we were entrepreneurs finding a new business model to serve our clients. Today, we feel the urge to rekindle our entrepreneurial spirit where we wish to partner with allies and build solutions for the future.

Cheers to many milestones in the making!

 

“Fandry” Movie Night at the Treehouse

Nagraj_Manjule_Film_Poster_Fandry

“Jabya hurls a stone at one of the high-caste boys, who were teasing him and his family by calling them “Fandry” (literally meaning pig). The stone is seen fasting approaching towards the audience and the film ends.” (Source: Wikipedia)

Fandry” is an Indian award-winning Marathi film that I recently watched at the Artoo Treehouse. It is one-of-a-kind experience for me since I am originally from Vietnam, where my culture is quite different from that of my Indian colleagues. The film was specially screened to celebrate Ambedkar Jayanti, an annual festival to commemorate the birthday of B. R. Ambedkar, an Indian jurist, economist, politician, and social reformer who campaigned against social, caste-based discrimination and advocated women and labour rights.

The movie night was pretty unique. Watching the movie in an office setting awesomely reflected Artoo’s culture, where you feel the office is not like a workplace but a comfortable home where you can chill out, eat a sandwich, and watch a movie together after work. Somehow it also reminded me of my first joyful moment of experiencing a drive-in theater form.

Fandry is a powerful and poignant film that’s well worth watching. Based on a real-life story, the film is rooted in reality and can be easily relatable by most of us. “It is really my own story,” says Nagraj Manjule, the film director, and it truly shows on screen.

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 10.33.10 AMThe film is the story of an adolescent, lower-caste boy named “Jabya” who hails from a small village in Maharashtra. The story focuses on the sentimental development of his love dreams toward an upper caste girl and the crushing reality in his village. Eventually, the pitiful boy reaches his tipping point and explodes in an intense backlash against the oppressors by hurling stones at them in the closing scene. However, the stones do not only stop there. They also deliberately hit us, the audience, who are ignoring or even accepting and carrying the exploitative caste-based social system. Sadly, this horrible caste power does exist, discrimination persists among the lower class in India’s villages and cripples human moral while people worldwide are trying to protect human rights and close this inequality gap.

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 10.32.38 AM

After finishing the movie, we stayed back a while and had a meaningful discussion, where we reflected our thoughts and feelings about the movie. Indus shared the bright side of the movie where there was a silver hope for Jabya’s love. Akanksha shared her past experience of visiting a caste-ridden village in India. Mradula posed a question on what we should do to break the conventional wisdom on the caste system and human inequality. To me, I believe in the law of causality in which Jabya suffers from our human beings’ impassible view and inexorable reaction to this social problem.

CASHPOR-field-officer-enters-center-payments-by-mobile-–-IndiaSameer spoke of how our field agents and borrowers face similar discrimination in various forms on a daily basis. Although the field agents are the forerunners of social reform by helping people out of their poverty, they’re often unappreciated or ridiculed for their work. Hence, even when they are doing good work to ease people out of their troubles, their self-esteem is low because of society’s thinking that they are working in slums, it’s not a desk job, and so on. It’s a parallel to the movie’s story and to India’s story.

Diversity is one of the many shades of Artoo. The team mates come from different socioeconomic backgrounds, which has added to the rich culture and speaks of inclusivity. Working with a diverse team makes one conscious of those around us and creates empathy and understanding that translates into our products and services. This diversity has helped Artoo form a multilingual team for user support & trainings and easily understand changing aspirations. The products and services reflect dignity, empathy, self-expression, aspiration, and ambition, something our users identify themselves with.

“Fandry” movie night was one of the good times at Artoo when we set aside working and spent time to get closer personally, grow emotionally, and exchange opinions enthusiastically for a better society that we aim to build. I long to see the next film screening with Artoo team soon.

FullSizeRender-2

About the author

Thuy Pham | Villgro’s Fellow

Thuy is an explorer and a business consultant dedicated to helping organizations, companies and enterprises in emerging and frontier markets to achieve social and economical values through strategic management tools and human centric solutions. She works with Villgro Incubatee Artoo as a Business Development Manager.

 

Earth Day at Artoo

earthday_pic.jpg

Whenever I’ve had some identity crisis or thought of how miniscule we are when compared to the enormity of things, life, nature, the planet, the solar system, and galaxies far and near, I’ve always concluded that the point of everything is just Nothing. The powerful brain that we have been bestowed with, has been working incessantly for thousands of years to make life easier for us as a human race. How brilliantly we have evolved from walking on our feet to doing space travel as a recreational sport. In the process, we have created and labelled so many elements: society, culture, languages, science, technology, philosophy, and a thousand other things that were beyond the understanding of our ancestors or any other living being.

Are we proud of it? Oh! Definitely, we are.

Aren’t we proud of how medicine can save unnecessary deaths and diseases, how science and technology can aid us to build the simplest of solutions for countless, enormous problems and how languages and communication have made the world a smaller place. Life has become easy now because we don’t have to live in caves, light fires, and hunt for every meal! But isn’t our chest swollen a little too much with pride? Isn’t it that somewhere we take all of this for granted? Isn’t this knowledge that we claim to be ours, built on the efforts of every single person that lived before us? Isn’t this ease coming at a cost? A cost to the planet?

Maybe, we humans were meant to exist like other life forms: struggle for limited resources, evolve, adapt, live every moment, and coexist peacefully. Or may be not — we were meant to have brains and use them. In any case, we have somewhere forgotten that things that we take away from the planet were not solely to be used by humans. The trees, forests, water in lakes, seas, and oceans is not just ours — everything needs to be shared, and every living being has a right to live. I think all of us know this. We just need a little bit of push to awaken ourselves about it, and our historians have been kind enough and made it easy for us, as always.

Thus, in 1970,  a group of people started a campaign called the Earth Day to give that little extra push to others. Their mission is to broaden, diversify, and mobilize people towards environmental issues. As a result, 22nd April of every year is celebrated as Earth day. Today, 200 million people across 141 countries participate in some way or the other and pledge to be conscious of how their actions are affecting the planet.

At Artoo, we’ve also joined the big campaign in a small way. Everyday we read and hear about so many things that affect the planet, and the dos and don’ts. So, we thought why not just take a step back and think about what kind of people we are and how do we see ourselves doing things that matter to us. Earth day, of course, was a great day to kick start the thinking!

We started off with simple exercises to loosen ourselves and imagined ourselves as the favourite living or non-living thing that we felt associated with. Some of us were a bull, stone, rain, star, dog and all sorts of things which we wanted to be. We walked, ran, laughed, and screamed while personifying the the living or non-living thing. It was fun to see everyone interact with each other in their element.

Slack for iOS Upload (6)

Later, we enacted stories and instances, which were etched in some of our childhood memories. The twist was to re-enact the story for the narrator and help him relive his moment, which was followed by songs and dance to celebrate the joyous moments that come by.

Slack for iOS Upload (3)

In addition, we lit candles to acknowledge not only what the planet has given us but also how brilliantly we have evolved and shaped things to call this place our home.

All in all, it was an evening about fun, frolic, singing, dancing, opening up, letting loose, understanding, acknowledging, and most importantly taking a stand about nurturing and caring for mother nature.

Slack for iOS Upload (5)

About the author:

Akanksha Srivastava | Firefighter

Artoo’s Field Visit to BRAC Bangladesh

I still vividly remember the summer eight years ago when Sameer was interning at Ujjivan. He quickly saw that providing financial services to those at the base of the pyramid was not a regular business. It was sometimes a matter of life or death to the end customer whether they received their money on time or not. It shook him up and inspired the need for innovation in him. It was from this combination of compassion and creativity that the idea of Artoo emerged. What I remember most clearly from that summer, of course, are all the stories that he brought back from the field about the vibrant, resilient, creative, and inspiring working poor women whom he met. I don’t think he knew yet that improving their lives through impactful technology interventions was something he’d pursue with such fierce commitment, but I did.

I’ve been lucky to go along on the adventure – literally, in the early years when I was involved in shaping Artoo, and of late figuratively, as I’ve stepped out to begin teaching. However, a big piece of my heart will always belong to Artoo, and my favourite part of will always remain the stories from the field. So, I was delighted to accompany Sameer on a visit to BRAC in Dhaka last month and to be invited on some incredibly inspiring field visits to understand their diverse and strategic poverty alleviation interventions in Bangladesh and around the world.

As a teacher, the first thing that caught my eye when we visited a pre-primary school run by BRAC was how carefully the children had arranged their chappals in a circle outside their classroom. This BRAC school, a few hours away from Dhaka, like many others is a simple structure: a single room made with tin walls and roofing and anchored by one main teacher and another assistant teacher that is designed to prepare young children for primary school. BRAC’s non-formal primary schools aim to give a second chance at learning to disadvantaged children. These children are left out of the formal education system owing to extreme poverty, violence, displacement, or discrimination.

Inside, it was deeply moving to see a flourishing classroom functioning beautifully with simple but thoughtful educational materials provided by BRAC. The teachers and students were using innovative methods of teaching and learning; for example, the children had a train song, where at every station the children stopped and checked if their clothes were clean, their hair was neatly combed, their nails clipped—a great way to teach children about personal hygiene.

We then visited two beneficiaries of the BRAC ‘Targeting the Ultra Poor’ programme. Through this programme, BRAC strives to improve the lives of people who suffer from chronic hunger, often do not have adequate shelter, are susceptible to many types of diseases, deprived of education and are particularly vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters.

We met Shireen, a graduate of the TUP programme. In 2010, Shireen had no source of livelihood; so, BRAC gave her 1 cow, 10 chickens, a stipend and access to TUP’s support system. By 2012, she graduated from TUP and became a BRAC microfinance customer. She now has 3 cows, 15 chickens, a goat, a motorcycle, and a source of livelihood.

We also visited Asiya, a current member of the TUP programme who has already made great progress so far. With help from BRAC, Asiya’s family is working with livestock to create a sustainable livelihood for themselves. However, perhaps even more importantly, they now have access to potable water and have been able to install a latrine near their home.

After this, we visited the Ayesha Abed foundation and the Aarong store, which empower women to preserve local handicraft traditions by providing them access to fair trade and helping them earn a sustainable livelihood (as well as access to other essential services – health, financial, legal). You can read more at http://www.aarong.com/about-aarong.

From block printing to intricate hand embroidery on textiles, it was sheer joy to watch the women create masterpieces out of wooden blocks and fine threads from needles. The foundation had a library of block print patterns, neatly arranged in rows of wooden boxes. From Batik prints on Sarees to hand painting and screen printing, the myriad display of colors through artwork was breathtaking. It was truly heartening to see how the foundation’s initiatives have helped women earn their livelihood while nourishing their artistic talents.

I came away from BRAC deeply moved and inspired by their work because you can see without a doubt that this is a movement that will leave no stone unturned on the path to alleviating poverty. Once you’ve set your heart upon doing something as worthwhile as improving the lived realities of those who are most marginalized, I suppose it’s imperative that you dream big, innovate often, and take meaningful leaps of faith that spin you in unexpected but impactful directions. Sameer and I both came back from Dhaka with our eyes full of possibilities and our hearts warmed by all the inspiration Artoo could draw from BRAC.

About the author:

Indus Chadha | Co-founder & Storyteller

Pasted image at 2016_04_25 03_44 PM

“Digital Credit” Workshop by CGAP

Artoo was delighted to be a part of CGAP’s recent, invite-only event held in Mumbai. It was interesting to share space with YES Bank, RBLCapital Float, as well as other new payment banks, such as SBI-Reliance, Sun Pharma, and Aditya Birla Group. Together, it was a great representation of the ecosystem under one roof. While the workshop explored the rise of digital credit in global markets, issues, and infrastructure fundamentals revolving around digital credit, the idea was to improve borrower experience without dramatically changing the economics simultaneously. How does this work for India? Is the moment now?

Mshwari

M-Shwari is a paperless banking service offered through M-PESA by Safaricom. M-Shwari added 1 million customers in 6 months and 10 million in 2 years. Day 1 of M-Shwari launch saw a registration of 40K applicants, a landmark for any app installed.

Interestingly, India has the largest share of the world’s unbanked at 22%; with 36M MFI borrowers at present, it is expected to grow at a rate of 30%–50% in the coming days. There is a huge opportunity for us in this space. The banking sector is used to a lot of restrictions.

Slide3
Global trend. Source: CGAP.

India Stack is a viable alternative that has managed to include Aadhaar for Authentication, e-KYC documents, e-Signature, and Unified Payment Interface (UPI), which is compliant and available to everyone.

As a forerunner of digital services, we at Artoo believe that India Stack opens up endless possibilities for developers, who will now be able to create and develop products and enterprises for the flourishing smartphone market in India. The MSME sector is another evolving space that has immense potential and opportunities and is of huge interest to us.

p1ah981sqj6691es31vmofac13104
Digital Credit. Source: CGAP.

Anand Raman of CGAP presented the current role of digital credit and how it fared against conventional credit. He also spoke about Airtel Timiza, established in partnership with JUMO (the micro-financing unit of Cape Town-based AFB Pvt Ltd.), that is currently available in Tanzania. Salient features of Timiza include loans without savings and deposits, pre-approved instant loans, option to borrow higher subsequent loans depending on previous cleared loans, and affordable interest rates. The loan amount depends on your Airtel money usage. This is a salient example of how new-age lending provides cashless, affordable loans to the masses – a trend that is here to stay. In addition, these services provide greater flexibility and opportunities, thus empowering the borrower.

Slide2
Key bad-debt drivers. Source: CETA.

Credit scoring, is the heart of any digital lending solution – or so we thought. Jamal E Rahal, spoke about his experience of creating M-Shwari‘s first credit scorecard. The strategic partnership between Commercial bank of Africa and Safaricom has fuelled M-Shwari’s outreach across Africa. He spoke that Credit Scoring is a only one part of the risk management framework. The more important ones are Through The Door (TTD) – initial eligibility criteria – and Collections Process. This was a real eye opener.

At the event, Telenor provided an example of how it leverages Telecom data to provide digital financial services in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Serbia, and Malaysia. An elderly women in Pakistan, say 65 yrs,  has limited movement, uses religious soundtracks as her caller tune, and make regular calls to Saudi Arabia. The outcome was a special Hajj package loan. Then, they provided insurance for Air Travel as well as remittance products. Another idea was providing Health Insurance for these travellers.

For FinTech firms like ours, it helps us position ourselves better among the traditional players in the market and is an opportunity to provide game-changing solutions. Currently, we are excited about the developments in the MSME space. We have already created prototypes for it and are working on a pilot.

Overall, it was thrilling to be a part of such a peer group that is bringing the future today.

About the author:

Sameer Segal | CEO & Founder

White paper on on-premise and SaaS based delivery for business critical loan origination systems

artoo-cloud-vs-onpremiseTraditional banking and software for financial systems which are critical to business have been hosted within the premises controlled by the financial institutions. Cloud based systems are now ubiquitous and the banking industry is keen on moving forward.

Artoo’s LOS platform is built to be cloud and mobile first, but can also be deployed in an on-premise model. In keeping with industry best practices for cloud based systems it is possible to achieve the best of both worlds in terms of regulatory compliance, data security on one side and a flexible, scalable platform on the other. Total cost of ownership (TCO) is another key area of concern for the industry and a cloud based delivery model ensures that costs get distributed between customers proportionally.

This document aims to address the various factors to be considered while choosing between an on-premise model and a SaaS based delivery model.

In summary, a cloud based delivery model for an LOS is more suitable for a fast growing modern enterprise because of its low TCO, scalability and multi-device support than a traditional on-premise setup.

Click here to read more

 

About the Author:
Pradyumna Sampath, Engineering Manager, Artoo

Pradyumna graduated with an engineering degree from BMS College of Engineering. He has worked as a technical manager at ABB Corporate Research and as an R&D manager at Hitachi India R&D before joining Artoo. During his stint at ABB, he was instrumental in helping ABB use Linux to run an Industrial Robot. He has been a speaker at conferences about open source software and using linux for mission critical systems. At Hitachi, he managed a mid-sized R&D team that worked in the areas of Software engineering, cloud systems, and embedded software. He was also responsible for university collaborations for these domains. He has traveled widely across continents in more than 20 countries and lived & worked in India and Sweden. He is deeply passionate about using technology to reach out to those that need it the most, which is the reason he landed in Artoo.