It is International Women's day 😀👭🏽💪🏼 on the 8th of March. I was getting ready for my meeting with the Marie, the founder of Uplifters- a non-profit organisation that helps migrant domestic workers and underprivileged communities with online financial education and community support. An endeavor run by a woman, empowering women to help other women. So admirable!! There was however, a nagging thought in my mind. I was (hoped) a good employer. But was I really helping my sincere hardworking helper to become financially independent or maybe improve her professional skills for a better future? The idea had not even crossed my mind!! With a guilty heart, I walked to our meeting venue.
I could have recognized Marie, the founder of Uplifters from afar. Can’t say whether it was her friendly sympathetic face, her curious big eyes looking towards me, her French style or all the 3 that set her apart. We settle down and start our chat.
Before moving to HK in 2017, Marie and her family lived a year in Singapore, where she worked stumbled upon an opportunity in a non-profit for domestic helpers. Her first stint in the charity world involved providing face to face financial literacy support to domestic helpers. She loved meeting these courageous women, who had left their children, parents and family back in their country and had come to a foreign land to support and help their own back home. “Life for them might not be rosy on a daily basis but they are always smiling. Speaking to them, helping them, in turn gave me courage”, says Marie.
“We moved to Hong Kong while I was pregnant”, Marie remembers. They hired a domestic helper who had a bachelor's degree in Finance. She also had a sick parent and younger siblings back home. Over time, Marie realized that her helper was sending almost all of her salary home to support her family with nothing much left for herself.“ Marie was appalled!! If her helper couldn’t manage to be financially mindful then what about the other domestic workers, less qualifies than her.
“I started to encourage her to do courses on Sunday in financial literacy. Her challenge was putting knowledge to action. She was either too tired to go to the courses on her only day off or not regular. That’s when the idea of Uplifters was born.”
The signature course that Uplifters offers is a 3 weeks course on Financial Literacy. In this course, the domestic helpers learn about the importance of saving, planning, budget, do’s and don’ts when taking loans (money lenders can charge upto 60% of interest rate per annum). The students are also taught about the need to have emergency saving and encouraged to open bank accounts. They are encouraged to question opportunities even if it comes from their close circles and recognize popular scams. Marie adds “Our endeavor is to combine tech with Human warmth. The course is FREE and on-line.”.
Mental health of domestic helpers is becoming another important topic. With Covid, there is a heavier work load for domestic helpers with families working from home. They can’t even go out on Sundays their only day off in the week, due to government regulations or their employer’s discouragement in present circumstances.
A recent survey that Uplifters did with Doctor's Without Borders showed a moderate level of depression in majority of Hong Kong Helpers. Not surprising!
At Uplifters, community power is critical. Interested alumni can volunteer to teach the new students after receiving adequate training. Courses are created with experts and regularly updated based on insights from the students themselves. The wish is to have a profound impact on our students than just satisfying ourselves with increasing number of students passing year after year.
So, how has the success been so far, I ask. Marie is all smiles, "While the average rate of completion of on-line courses averages 5-7% in general, the completion ratio of the Uplifters Financial Literacy course in the 3 years of exitance is about 52%. We have trained 150 team leaders, 2800 domestic helpers last year; 4000+ domestic helpers since the beginning”.
The vision of Marie for Uplifters is to scale it to 20,000 domestic helpers students in next 3 years, spanning over Hong Kong, Singapore and the Middle East. An ambitious but achievable number I feel given the number of graduates so far, me thinks
Tell us about your challenges, I ask. “Even though they are an on-line platform it does not come without costs. Uplifters also have to maintain their office space, have 4 employees and other marketing expenses.
Every penny counts. Each student in the Financial Literacy course costs 155HKD to Uplifters. Individuals, who wish to contribute to this noble venture, can help sponsor a domestic helper student. Another simple way to contribute is to encourage your domestic helper to join the course.
Marie adds, ”According to our survey, 75% of our students say they are now saving more, 90 % of our domestic helper students say that doing the course had transformed their lives. It is really never too late to start”
Help transform another life for the better. What a great thought!! I ended my chat with an impressive lady. “It is never too late to start” struck a chord with me. I knew what I would be discussing with my helper that evening 😊!