Changes in our payment methods to Makers prove invaluable during lockdown.

 24th Aug 2020 |  Blog |  Margaret Ring


Over the last 4 months, we have made some radical and exciting changes at Secret Projects as a result of the organisation being sold. Secret Projects now comprises of 2 companies; Secret Projects Community Benefits Society, based in the UK and owned by a group of 250 Shareholders, plus a wholly owned subsidiary company in India, Social Power India - we trade as Secret Projects. This all seems very technical... and indeed it is... yet, this change has had some amazingly positive advantages that we are over the moon about, giving us even greater scope to realise our vision of a world where all women have the confidence and resources to make choices, thrive and contribute to the strengthening of their communities.

Perhaps one of the greatest benefits of this change is that we have been able to sign up with a new bank and are now able to pay our Makers via bank transfer, rather than by cheque. Prior to this, we were only able to make payments to our Makers when we travelled to their communities for training, or to pick up finished Secret Products. This new system has had the most positive impact during the recent global Covid-19 pandemic as India and many countries around the world went into lockdown and we were unable to travel safely into our Maker Communities. As lockdown took hold, we made a decision that the most important thing was to get any outstanding payments to the Makers via bank transfer, so we spent much time collecting the women's bank account details and entering them into our new online banking system. It was a true labour of love and we were absolutely delighted recently when the Managing Director of one of our partner NGO's got in touch to let us know that one of our Makers had called him to say how grateful she was to have received her payment from Secret Projects.

'The Makers of Secret Products usually never call me, but I did have a call from one of them a few days ago. Yashoda 'phoned to thank me for the partnership with Secret Projects, as she had just received her online payment for the sewing done. This was a time of great distress at home with no income in the household and, she was just about to take a loan from a money lender with a 10% monthly interest rate. The money she earned from making Secret Products meant that she didn't need to take the loan after all. Her excitement and happiness brought a great sense of joy to me as well'.

Brother Thomas, CARE Hindupur Secret Projects NGO partner.

This is exactly the type of outcome we wish for all our Makers. We are grateful that by being able to streamline our payments to reach the women quickly and easily, we help each one to be in an even strong position to support themselves and their families - this has proved to be invaluable during the pandemic.

The benefits are also not just for our Makers either! As we now have a more efficient system for paying our Makers, this means that our team in India, particularly our Country Director, Nirmala who was the chief cheque writer, has more time to devote to other parts of the business as the banking transfer system is a much quicker process than laboriously writing scores of cheques. Here's what she had to say:

'The task of writing out the cheques was time consuming and tedious. However, I accepted the task gladly as it was an overwhelmingly positive feeling to see so many cheques going out to our Makers. With the new subsidiary registration in India that allowed us to open a new bank account, the first thing we did was to add the Makers as payees to make online bank transfers into their accounts. This has been so handy in the times of Covid-19, as we can't travel to see the women to give them their payment by cheque. Plus, it also means that the women don't have to go to their banks to deposit their cheques, lessening the risk of contracting the virus. This has enabled many of our Makers to thrive during this time of crisis.'

We are currently working hard on other ways that we as an organisation can reach our Maker Community regardless of any restrictions on movement, or how remotely they live. We look forward sharing more details about this very soon.

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SP Accountant's Trip - one year on!

SP Accountant's Trip - one year on!

Secret Projects Accountant’s Trip – November 2019  A little background...  Just over a year ago, Secret Projects took the decision to . . . change our business model completely and became a Community Benefit Society. The organization was put up for sale, giving people the opportunity to buy shares and, with others, own Secret Projects Community Benefit Society.   Our CEO, Fritha headed up the promotion of the newly structured business and was busy selling community shares. Banke, Secret Projects Global Director of Finance and Operations oversaw finding the correct financial structure for the new business – a task she relished! Part of the new structure meant that Secret Projects formed a subsidiary company in India, known as Social Power India (SPI), and Banke knew that we were moving into a completely different arena. We would begin trading internationally as a multinational company, which has its own compliances and financial regulations plus accountancy standards for each country Secret Projects was to trade in.   As a highly experience professional, Banke knew what her accountancy strengths were and had spent several hours in discussions with Secret Projects UK Accountant Fiona Bird of Heather & Co, bouncing ideas around. However, the more she and Fiona investigated the India side of the business, Banke realized that she had a gap in her knowledge. To plug this gap, she put feelers out into her professional network, and this is how we were able to connect with Sneha Shah, an Indian accountant, who has since become SPI’s accountant based in India.   The 3 accountants decided that it was crucial for them meet face to face, spend time together, focusing on what needed to be done, dividing tasks between them in line with their own areas of expertise and they also felt they wanted to get to know each other better. So, in November 2019, Banke and Fiona boarded a flight to Bengaluru and the first Secret Projects Accountant’s Trip began!   The trip...  The 3 women stayed in a flat together in the city for a week, speaking the same accountancy language, and because of spending this focused, quality time together, realized how beneficial it was for Secret Projects to have their joint experience and skills in compatible areas. It is fair to say that during this time, they bonded!   It was also decided that whilst in India, Banke and Fiona would begin the process of sourcing a suitable bank for SPI, and Sneha volunteered to help with the search, and was an invaluable asset, as she has so much experience of the Indian banking system. They spent time thinking about what SPI needed from a bank, what banks in India required from businesses and arranged meetings with several institutions. Although it’s not an easy task to set up bank accounts in India, it helped enormously for Secret Projects Accountants and Director to meet Banking Account Managers in person and as a result, they found a bank that is an excellent fit. The officials of the bank they chose is led by a woman and strikingly, they completely understand and back our work to empower women. As importantly, SPI has been able to develop an excellent working relationship with the bank, and this is enormously beneficial for the business.   Other outcomes...  All 3 found it incredibly empowering on a personal level to work together and collectively realize Secret Projects vision of a world where all women have the confidence and resources to make choices, thrive and contribute to the strengthening of their communities. This feeling of personal empowerment has driven them to believe even more deeply that women in India can be empowered by Secret Projects 4-stage Virtual Training for Empowerment Programme and the making and selling of clothing and homeware. Banke now knows that if she has any issues that need sorting out, or needs to get a task completed in India, she can rely on Sneha completely and indeed all of them feel the same way and the great, professional relationship that sprang up from this trip is growing ever stronger.   It wasn’t all work...  Banke, Fiona and Sneha worked all morning and then in the afternoon would venture out into Bengaluru, visiting the palace and various markets for shopping trips and had lots of fun in the process! They returned to the flat for a few more hours work, before spending the evening having dinner and getting to know each other away from work. On their last evening together, they visited a well-known restaurant recommended by Fritha and had a ball, even though no-one was feeling particularly well that night.   The flat, where they stayed is situated beneath the apartment of SPI Director Nirmala, who really took care of them all, inviting them to her house for breakfast and was on hand throughout the trip and really made everyone feel at home.  They were wonderfully comfortable, making their business trip so much pleasanter than staying in a hotel.   The following week after Fiona had left to return to the UK, Banke, who was to remain in India for a further couple of weeks, travelled to Mumbai with Sneha and stayed for a few days with her and her partner. Banke had the most wonderful time, as they took her sight-seeing, for a manicure and a pedicure and even had dinner in a restaurant that is a favourite haunt of Bollywood stars. Spending time with Sneha and her family like this was a great ending to this part of her time in India.   Since then, of course, the world has changed as COVID-19 took a grip with most countries going into lockdowns. Secret Projects financial team now meet virtually, which will continue for the foreseeable future. However, this is made easier by their strong working and personal relationship that was forged during their week together in Bengaluru.     Photo: Left to right, Sneha, Fiona, Banke and Nirmala
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