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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Secret Projects Community Benefit Society is one-year old!

Secret Projects Community Benefit Society is one-year old!

It seems like only yesterday that Secret Projects founder and CEO, Fritha Mason, made the decision to put the business up for sale, meaning that . . . anyone, whether old or young could purchase shares and... Secret Projects Community Benefit Society sprang into life! We are now owned by a body of 264 Shareholders and are proud to count a group of young people among our numbers - the next generation of social and ethical investors! What a year it's been! We can only describe our journey over the last 12 months as almost surreal, not least that within 5 months we found ourselves in the midst of a global pandemic with countries around the world in lockdown. As soon as the reality of the situation became clear, we made a firm decision that we were going to survive and adapt the organisation to ensure that when lockdowns began to ease, we could get our bearings once more and thrive. We knew that to survive, immediate action was needed and we put a raft of measures in place to protect Secret Projects, going into lockdown as a business to protect our Maker Community and team. In the UK, we took advantage of the government's furlough scheme for employees and applied for a government backed loan offered to businesses to assist during such an unprecedented time. In India we explored what help the government might be able to offer and put plans in place to sell 45% of our India subsidiary company's share capital to Shareholders who want to help grow the business and support our mission to empower women. Our major concern was of course, for our Maker Community and we took great pains to contact the women to update them about our situation and to assure them that we were going to survive, with plans to begin production as soon as possible after the easing of lockdown. Fortunately, prior to the pandemic, we had made changes to our payment methods to Makers and began to send their money via bank transfer, rather than by cheque. This was invaluable, as obviously we couldn't travel to hand out the cheques and it also meant that we could get money to the women at this critical time. At the forefront of our minds we kept believing that somehow, we could find a way to 'future proof' Secret Projects against other similar situations in a way that would still give us good access to our Maker Community, regardless of travel or other restrictions. We hit on a concept to deliver our training virtually and we are busy putting product training videos and materials together to be delivered to our Maker Communities via courier. We are planning to carry on this with this method for the foreseeable future - and so, our thriving began! The thriving continues... our on-line retails stores are now open for shopping with customers being able to make purchases in Euro's, Rupees, GBP as well as US Dollars. We believe that this can only lead to the story of Secret Projects spreading to a wider and wider audience - our dream! Gorgeous new Secret Projects have raised their heads - from blankets to kimonos and one of our Maker Groups in West Bengal is back in production, with others to follow. The thriving list gets longer each week! Our Shareholders are a massive support to us and we continue to give others the opportunity to purchase shares to join us on our journey to empower. And so, we begin our second year knowing that the world is still in an unpredictable position and it's not at all easy for businesses around the globe, but with a quiet confidence that our foundations are firm and will help us continue to thrive.
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Our Makers have earned £62,000 since Secret Projects began...

Our Makers have earned £62,000 since Secret Projects began...

With pride, we announce that our Makers have earned £62,000 since Secret Projects began life... The impact we make as an organisation is something . . . that we constantly look at, for example each month we publish how many new Makers we have welcomed, how many training days we have held and how many Makers were involved in that month's production. We also delve deeper and look at what our impact has been like in the long term, from our infancy. Secret Projects began in 2014, the brain child of Fritha Mason, our CEO, we believe the impact we have been able to make for the women of our Maker Community has far outweighed the effort it has taken and, any figures we give cannot give the full story. Throw in the joy we have received along the way, as we work with these women - and everything becomes utterly priceless! However, figures are important and can be a great way of highlighting success. So... it's with complete pride that we announce since Secret Projects was founded, our Makers have earned a total of £62,000 - a figure that gladdens our hearts! Of course, behind this figure there lies wonderful stories of how this money has been used in so many invaluable ways by our Makers. It has provided education for children, bought medicines, meant that women didn't need to take out loans at high interest rates and our personal favourite, the creation of a number of micro-enterprises. In celebration of this, we are beginning a new series of stories about our impact with delicious stories from our Makers. Do keep your eyes peeled! We simply would not have been able to achieve this excellent impact without the support and backing from our customers, who have bought Secret Products, our Shareholders and committed team. We thank each and every one of you.   Photo: Women from the Secret Projects Maker Community
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Further changes to our payment methods bring greater financial security to our Makers.

Further changes to our payment methods bring greater financial security to our Makers.

We constantly strive to improve the way we operate as a business and our Makers are always at the forefront of our minds. We have recently been able . . . to put a brand new payment system into place that we believe will bring about added financial security to the women in our Maker Community. We have already proudly reported that thanks to our new bank and banking system, we are now able to pay our women via bank transfer, rather than by cheque. Being able to adopt this method has proved absolutely invaluable during lock down, as we have been unable to travel to communities to give the cheques to our Makers. We have since been able to add an extra layer to this latest process, with the bank transfers being made on the 15th of each month, which will really help the women to budget for their households with greater confidence, knowing exactly when and how much money they will be receiving each month. Being able to help our Maker Community in this way, putting steps in place to help each women feel more secure financially, helps us inch ever closer to 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. We are proud of how we are able to make improvements like this to Secret Projects and look forward to what other ideas are around the corner. Of course, the 15th day of each month is now our favourite date!
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