Member Spotlight: Aidha- helping foreign domestic workers and low-income Singaporean women achieve economic independence
Aidha is an award-winning charity and Institution of Public Character that has been operating in Singapore since 2006. Initially started as a project of the National Committee of UN Women Singapore (then UNIFEM Singapore), Aidha’s mission is to help foreign domestic workers (FDWs) and low-income Singaporean women achieve economic independence through financial education, wealth creation and entrepreneurship. Through Aidha’s programmes, these women gain the confidence, knowledge and skills they need to start taking control of their own financial futures.
Aidha has impacted over 4,500 women since its inception and currently has between 400-500 students enrolled at any given time as new classes for FDWs start every month. We offer three different 6-month long modules for FDWs starting with basic money management and continuing on through to our most advanced courses on entrepreneurship.
We take care to measure our impact, surveying all our students as they first register with Aidha and then again as they complete each module. Our data shows strong improvements amongst our students, with average monthly savings increasing by nearly 80% amongst alumni. Alumni also double the number of productive assets they own and business ownership increases from 6% to over 40%, with many staying on as domestic workers in Singapore after graduating but opening businesses with family members. In addition, our research shows a strong multiplier effect, with every woman attending Aidha impacting nine lives at home based on their average number of dependants, the businesses they start and the number of employees of those businesses.
We have many wonderful success stories of our students. One of the most striking is that of Nilushika Jayaweera, a former domestic worker from Sri Lanka who worked in Singapore for nearly a decade without any savings, sending home her all her earnings to support her younger siblings as she had lost her parents when she was only 16. After graduating from Aidha in 2012 she first set up an online tea business, then in 2016 was able to return home to Sri Lanka to further grow her business. She relaunched her tea business in 2018 and you can now purchase “Nilu Tea” on Redmart! She also became the first FDW to speak at TEDx Singapore Women in 2016 and to top it all off, in 2017 she set up a registered charity in Sri Lanka called Emerging Hope Lanka to support women micro-entrepreneurs!
In a bid to empower more low income women in Singapore, Aidha and Daughters of Tomorrow (DOT) partnered together recently with the generous support of AWARE’s Power Fund. The joint project was to pilot a 7-month long financial education course for low-income Singaporeans called “Manage My Money”. The first run of the course has just ended and the evaluation results have been very positive. Strong improvements were reported in all categories assessed, with average monthly savings of the group increasing by 129% and all of the participants who completed the course finding it either “very useful” or “extremely useful”. Given these results, both DOT and Aidha are keen to proceed soon with the next run in either July or August 2019.
Aidha’s biggest challenge is that many potential beneficiaries are not aware of the programmes we offer and their impact. It would be wonderful to have SCWO members help spread the word and also explore further collaboration. Aidha believes financial empowerment is fundamental to women’s empowerment and in the coming year looks forward to continuing to develop new programmes and partnerships to provide even more support to low-income women in the critical area of financial education.