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These housewives are turning into financial experts

Last updated on: October 6, 2010 13:50 IST

These housewives are turning into financial experts

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Prerna Raturi in Kolkata

In the first week of August, Ratan Tata, chairman, Tata Group, met with women from the Millennium Mams club who had also attended the Indian Hotels' annual general meeting in Mumbai.

With a focus on financial literacy for women, Millennium Mams is an 18-year-old initiative started by Kolkata-based industrialist B K Dhanuka.

Although the members have been attending the AGM for several years, this time it was different.

After the AGM, Millennium Mams president Sunanda Awasthi presented Tata with a proposal asking for assistance with expanding the initiative down south.

"We have no office -- we conduct classes in city clubs and convention halls," says Awasthi, "And Mr Dhanuka and Sanjay Bhuwania -- both of whom take these business and economy education classes -- can't always be flying from one city to another to conduct classes."

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Photographs: Illustrations by Uttam Ghosh.
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The classes are presently held in Kolkata, Mumbai and Bengaluru.

There is a surge in demand for these classes from smaller towns and cities like Ahmedabad, Pune and Udaipur. "We are targeting classes to such towns through video-conferencing by the end of the year," reveals Dhanuka.

That there is such a need for financial education among women today is no surprise. Says Dhanuka, "Emancipation of women is an empty word without financial education."

He has seen intelligent and educated upper-middle class married women taking care of the house but doing little else.

In typical Indian families, they aren't encouraged to hold a job because they simply didn't need to earn.

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"Knowledge of finance becomes all the more important in today's world of nuclear families where the wife has no one to fall back on in case the husband dies," says Dhanuka.

Tapping this need of educating women about capital markets, he started his first such class with 15 women. Registered as an NGO, today Millennium Mams receives 200 applications for 40 seats.

The two-year loosely-designed course has classes from understanding each sector to analysing companies, demystifying the Union Budget, following market trends and current happening in the financial world.

"All of us have demat accounts now," says Shilpa Jhawar, a Millennium Mams student in her first year. These women also claim that they are now on an equal footing with their husbands.

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"We'd have family get-togethers and men would talk about marketshare, FIIs, FDIs, SEZs, ULIPs, and OPEC countries, while we tried not to look bored," says Avina Rajgaria.

Now, these women can not only follow a conversation like this but also take it forward with their inputs.

"I recently called up my husband to tell him about an article on the steel industry," says Seema Jajodia excitedly, "He belongs to the same sector and had missed reading it."

It means a lot to these women whose only contribution to their husbands' lives until now was to run the house efficiently, bring up the kids and participate in family functions.

All of them say they feel more confident, empowered and proud of themselves.

"Now I know when to convert currencies for my vacation abroad -- whenever the conversion rates favour the Indian rupee," smiles Shivani Kandhari.

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Members also get to take part in company AGMs like that of Indian Hotels and Tata Tea. Outstations trips include going to the Baja Auto Plant and Suzlon Headquarters in Pune.

Under the Mams Forte division, the body invites well-known names from the corporate world to interact with the members.

"We've had technocrat Sam Pitroda and Tata Sons' executive director R Gopalakrishnan interact with Millennium Mams members and go back stumped by the kind of queries put up by the ladies," says Awasthi.

It probably doesn't help a bit since none of these women are dressed-down in muted corporate formals but are flaunting their solitaires, zardozi dupattas and latest hair colour.

Then there is Millennium Youth, which was started in Kolkata eight years ago and is a five-week intensive programme for young people along the same lines as the Millennium Mams curriculum, at the end of which they give business proposal presentations.

This year saw business plans from plain-vanilla Internet portals to an underwater restaurant and a sports bar.

Millennium Mams now has chapters in Mumbai and Bangalore, too.

"But Sam Pitroda's comment that we weren't doing enough since we weren't reaching out to more cities via technology has stirred something in me," says Awasthi, revealing that they may soon start classes in other towns such as Pune, Ahmedabad and Udaipur.

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And since the classes don't cost anything, the ladies only have to pay for the place where the classes take place, and refreshments, all of which cost Rs 5,500 a year per person.

The annual event at Kolkata, Millennium Mams' biggest event is sponsored by Indian Hotels and is held at the Taj Bengal.

"Armed with financial knowledge, even if you do not become a businesswoman, you can become an investor and track your growth right from your kitchen," says Dhanuka, talking about how Aruna Dhanuka, one of his first students who wasn't even confident of signing a cheque, is one of the topmost investors in Kolkata.

"Mr Dhanuka says saving's no good until you invest it. So I've made all my investments in gold," says Nisha Jain, making everyone laugh. But clearly, what Millennium Mams is achieving is no laughing matter.



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