By Fazeena Saleem
Attending a workshop has changed the lives of some 230 migrant workers from Kerala, India, living in Qatar. Saving money was not a priority for the workers until they attended a workshop organised by Georgetown University in Qatar as part of research into the economic and social condition of workers.
The five-hour workshop was conducted by K V Shamshudeen, chairperson of Pravasi Bandhu Welfare Trust. Shamshudeen, who is based in the United Arab Emirates, has been working to improve the financial condition of non-resident Indians in Gulf countries for more than a decade.
Following the financial education workshop, each worker was able to send home on average an extra `20,000 (QR1,334.28) over the course of just over a year. The amount is equivalent to almost two months of household expenses in their home country.
Manoj, a low-income worker living here for the past five years, started saving last year. He and three of his friends save around QR300 a month and have quit smoking.
“The workshop was very impressive. I went there with friends. We had not considered saving seriously earlier. After listening to the speaker, we made two resolutions — to stop smoking and to start saving — and we are following them,” said Manoj.
Some participants in the workshop have even started investing the savings together with their spouses back in India. Thomas is one such worker, who has invested in an insurance plan and started saving for his children’s education. “I earn QR1,800 per month and we save around `7,000 a month. My wife invests it in an insurance scheme and a fund for our children’s education,” said Thomas, who has two children studying in Kerala.
Bashir, another low-income worker, has reduced his expenses by one-fourth after attending the workshop. He has been saving nearly QR500 a month for more than a year now. “I learnt how to reduce unnecessary expenses,” he said.
Manoj, Thomas and Bashir are just three of the beneficiaries of the project carried out by Georgetown University in Qatar, titled ‘Transnational Household Finances: A Field Experiment on the Cross-Border Impact of Financial Education for Migrant Workers’. The project was funded by Qatar National Research Fund.
Dr Ganesh Seshan, a professor at Georgetown University in Qatar, began the study with Dr Dean Yang am, associate professor at the University of Michigan.
For the study, started in 2010, a group of Keralites was chosen as they form the largest migrant group in the country.
All of them were married and their wives lived in India. The men as well as their wives were interviewed. Some of the workers the researchers spoke to had been living in Qatar for more than eight years.
The workshop was conducted in late November 2010. A follow-up survey was done between January and April, 2012, and the results were examined more than a year after the workshop concluded. There was no communication between the researchers and workers in between.
The findings were interesting. The workers had started managing their finances, their savings had increased and they were sending more money to their families in India. They had also started joint financial decision making.
“What we saw was striking. The workshop was a wake-up call for them. Some of them for the first time thought about saving for their future; they realised the importance of it,” said Dr Seshan.
A comparison was also done with the savings of a group of workers who had not attended the workshop.
“On average, savings by this group increased by `47,120 (from `14,238 to `61,358) almost a year after the workshop,” said Dr Seshan.
“For those low-savers who didn’t attend, savings went up by `21,415 (from `14,057 to `35,472) over the same period,” Dr Seshan explained.
The second phase of the research aims to develop a curriculum to educate migrant workers on saving habits in special workshops.
“Basic financial education would help them develop saving habits. It would be ideal if the workers and their families are educated before leaving their country,” Dr Seshan said.
“Saving is not about building a house, they can’t eat it when they go back for good. Therefore, proper financial habits are important,” he added.
Dr Seshan believes such research can lead to multiple benefits. “If workers reach their financial goals, they will not overstay, and that will benefit the host country as well,” said Dr Seshan.