A loyalty programme is a rewards programme offered by companies to customers who make frequent purchases – customers get incentives like coupons or payback points that they can redeem for gifts or cashback savings. People from who shop at local stores and don’t have credit cards usually don’t enjoy such benefits. But, not anymore!
Jay, a resident of Mumbai, has a younger brother who lives in a village in Maharashtra. It takes about 12 hours for Jay to reach the village, which is usually dark after sunset because of irregular electricity supply. This makes it difficult for his brother to study at night.
But recently, Jay used a mobile-based loyalty programme to redeem his points and get a battery-operated lantern in return. He sent it to his brother who can now study for as long as he wants.
The loyalty programme that Jay is a part of is called m.Paani. It is a Mumbai-based social enterprise, set up in 2012. The idea behind it is to help people from all backgrounds achieve their dreams and aspirations and to improve their standards of living.
There are hundreds of m.Paani partner stores located in Mumbai. These include local grocery stores, dress shops, mobile recharge stores, etc. Whenever a member purchases anything from a partner store, he/she gains loyalty points. This is like creating a second wallet of points for the users, which they can redeem by giving a missed call to the same number. If a user spends Rs. 500 on rice, he/she gets 500 m.Paani points. Then there is a repository of over 200 reward items that the users can choose from when they are ready to redeem their points. The rewards are related to energy, education, water, and healthcare needs of people. They are meant to improve the current situation of the users or help them buy something they wouldn’t normally spend on.
The items include things like water filters, story books, notebooks, backpacks, lunch boxes, large buckets, flashlights, movie tickets, talk time, data recharge, etc. m.Paani delivers the rewards to people at their homes.
“The well-to-do families of our society have access to many loyalty programmes. They are able to reap the benefits from the money they spend. They get air miles when they buy air tickets, loyalty cards and payback points when we go shopping, and so much more. We believe that those who can benefit most from such savings and rewards, aren’t able to do so because they are not shopping online or at big retail stores – and we want to change that,” says Julie Kriegshaber, the Head of Growth at m.Paani.
The organization was set up to take the idea of loyalty programmes and apply it in a completely different way, to give value to consumers who are usually underserved.
To access this programme, users have to give a missed called to 022-33578387, after which they receive a call-back. The m.Paani representative explains the programme to the caller in his/her local language. The caller is then registered as an m.Paani member.
“According to our initial research, if a family earns somewhere around Rs. 20,000 monthly, it spends Rs. 5,000 on kirana (grocery) stores. This is a huge expense that we want every family to be able to earn free points and rewards for,” says Julie.
The organization has recently launched an app as well. It is called m.Paani Shop Smart and users can use it to register themselves on the platform.
m.Paani has seen thousands of reward redemptions till date. “When I was looking at which rewards I could get with my points, I chose the bilingual storybook for my child to help him learn English. He loves it and I read this book to him every night. I will get another one when I have enough points again,” says Shamsundar, another m.Paani member.
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Akanksha Hazari, the Founder and CEO of m.Paani came up with this idea when she was studying at Cambridge University.
She participated in the Hult Prize event in 2011. Hult Prize is an annual award given to teams that come up with innovative ideas for sustainable start-up enterprises that will solve challenges in society. The award helps teams convert their ideas into reality with the help of a seed funding. Akanksha has a graduate degree in politics from Princeton University and MBA degree from Cambridge University. She was always motivated to do social good. She worked on an agriculture project in rural India for a year and observed the “stark juxtaposition of people having mobile phones and access to products like Coca Cola, but lacking fundamental basic services like schools, water, electricity, and healthcare.” She found something fundamentally wrong with this picture and came up with the idea of a loyalty programme. She felt that the high penetration of mobile technology in India makes the phone an invaluable tool to tackle the problem of poverty.
After the initial funding from Hult Prize, m.Paani raised some more funds and sponsorships. They put ads in local language newspapers to spread the word about the programme. Additionally, the partner stores put up banners informing customers about it too.
“Our school supplies are popular among users. At the beginning of every school session, mothers are super excited about redeeming lunch boxes, water bottles, school bags, etc., as they feel proud about sending their kids to school with new things,” says Julie. The organization has over 30,000 members as of now.
“We are the ‘generation next’. Our dreams have no walls. We want to change the world. We know that we can do better. My mother used to remind me every day that the value of your life is defined by the positive impact you have on the lives of others. m.Paani is my embodiment of this belief. My team and I are all passionate about helping an often overlooked population via sustainable and empowering means,” concludes Akanksha.
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