When an earthquake shook Nepal at noon on Saturday, April 25, 2015, it killed nearly 9,000 people and ruined the lives of more than eight million more in one of the world’s poorest countries.
More than 3,000 kilometres away in the United Arab Emirates, as residents viewed the images of the aftermath of the disaster, the tragic event spurred one positive outcome: it was the catalyst which inspired one Dubai entrepreneur to set up an app to help try and improve the lives of some of the emirate’s poorest workers.
Days after the earthquake, Padmini Gupta’s new nanny asked her if she could borrow a whole year’s salary so she could send money home to Nepal to help family members who had been impacted by the disaster.
Gupta, who had returned to Dubai after a career in banking in the United States, was shocked to discover that her domestic worker had little or no savings or financial support after 15 years living in the UAE. When she investigated the matter further, she found this was a common story among most nannies, maids and low-income domestic workers.
While she was able to help her own nanny, the incident spurred her to try and address the wider problem and just 15 months later she set up Rise, a platform which offers services to help try and improve the lives of domestic workers in the UAE by offering access to a bank account, an ability to save and invest their money in their home countries and opportunities to learn new skills so they can improve their earning potential.
Having grown up in Dubai and with two children of her own, the chief executive of Rise is no stranger to the Gulf’s culture of employing housemaids and nannies, but she told Zawya her experience after the Nepal earthquake gave her a “better understanding of the unique challenges faced by domestic helpers”.
The Rise app certainly addresses a demand in the UAE as the emirates is home to the fifth-largest expat population in the world, according to a report published by the International Labour Organization, and about 20 percent of all foreign workers are employed in domestic roles, according to Migrant-Rights.org, an advocacy group that works to advance the rights of migrant workers in the Middle East.
“Considering that housemaids represent one in four women in this country and spend an average of 55 hours per week with our children, less than 5 percent of them have any training in childcare and even fewer understand what makes a good maid and how to build their career beyond a maid,” Gupta says.
Gupta and her team also published the first UAE Nanny Salary Survey in December last year to shine a light on how much maids and nannies in the emirates earn.
The survey revealed that 60 percent of nannies earn less than 2,000 UAE dirhams ($545) working as a domestic helper, while 40 percent earn 2,000 dirhams or more, and one in ten earns over 3,000 dirhams ($817) per month.
Gupta feels this information will fill the knowledge gap on what makes a good nanny, how much they get paid and what criteria are important when hiring one.
While it is also a wealth management platform, Rise has joined forces with Sharjah-based United Arab Bank (UAB) to offer banking services to domestic workers. The partnership will enable the workers to open accounts, get paid regularly, manage their money, save, and send money home.
Gupta is looking forward to launching investment, remittance and credit tools in 2018, which can help the maids to save for a rainy day, send money back home or gain access to critical loans.
Having already helped more than "50,000 housemaids in their growth trajectory," Gupta believes that a domestic worker can improve her earning power, by upskilling herself.
As well as offering banking services and financial support for entrepreneurial ventures, Rise also offers over 20 digital courses that the maids or their employers can buy to improve their skills and career prospects.
“These courses are designed to be affordable, starting as low as $14,” says Gupta.
Available for free for both iOS and Android users, the app allows users to access all attributes lined up in a single platform. “It enables them to manage their money, as well as learn new skills and grow their careers,” she adds.
The app also allows employers to link with their employees and monitor the employee’s progress – buy courses for them and help manage the employee’s payroll.
Gupta was selected as a Global Leadership fellow as part of the World Economic Forum in 2006 but she puts her work ethic and philanthropic motivation down to her parents.
She is the daughter of the executive chairman of Jebel Ali Carton Factory, Subhash Gupta, one of the pioneers of the packaging industry in the region, and she says her father is a "great role model” for her.
At the same time, Gupta's mother, Lajwanti Gupta, a music critic and the daughter of the legendary Sarod (a classical Indian string instrument) maestro, the late Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, has also influenced her in a big way.
She says that her mother's selfless work for unsung heroes and her passion for music and art have taught her compassion for the less fortunate and given her the skills she needed to set up Rise.
“It married the two expertise (areas) I built over my two decade career – how to get marginalised community banked and how to build large-scale social impact platforms,” Gupta adds.
Rise has also organised ‘UAE’s Best Nanny Awards’ in 2016 and 2017 with the aim of putting a spotlight on nannies’ welfare. Employers across the country nominated their nannies and the winner received a prize of 1 million units of her home currency.
“This award is a way to not only thank our maids, but also give them the dignity of recognition,” says Gupta.
While the 2015 earthquake may have destroyed the lives of millions of Nepal’s residents, Gupta is hoping the idea it inspired may help to improve the lives of thousands of low-income workers in the UAE, some of whom may someday return to their home countries and build a better future for themselves and their families.
To read other interviews in our Business for Good series, click here.
(Reporting by Mily Chakrabarty; Editing by Shane McGinley and Michael Fahy)
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© ZAWYA 2018