Chentna Sinha’s Mann Deshi Mahila Bank provides for 310,000 rural women’s banking needs.
Empowered women can help to bring entire families and communities out of poverty. Social entrepreneur Chetna Sinha’s cooperative bank for illiterate female workers is a testament to that.Founder of Mann Deshi Foundation, Chetna Sinha runs an Indian cooperative bank for over 310,000 rural women. Chetna Sinha has successfully set up an Indian cooperative bank for 310,000 rural women which is doing US$100 million worth of banking and micro-financing.
“People assume poor people want access to credit but they want to plan their lives,” says Mrs Sinha, who visited Dubai recently and spoke at the Global Women in Leadership Economic Forum. “Rural women want to control their savings.” Mrs Sinha, an economics teacher from Mumbai, met her husband Vijay when they were student activists who moved to his village of Mhaswad, in West Maharashtra where they got married. What rattled her was when she discovered that an illiterate woman blacksmith, who sharpened farm tools for a living and saved $1 a day, had been refused a bank account because she was not an “affordable client”.
Mrs Sinha, 57, went to the banks with her and hit the same walls. Eventually, drawing on her past experience as an activist, she decided to just create a women’s bank herself. The Mann Deshi Mahila Bank opened in 1991 but officially received its banking license in 1997 because it was refused by the reserve bank on grounds of licensing a cooperative of illiterate women. To counter this, Mann Deshi started literacy classes for the women. Frustrated by this, Mrs Sinha received her license after she challenged the authorities to calculate the principal interest on any amount faster on a calculator than she could in her head.
“The margins may not be high but it does not mean there is no business,” says Mrs Sinha, whose aims to provide for one million Indian women entrepreneurs by 2020. She also admits to a lot of mistakes that were made in the early days – the first being to assume that all the village women needed to start banking. Mrs Sinha built a team of field agents to visit them with doorstep banking to avoid losing a day’s wages travelling when they deposited their cash Micro-ATMs were devised since they didn’t want passbooks since they didn’t want to their savings and spending revealed. The micro-ATMs were hand-held machines that used their thumbprint to link to their Indian “UID”, or national identity.
“In spite of their poor education, they are smart enough – and techno-savvy,” says Mrs Sinha. “We do not need poor solutions for poor people.” The bank gives savings plans, micro loans daily, and insurances while the Foundation runs a business school, a radio station, a financial hotline and has built a significant number of water banks in the drought prone areas of the state and also donated over 10,000 bicycles to help the girls attend classes. “Focusing on women in terms of empowerment and job creation is a proven method to bring entire families and communities out of poverty all over the world,” says Medea Nocentini, co-founder and chief executive of Consult and Coach for a Cause (C3), a UAE-based social enterprise that works with some 300 social entrepreneurs.
“Businesses benefit from diversity, increasing business success and ultimately economic improvements.” “Women running social enterprises have been able to address many of the most prevalent and challenging social issues affecting them, their communities and their children worldwide,” says co-founder Pamela Chikhani, who is also the corporate head of business development and communications for the Oasis Investment Company. “Women bring different perspectives and approaches to business. At Reach, we believe that bridging the gender diversity gap in the workplace, by engaging female leaders in positions of influence to serve as role models, is critical.
“Inspirational female leaders such as Chetna Sinha are positively impacting the world by demonstrating vision, developing social enterprises with strong business fundamentals and acting as a powerful role model for other women.” Mrs Sinha was named Indian social entrepreneur of the year in 2013 and in 2015 one of 15 women changing the world by the World Economic Forum. “There is a charm in creating role models,” says this queen of all role models modestly.
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