Chetna Sinha Equips Women With Courage and Capital

Self described Feminist Chetna Sinha redefines entrepreneurship opportunities for women in business.

I know deeply that our mission is not just about providing finance and services, but also offering them business and management trainings, help them start their own business to make their livings sustainable. In addition to on-site business school, we used technology to design special classrooms on wheels. It goes from village to village and to the most remote places, so more women can be involved to get trainings on many topics including mini-MBA programs for rural women entrepreneurs, fashion designing, financial literacy and computer literacy.

 

Through the Mann Deshi Bank, Chetna Sinha does not simply make capital accessible to the women who need it, but empowers them with the knowledge and courage that they need to succeed.

What did you eat for breakfast?

I usually eat local black millet bread made on fire wood and yogurt for breakfast.

What’s your favorite sport or exercise?

Yoga and basketball. I develop this interest because my sons love basketball and I can play it with them.

What inspired you to start your business? Where did you start and where are you now?

I started Mann Deshi, inspired by many stories of rural women who barely have access to formal financial services. Kantabai Salunkhe was one of them. Kantabai lived on the municipal ground in Mhaswad with her husband and eight children. The family had no assets, not even a shed for shelter. All her children were born and raised on the street. Kantabai belonged to the Ghisadi community, a nomadic tribe, and carried out their hereditary caste job of making iron tools. Without bank, she kept what she earned in a plastic bag, a box or in an earthen pot. Kantabai was an active economic agent. She conducted 3 to 4 transactions in the market daily. She was able to buy raw materials, sell her products, and negotiate the process efficiently. Despite all these, Kanatabai was yet to be a customer of a bank. How can Kantabai reach a bank? Or better, what could a bank do to reach Kantabai? Mann Deshi started with the ways in which banking products can be designed to reach the goal of offering financial services to underserved people like Kantabai. Mann Deshi is the first rural women cooperative bank in India.

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The bank today has grown to become the largest cooperative bank for women in the state. It has over 7 branches, with almost two hundred thousand customers, over ten thousand daily transactions, and has so far lent over 5 million dollars with a 98% repayment rate. It has become a vehicle for the women to develop their businesses, and their families, free themselves from male domination, and find their own path.

How large is your business?

Mann Deshi operates in Maharashtra and Karnataka in India, with more than 17 branches of both the bank and the NGO. By 2016-17 Mann Deshi will exapnd its operation in two more states, Gujrat and Assam. Our team size is 200, the number of customers are 500,000, and the Mann Deshi balance sheet size is 1.2 billion.

What do you see as challenges for you and your business? Is there something you need to grow your business you’d like to bring up?

The big challenge to me is to build a team who are all passionate and persistent. Mann Deshi has grown at this stage because of my team.

Who is the entrepreneur you admire most right now? Why does s/he inspire you?

Kerabai Sargar, a radio jockey who lives in Didwaghwadi near Mhaswad in Maharashtra. She is 65 years old and never had any formal education. She does not know how to read and write, but she was blessed with a divine voice. When she was listening to the Mann Deshi radio program, she felt she could join the Mann Deshi radio team and sing devotional songs to the audience. Now, Mann Deshi Radio program starts with Kerabai’s devotional songs every morning.

Talent is there in rural women – listening to them can help us create smarter solutions to serve the rural population.

Mann Deshi operates in Maharashtra and Karnataka in India, with more than 17 branches of both the bank and the NGO. By 2016-17 Mann Deshi will exapnd its operation in two more states, Gujrat and Assam. Our team size is 200, the number of customers are 500,000, and the Mann Deshi balance sheet size is 1.2 billion.

Tell us a story about a success in your business or a mistake you overcame that made you proud of yourself, or more confident.

Mistake: piggy box
When I was setting up the bank, one of our many ideas for different products was a small savings box. Without consulting with any of the women about this thought, we ordered 5,000 boxes. However, since implementing this, the women kept telling us, “If I keep savings in the locked box, my husband will come and break it, and just take it!” So I learned that I have to involve the women in the process. It was also clear that it’s not just about finance or savings, but about giving women control over their capital, business, knowledge and assets.

Success:
Financial inclusion is not just a low-interest bank account or a loan, you need to design your product based on the cash flow and needs of the population you’re trying to serve.
For example, we designed saving and loan products that dealt with the fact that many women could not afford to come to the bank. So, we started providing doorstep banking. We send representatives to local markets every day as human ATM, to take care of vegetable vendors who need loans to buy from wholesalers.

What about your business matters most deeply to you? How does it engage your values?

I know deeply that our mission is not just about providing finance and services, but also offering them business and management trainings, help them start their own business to make their livings sustainable. In addition to on-site business school, we used technology to design special classrooms on wheels. It goes from village to village and to the most remote places, so more women can be involved to get trainings on many topics including mini-MBA programs for rural women entrepreneurs, fashion designing, financial literacy and computer literacy.

What’s the best and the worst thing about being a female founder?

Female founders can have multi-management efficiency, compassion and a deeper understanding of women. They have a good sense of reality, which helps them to know the community and people’s needs better. In addition, female founders are more passionate and patient about their work on women empowerment.

The worst thing is that sometimes they go into micromanaging.

What is the best advice you ever got, and from whom?

“Whenever you are in doubt or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask your self if the steps you contemplate are going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore to him control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and yourself melting away.” – Mahatma Gandhi

What piece of advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

After finishing the 7th grade, one young girl came to Mann Deshi and asked for a job. She wanted to continue her higher education and wanted a job at the bank so that she could earn money to buy a bicycle. See, young girls are also able to create their own solutions. Mann Deshi started the “Freedom Ride” program and donated more than 9,000 bicycles to reduce the dropouts in school.

Connect with Chetna Sinha of The Mann Deshi Bank

Twitter: @manndeshiorg
Web: www.manndeshibank.com

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This content was curated through our partner Naseba and the 18th Annual Global Women in Leadership Forum.

 

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