Mann Deshi Bank's Chetna Sinha gives women entrepreneurship a leg-up through microfinance in western Maharashtra
In 1986-87, Chetna Sinha set up the Mann Deshi Foundation to help rural women with business skills.
At a rural exhibition held on the outskirts of Satara, 32 year old Shivangi Ganpat Kamble is standing behind heaps of masalas—fiery red chilli powder, sun-dried coriander seeds powder, exotic spices like rich brown onion-garlic powder, black sesame seed-dried coconut or copra and spice masala, and the ubiquitous goda masala used in every Maharashtrian household –selling them to customers and stuffing the money in a sling bag across her shoulders. There was a big sack of coarsely powdered peanut-garlic chutney powder which visitors at the exhibition generously helped themselves to so as to ascertain its pungent quotient before deciding to buy it.
Kamble oversaw everything even as she packed the masalas in pouches and sealed them quickly before handing it over to the buyer – all the time cheerfully explaining the ingredients and the process of the pounding of masalas to those who asked her.
Next to Kamble’s stall are placed half a dozen brooms made of grass. In fact, a few years ago selling these brooms was the mainstay of Kamble’s household. Along with her husband, mother-in-law, Kamble made grass brooms which she and her husband sold at the bazaar in the village. “We earned around Rs 600 per week which was just enough to take care of the weekly provisions,” said Kamble.
At the bazaar where she sold the brooms, Kamble heard of the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahkari Bank -- a Cooperative Bank run by women, for women. It is one of the largest microfinance banks in Maharashtra. It helps rural women with loans at a very nominal rate of interest. Kamble approached the bank out of sheer curiosity and came out of the bank with an invitation to learn how to run a business from the Mann Deshi Foundation.
At the Mann Deshi Foundation, Kamble was taught business skills and how to facilitate market access for women entrepreneurs like herself as well as their communities. Kamble enrolled in the class and at the end of six months realised that instead of focusing only on grass brooms, she could bank upon a trait she learnt as a child at her home – learning how to make masalas which she helped her mother with. The Foundation asked her to try it out and helped her with a loan. Kamble applied and got a loan of Rs 50,000 and bought a machine to powder the whole ingredients into masalas. With the money that was left, she bought the raw materials and has been supplying as many as 10 masala powders in and around Satara and participates in around 7-10 rural exhibitions in Maharashtra.
From a weekly household income of Rs 600, the Kambles – husband and wife are in the business together – manage to save Rs 2,000-3,000 monthly after paying off Rs 1,100 as interest on the loan. Her children go to school and she now dreams of a bright future for her children.
“Since I know how to make grass brooms, my husband and I decided to keep on with it and we sell both and earn an extra income from the brooms,” says the confident lady. The Mann Deshi Bank was born out of the angst of Kanta Amandas Salunke, a blacksmith from Mhaswad in Maan taluka in Satara district, who could not find any bank that would help her have a savings account where she could daily deposit Rs 5 from her earning. Exasperated at being turned out by banks, she approached Chetna Gala Sinha, a Mumbaite who went to Satara after her marriage.
Sinha has always been involved with the community she has lived in and being with the Jayaprakash Narayan movement since her college days where incidentally she met her husband. Sinha, upon shifting to Maan taluka post-marriage, got involved in the lives of the rural women there. “Everyone has aspirations, they just need the right opportunity. I was spurred on by the hardwork and the skills of the women who ran business with meagre earnings and took care of homes and families,” says Sinha.
In 1986-87, Sinha set up the Mann Deshi Foundation to help rural women with business skills. Sinha's was determined to start a bank for women like Salunkhe who wanted to open saving account with nominal amounts. Sinha started the Mann Deshi Mahila Bank in 1997.
Gala has adapted the bank to the needs of the women depending on their needs and aspirations. When women found it difficult to go to the bank as it took away from them precious time in their work lives, doorstep banking was introduced. Currently, 90,000 women have set up accounts with the bank which has Rs 97.52 crore deposits and Rs 161.65 crore in total business in FY18. Now 60 percent of the bank's loans are in the range of Rs 1-3 lakh.
Mann Deshi Foundation has its own MBA program – a year-long course that enables women micro-entrepreneurs to examine and strengthen their financial, planning, inventory, marketing and accounting systems. Participants attend workshops, visit successful businesses, attend market fairs and are supported by a mentor who guides them throughout the year.
The entrepreneurship development programme helps women set up their business and hone their entrepreneurial skills with particular emphasis on agri-based business, computer literacy, fashion design and several vocational courses.
For the women in farming communities in the Mann taluka goats are crucial assets. The Goat Doctor Programme, in partnership with the Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) provides training in goat farming, vaccinations, first aid and artificial insemination. Some like Manisha Dupde are a role model in the village, says Sinha. “Manisha Dupde enrolled for the Business school program initially. Then she went on to take several courses in financial literacy, sewing, first aid for animals and goat and poultry rearing. She became an entrepreneur and started a dairy, poultry and goat rearing business. She now sells 70 litres of milk a day. Not only that, she has become a Master trainer on goat farming and a state-level government trainer. Manisha also runs a successful pomegranate farm with her husband. Together, they earn Rs 25,000 a month. As her income and exposure has grown, so has her self-confidence. She drives a tractor and can also install electrical fittings, do heavy manual work and repair bore wells, too. She says that people now respect her in her community, and even ask her to repair their vehicles,” says Sinha proudly.
The Women and Young Girls programme at Mann Deshi Foundation focuses on the least educated and most vulnerable groups of girls and young women who live in rural Satara district. The programme combines life-skill and health workshops, financial literacy and livelihood training. “Today, we work in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka. We aim to reach one million women by 2022,” said Sinha who has set her sights high to help rural women.
(The article is part of OneWorld-Dream Media Fellowships on Life Skills-2018)
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