Chetna Sinha : The Backbone of Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank and voice of thousands of rural women of India.
Even in the 21st century, many women in both rural and urban regions of India do not have their bank accounts. Many people might think that the reason is the low illiteracy rate among women. However, if you think so, then you must haven’t yet heard about Chetna Sinha, the founder of Maharashtra’s largest microfinance bank.
Being situated in Mhaswad village of Maharashtra, it is unique and special in every way. Chetna established the bank in 1997 with the sole motive to build a financial institution for women that will be run by women.
The Budding Idea
Chetna was born and brought up in Mumbai. She met Vijay Sinha while volunteering for the Jayprakash Narayan Movement. After marrying him, she shifted to Mhaswad. She has always been fond of helping and serving the society to every possible extent.
A blacksmith woman named Amandas Salunkhe used to live on the streets with her family. She wanted to buy a trampoline sheet to have a shelter. She told Chetna that the bank refused to open a bank account for her. Chetna was shocked and to understand the reason behind this act, she went to the bank. The bank official said that Amandas’ savings were too sparse and we can't open an account with this amount. Chetna was startled and thought of thousands of women out there who can’t access the bank facilities due to scarce savings. Chetna said, "Everyone has aspirations, they just need the right opportunity."
She decided to set up a cooperative bank for women in her village.
She talked and formed a team of aspiring women. Collectively, they applied for a bank license. However, as most of the women didn't know how to write or read, the bank didn’t allot the license. Chetna was determined to build the bridge between the helpless women and banks. One of the ladies said, “We don’t know how to read and write, but we know how to count.”
Chetna decided to teach women the required terms and concepts related to finance, such as interest, capital, drawings, savings among others. Within a span of 5 months, the ladies were no longer an uneducated person. They again went to the bank with more passion in their eyes to apply for a license. They told the bank officials, “Ask us to calculate interest of any amount without using a calculator?”
Surprisingly, the ladies calculated the interest before the bank officials. Bank officials were left with no reason to deny. The license got approved and the journey of empowering females of the village embarked.
Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank started operating just like any other bank in India. Now, the poor women were able to open their savings account even with the scarcity amount. Meanwhile, Chetna taught them various policies and schemes bank offers to a person.
Since then, under the umbrella of Mann Deshi Foundation, they have expanded to creating jobs and inaugurating cattle camps to take care of cattle in natural calamities.
Acceptance to Digitalisation
While planning for the mobile banking for the Bank, Chetna told the ladies, “Now, you will have your ATM card, digital wallet and unique pin number.”
The women gave an alternative for the pin code. They asked Chetna to install a biometric system instead, where we could confirm our payments and details through a thumb password. They further added, in this way no one will be able to steal our thumb impressions but they could steal the pin code.
Chetna was amazed to hear this. She learnt a lesson from her team and said, “Never give poor solutions to poor people. These women have inspired me with her every decision by starting a trading centre or securing their money.”
The bank has opened 100,000 bank accounts during these years. In 2018, to empower the women the bank provided a loan of more than $50 million. The Mann Desai Foundation runs Business School and Community Radio and Chamber of Commerce to add wings to the dream of micro women entrepreneurs at the village level. In 2018, it recorded the support of around 500,000 women.
Providing critical COVID-19 relief
Mann Deshi Bank is giving interest-free loans to those businesswomen who are miserably impacted by the pandemic. The foundation also conducts online business training courses so that no one is left away from the opportunities. It has provided 20,000 food packages to families, 25,000 meals to migrant workers and 5000 masks and PPE kits throughout the pandemic. They formed WhatsApp groups and Facebook Page to connect with people and showcase their products. They sold more than one million masks over WhatsApp. It also set up a 300- bed COVID hospital in collaboration with the district government and HSBC. The foundation is currently raising funds for ambulances.
The women who were once helpless are now lending hands to masses in these tough times.
These perfectly ambitious ladies offer pride and encouragement to all humankind. They fill us with satisfaction and assurance that a strong will can do wonders and make unexpected things happen. "… from the outset you may believe that they don't have anything to say, they don't have anything to share. You would be so wrong,” she says, and continues, “As one of them said: ‘my courage is my capital’, and I say here, ‘their courage is my capital.'” said in an event for TED at Vancouver.