Sixty-eight -year-old Chetna Gala Sinha does not hold any IIT or IIM degree. Yet, she came up with India’s first bank, specially run for and run by rural women. Chetna Sinha is a long-time activist and farmer and she founded the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank in 1997.
Chetna, who was born and raised in Mumbai, was inspired to devote herself to rural India while still in college by Gandhian Jayaprakash Narayan. She later fell in love with a farmer leader, married, and moved to a rural community that lacked even basic necessities like running water and toilets.
Chetna Gala Sinha’s Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank’s main objective is financial development for rural women. She claims that her rural bank has opened accounts and made loans to over 1.5 lakh women in rural Maharashtra.
“We are more than just a bank; we are a community dedicated to empowering women by helping them become financially confident and independent,” says Sinha.
The Bank originally opened its doors in Mhaswad village, Satara district, Maharashtra, which later opened seven more branches and now operate in the villages of Mhaswad, Satara, Lonand, Gondavle, Vaduj, and Dahiwadi in rural Maharashtra, as well as Dhayri in Pune and Kamothe in Panvel in semi-urban Maharashtra.
Over the last 25 years, they have opened bank accounts and made loans to over 1.5 lakh rural women.
The bank was the first rural women’s bank to offer doorstep banking to rural Indian women.
Furthermore, the bank has also created a micro-savings product in which rural women can save as little as Rs 5 per day. The bank assists rural women in accumulating money by depositing as little as Rs 50 per month in regular fixed or recurring deposits.
“Women from villages save to create working capital for their businesses, health needs, and their children’s higher education,” Sinha explains. They like to save tiny amounts every day and spend the most during festival seasons. A portion of the savings is spent on gold jewellery.
Sinha claims that the bank’s sakhis, or female banking correspondents, have successfully sensitised women to the concept that a long-term savings habit and a relationship with the bank will enable them to acquire a loan faster in the future.
“We had the module, but we reasoned that the bank couldn’t do everything.” So we established a business school for women so that, in addition to learning how to better run their small enterprises, they can also learn about financial literacy,” she explains.
“Through the Mann Deshi Foundation, we support women in ways that go beyond loans, accounts, and deposits,” Sinha explains. “The entire strategy was that the bank stands with women for access to and control of finance, and the foundation will do other capacity building.”
“In my years of experience as a poor banker, I learned one important lesson from the rural women we serve: never give poor people poor solutions.” “They always deserve better,” Sinha says.
Mann Deshi Bank currently serves over two lakh account holders through eight offices in Western Maharashtra. It creates new financial products to assist female micro-enterprises.
Several honours have been bestowed upon the organisation, including the International Innovation Award, the ‘Nari Shakti’ Award, the Best Eco-Tech Award, and the Best Women’s Bank Award. India is proud of her.
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