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HindustanTimes Sun,21 Sep 2014

More woman power: SEWA bank looks beyond Gujarat

Anupama Airy and Mahua Venkatesh, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, March 14, 2013
First Published: 22:15 IST(14/3/2013) | Last Updated: 22:41 IST(14/3/2013)

Even as the government moves ahead with its plan to set up an all-women bank with a capital of Rs. 1,000 crore,  the country's only all-women co-operative bank - the Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) Co-operative Bank - is gearing up to expand its presence beyond Gujarat.

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The 40-year-old SEWA Co-operative Bank, which runs on the concept of "by women, for women", however, does not immediately plan to apply for a banking licence, Jayshree Vyas, managing director, told HT.

The SEWA co-op bank, registered in 1974, is under the dual control of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the Gujarat government. The bank, which essentially serves the "not-so privileged women" in rural belts, currently boasts of a turnover of Rs. 200 crore and 400,000 women as its shareholders. Ela Bhatt, the bank's founder, is currently on the board of RBI.

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Besides serving women in rural belts, the bank also provides health insurance and retirement benefits to its thousands of women workers, said Vyas.

"While I am happy that the new all-women national bank will further empower women but becoming a scheduled commercial bank was never our idea…we believe in expanding steadily and laterally then vertically," Bhatt told HT.

"We are not competing with any commercial bank at the national level, said Bhatt, adding, there was still much to be done at the state and district levels.

"SEWA co-operative bank is a successful model of an all-women bank and is actually meeting the objective of empowering women and providing them economic security," said Anjali Bansal, former director on board of FWWB (Friends of Women's World Banking) and managing director and country head of Spencer Stuart India, a top global search firm. FWWB, an affiliate of SEWA bank, was initially started to provide wholesale lending and capacity-building support to the livelihood, community-based organisations and micro eneterprises.


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