Mhaswad, a drought-prone village in Satara, Maharashtra, has gone global. The Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank, which started here in the late 1990s, has found a mention in discussions at Yale University, is attracting exchange students from Harvard and has reputed banks wanting to partner with it. And nobody’s happier that the woman who started it all and was short-listed as one of the finalists for the Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2007 award, Chetna Gala-Sinha.
“This is a victory for our women who are so local but have created a model that is being recognised by a global organisation,” said Gala-Sinha, on the telephone from Mhaswad. Through the women’s co-operative bank, Gala-Sinha has made successful entrepreneurs out of semi-literate and illiterate rural women from Satara and its neighbouring districts. These women have used credit and micro-finance services provided by the bank to set up successful businesses. Gala-Sinha (47), a postgraduate in economics was born and brought up in Mumbai. She then moved to Bihar to work with landless labourers. She met her husband Vijay Sinha, a farmer from Mhaswad, during a farmers’ movement in Maharashtra between 1984 and 1985. The young woman moved from Mumbai to Mhaswad after marriage. She spent time helping her husband on the farm and organising the local community on different issues. Her experience with agriculture made her realise farmers are a vulnerable lot. “There were seven banks around but none of them wanted to give loans to farmers,” she said. That’s when Gala-Sinha thought of starting a women’s credit co-operative bank. “My experience was that women are better at banking,” she said. The bank, started with an initial shareholder capital of Rs 6 lakh, now has total assets worth Rs 9 crore. She is fondly called ‘bhabhi’ by women who benefited from her work. The bank’s products were designed to suit local needs. There are daily savings schemes. Women can get loans for as low duration as a day at their doorstep.
“More than 17,000 women have started micro businesses taking small loans from the bank, which now has 65,000 women as clients,” Gala-Sinha said. “We had to convince these women that in agricultural households at least one member should have another source of income.” They now earn an average of Rs 20,000 a month.
Shobha Raut, a 30-year-old graduate afflicted by polio, took small loans from the bank to set up and expand a store. “I could stand on my feet thanks to the bank and bhabhi,” said Raut. Backed by her 42-member staff at the bank—97 per cent of who are women—Gala-Sinha is gearing up for an exciting time ahead. Her non-governmental organisation, Mann Vikas Samajik Sansthan, has recently been granted permission to set up a community radio in Mhaswad. Next on her agenda: “How to turn micro business into small businesses.”