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ET Women’s Forum: From being funded by friends to Rs 150 cr capital, Chetna Sinha changed banking for rural women

The rural cooperative bank’s journey is a testament to women’s empowerment.

ET Bureau|
Updated: Feb 12, 2019, 11.43 AM IST
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Agencies
Chetna Sinha, founder of Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank
Chetna Sinha, founder of Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank
The Economic Times Women’s Forum 2019 took forward the mission that it last year — to collaboratively and urgently build a sustainable culture of empowering India’s half a billion women — through a scintillating day of conversations and debates about encouraging greater participation and reducing gender inequality in every sphere of life, work, and play.

Having set an example for women’s empowerment in rural Maharashtra, Chetna Sinha, founder of the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank, is unstoppable as she is all set to apply for a small finance bank licence and raise Rs 100 crore through an alternate investment fund.

At the ET Women’s Forum, Sinha spoke about her journey of setting up the cooperative bank in 1997 with a small amount raised from friends, which has now grown to a capital of Rs 150 crore. “One day Kantabai went to a bank to open a savings account but the bank refused,” she said. “With no business plan and no action plan we decided to open a bank. RBI (initially) rejected the licence because our women were not literate.”

Though Sinha became dejected, the other villagers pushed her to organise literacy classes. “The women told me they may not be able to read and write but they can calculate interest,” said Sinha. “Around 15 women accompanied me to the Reserve Bank. They told the RBI officer that they can calculate interest of any amount and tell your officers to do it without a calculator. We got the banking licence. Today, Kantabai has her own home.”

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Sinha then started doorstep banking to meet the needs of her customers. She launched digital banking as well. But the women in the village were not comfortable using a PIN and insisted on using their thumb print. “That is how we went biometric and women reinvented banking,” she said.

Another villager Kerabai mortgaged gold for a loan to buy fodder. “She asked me if she could do the same thing to get water.” This gave Sinha an idea and she went on to build a dam to tackle drought. Another time, when Kerabai came to the bank, she said she wanted to feature her programme on the radio. Not knowing to read and write, Kerabai became a radio jockey and singer. “They have taught me never provide poor solutions to poor people,” said Sinha. “They will discover these on their own.”

“I often ask people like Kerabai, Kantabai, Sujata, how do carry on with business? They say their courage is their capital and I want to say their courage is my capital.”

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