Because Women Mean Business
The inspiring story of a woman change-maker:
Few days back as i was perusing through the newspapers, i came across a success story of a rural woman, which i felt should be shared with my WP friends.This inspiring story is about Chetna Sinha, 53- year- old entrepreneur,who has started and successfully operated three different rural enterprises that are committed to the cause of rural women in India.She pioneered India's first co-operative bank for rural women- the Manndeshi Mahila Sahakari Ltd ( The Bank) in Mhaswad, a small village in the Satara district, Maharashtra.
About 17 years ago, when Chetna Sinha and her husband, both farmers by profession,struggling to make ends meet, first thought of opening a bank, they were looked upon with disbelief.Like them, the other families in her village, faced similar problems and were finding it difficult to save their hard earned money.When she approached The Reserve Bank Of India with her idea,she was made a victim of insulting remarks, where officials told her that women who cannot even read or write could in no way run a bank. Feeling let down, but not dejected, the women of her village promised to come together and agreed to learn to read and write,before going ahead with their plan.Soon after, with the empowerment of education in their hands, they returned to Chetna, and started with door-to-door service in their village,explaining women about various savings schemes, pension schemes and other ways of investing their money.Starting with smaller investments, the women felt encouraged to invest more and more and slowly their savings started getting doubled.Today, despite facing long hours of load-shedding ( power cut offs) in the village, the bank has successfully introduced both computerized and door- to door- banking services to its clientele of over 1,80,000 women across nine districts in rural Maharashtra and Karnataka of India.With the setting up of a micro-enterprise development bank, she has revolutionized the lives of many. Today the bank conducts about 2,400 transactions each day, with women earning as low as Rs.50 (USD 1) holding savings bank accounts.
Through the Bank and NGOs,Chetna has not only brought in transformation in the lives of the marginalized,but also championed the cause of land and housing property rights of the poor.Through Manndeshi, she has launched a community radio station, which forms a platform for information sharing for the community members of Mhaswad and also a creative outlet for them.With the holistic approach of developing and improving the lives of rural people, Manndeshi has established a first of its kind " Mann Deshi Chamber of commerce" and "Finance Company" for rural women.Through the Manndeshi Champion Sports programme,she has brought in a self development opportunity for young rural boys and girls, wherein they are encouraged to participate and contribute. Along with banking skills, she provides with training in vocational and entrepreneurial skills to the women, which later helps them to set up their own businesses, thus improving the quality of life of the villagers.
For her outstanding contributions and relentless support,Chetna has received many awards and bestowed with accolades galore. In 2005, she was honored with the Janakidevi Bajaj Puraskar award for rural entrepreneurship. She has also been awarded with the prestigious 'lifetime membership' title with Ashoka Innovators for the public.In 2010, as part of a business summit held at the Trident Nariman Point Hotel,Mumbai, Chetna Sinha was one of the participants of the summit who met and interacted with the American President, Mr.Barack Obama.
Persistence and Willingness to carry forward:
In a recent interview of hers,on being asked about the initial difficulties she faced, she responded by saying that there were many, but what set the ball rolling was the willingness of the women to put in the effort." They said, 'We will learn to read and write'. I was surprised and agreed." She continued by saying that once the women understood the power of saving money, there was no looking back for them. There has been an extraordinary improvement in the lives of these people, and the standard of living has gone up drastically.The officials, who once rejected their idea, were now impressed with the growing confidence, agreed to induct training lessons for them. They were taught the basics of running a bank, managing finances and processing loans. With the unbelievable success achieved, Chetna realized that the needs of rural women are different from that of the urban, and it had to be catered to differently. She came up with the idea of customizing many of her schemes, especially for the rural women.Today she has also started a non profit business school in the village,where women are taught about business planning,promotion, investment, branding and marketing. She agrees, change takes time,but that should not deter women from believing in them. Drawing inspiration from people around her, she believes in working for the rural women for as long as she can.
Though she had a humble beginning,Chetna went on to achieve unparalleled success and outstanding achievement in her field. She remains a living example to many today, both rural and urban women, who wish to achieve and conquer their dreams.If we all can take a leaf out of her book and learn to be as persevering and determined as her, then we can have more 'Chetnas' in our locality, our society, our country. A step,however small, must be taken, for that single step becomes the path to be followed for others.
Start alone, start small; gather some, gather all;
Success will come slowly but surely; may take time but you have to stand tall;
Does not matter if people laugh at you; does not matter if people mock you;
One day they will smile, they will smile with you;
That day you can tell them to live their dream, just as you have lived yours, through time.