The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Financial Inclusion and Women Empowerment with Chetna Sinha, Founder of the Mann Deshi Mahila Bank

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What does it take to change the lives of 1 million low-income women? Chetna Sinha, the founder and president of the Mann Deshi Mahila Bank, aims to find out. With a goal of impacting 1 million female entrepreneurs by 2020, the Mann Deshi bank is a micro-enterprise development bank that operates in some of the poorest and most drought-stricken areas of rural India. The bank currently has seven branches, more than 185,000 clients, and conducts over 10,000 transactions daily, impacting the lives of women and their families all over India.

“I found that the low-income women weren’t asking for subsidies from the government – they just wanted to save for themselves and their families,” Sinha remarked.

Sinha founded the bank as a way to help illiterate low-income women understand financial planning. She cited a memorable anecdote about a girl in high school who wanted to save up money for university.

“Financial literacy is a sort of a freedom right for young women. We can help young girls open the roads to education, especially higher education,” Sinha said.

When the girls reach a certain age, they will be granted access to the account with the money they had saved and be able to control their own finances.

Another anecdote that Sinha shared with the audience was her experience with the Indian Federal Reserve when she founded the bank. Sinha, along with several other women, went to the Federal Reserve to apply for a banking license. Initially, they were rejected because the women weren’t literate. However, when she dared the officials to test their financial and accounting capabilities, the women were able to perform just as well or even better than the male employees at the Fed. They were then granted a license and created the first rural bank for women in India.

Sinha says that the Mann Deshi bank is not just a micro-finance institution that provides loan products and capital – it’s mission for women empowerment in the form of a community bank. Using a holistic approach with their clients, Mann Deshi wants to help women become entrepreneurs.

“If you want to make the impact on these women’s lives, you must provide the access to capital but also the knowledge transfer and soft skills so that they can use these financial services more effectively,” Sinha commented.

With this philosophy in mind, Mann Deshi has also opened a business school for women, a radio where clients can advertise their business products, and a 24/7 help hotline.

“Often illiterate and poor, these women are able to run their business successfully despite their challenges,” Sinha remarked.

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The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences