Gender Inequality

Q&A with the woman building a generation of Indian entrepreneurs

Karuna Prakash Mukudum, a coordinator working for Financial Information Network and Operations Ltd (FINO), processes a smart card as she collects money from a woman in Wavanje village of Raigad district, about 50 km from Mumbai July 2, 2013. Picture taken July 2. To match story INDIA-BANK/  REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui (INDIA - Tags: BUSINESS)

Chetna Sinha, the Founder and President of Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank, answers questions from reddit users. Image: REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui (INDIA - Tags: BUSINESS)

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Gender Inequality

Chetna Sinha is the Founder and President of Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank and Mann Deshi Foundation in India. Sinha is also one of the seven Co-Chairs of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2018, which is on the theme, “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World”.

Chetna Sinha, one of the Co-Chairs of Davos 2018

Thousands of female entrepreneurs get their businesses off the ground thanks to loans from Mann Deshi Bank, a bank run for, and by, women. The Foundation has directly supported over 300,000 women and girls through teaching skills and helping them to access markets. This, in turn, benefits the wider community.

Ahead of Davos, Chetna took part in an "Ask Me Anything" session with Reddit users. Below are some of the questions and responses.

Q: How do rural women successfully manage running their businesses as well as managing their kids and home? Seems to be a troublesome issue for urban educated women as well – ImpatientOptimist47.

A: They don't have a choice!

Q: What made you incline towards making the issue of other women your life cause, especially when otherwise you could have led a decent life in any city? – nexusofthoughts

A: I have been involved in Gandhian, feminist and farmers’ movements since my youth. I remember being in Bodh Gaya during the JP movement where we were supporting land rights for landless labourers and I had very powerful experiences there, where I saw how removed development was from the grassroots – one woman chose a piece of land just because she could see electricity from it. She didn't even aspire to have the electricity, just seeing it made her happy. It really challenged all my notions of development and the grassroots.

I eventually met and married my husband who lives in Mhaswad, rural Maharashtra, and so I moved there. And started doing similar work in that area, related to women and sanitation initially. Eventually it grew much larger when I realized women had no safe space to save. And we set up a bank.

My message for the youth of India: do what you really enjoy doing and feel passionate about, whatever it is. Always persist. I never imagined I would set up a bank or represent so many thousands of women. But by listening and being inspired by women at the grassroots, and the incredible support I received from the women and the world at large, helped me along the way. So follow your dreams and don't give up easily.

Q: Hardly any of today's youth seem to have that calling of working towards others' causes, what would be your message to inspire us? – nexusofthoughts

A: I think you're wrong. Every generation has its fair share of altruists.

Q: I've always wanted to do something to contribute to social causes, but I lack interpersonal skills experience. Could you suggest some ways an introvert without much confidence could help at an organization such as Mann Deshi? - powdermasala.

A: Just start! Figure out the cause you are most passionate about and just go and volunteer. Persist!

Q: What has been the impact of Pradhan Mantri Jan-Dhan Yojana [Prime Minister's People Money Scheme is India's National Mission for Financial Inclusion] on the ground? How could it improve further? – prkhr

Great question! Lots of people have opened accounts, which demonstrates how important and necessary banking services are for the poor. Now the next challenge is increasing transactions – and for that much more effort is required.

Like Mann Deshi Bank does, we suggest other banks invest in doorstep banking: go to your customer, figure out her needs and what's most convenient for her. Jan DHan also has a overdraft facility – which is not used at all – but is very useful for micro entrepreneurs, so this must be promoted widely since it will be enormously beneficial and build customer loyalty and transactions.

Q: Is it realistic to envision an India in which the women of this country are on an equal socio-economic standing with men? If so, how far into the future do you think this is a plausible scenario, and what according to you are the greatest impediments to its realization? – Pride_of_Punjab

A: Yes, of course I think it will be a reality, though it will take time. I can't say how long, but that depends on so many factors – political will, cultural constraints, more women entering the workforce, more women role models, men changing. It's very complicated and a whole host of things.

Q: How badly did demonetization affect rural women's economic condition last year? Has there been any respite after re-monetization? – weeping_peacock

A: It definitely affected liquidity for women. We work with rural women entrepreneurs and they needed very small amounts of cash to run their businesses so it was really difficult for them to stand in line and give up a day's income, it was difficult to fill in forms, and also a 2000 note would not help them. So actually Mann Deshi Bank ended up taking all the small change from our local SBI branch, making packets of Rs. 500 in coins and small notes, and then converting our Mobile Business School into a Mobile Bank which went to weekly markets, helped women (and men) fill in all the paperwork and then distributed these.

Related to respite, we have found that women, especially the entrepreneurs, have become more interested in exploring and learning about digital and cashless transactions. So we are now running a digital literacy bus to support them

Have you read?

Q: How do you ensure there is no corruption and best accounting and ethical standards are followed? – kya_karoon

A: First, We give women real-time transaction details which develops their trust in us and our accountability to them. Second, we have a very strong due diligence process as far as lending is concerned. Third, we have doorstep repayment which makes it easier to repay. We use a lot of technology and monitor in great detail to keep corruption negligent. And plus the RBI inspects us regularly.

Q: What are the major problems that rural Indian women face today? – darksides007

A: I think the major problem is lack of income earning opportunities.

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Gender InequalityBanking and Capital MarketsIndia
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