She is a rural diamond who has dedicated her life to shining the light in rural communities in India.
The Mann Deshi bank is India’s first rural financial institution which is run for and by women. Ideas for the bank and foundation came up just after Chetna got married and decided to relocate to Mhaswad, a small town in Maharashtra.
On getting to Mhaswad, there was a new amendment in the Panchayat Raj Bill; a foundation of India’s political system initiated by Mahatma Gandhi to decentralize the form of government in a way that each village would be responsible for its own affairs.
In 1986-87, the Panchayat Raj Bill was passed with a new improvement that reserves 30 per cent of the Panchayat for women. At the time, most of the women were not enlightened and so they did not know the inherent benefits of the new movement.
Having some knowledge of the benefits attached to the amendment, Chetna began to encourage women in rural settlements to participate in the Gram Panchayat. It was during this process that she founded the Mann Deshi Foundation.
Mann Deshi Foundation is a place where rural women are empowered to acquire technology and business skills, property rights, and leadership strength to reach rural economic development through their intangible asset.
When Chetna started this foundation, it was beautiful and the women took advantage the new mode of learning. She made sure that she infused the benefits of what the foundation could offer and the women expressed their readiness.
Meanwhile, a majority of the women were farmers and had begun to have challenges with funds. They also faced environmental challenges (Maharashtra was known as a drought-prone area), the right to basic amenities like lands, and different forms of insecurity. The banks had also refused the women from banking with them because of their “low-savings format”.
All of these challenges hung on the major factor which is fund. Thinking about these problems, Chetna’s only solution was to start up a bank. A bank that will lend to the women, help them save their money which is usually squandered by their alcoholic husbands, and generate money to grow their businesses.
She decided to set up a cooperative bank but after six months, the central bank sanctioned the cooperative bank based on the previous disapproval of the bank because its customers were unlearned women.
A short while later, Mann Deshi Bank was born. It started as a door step banking program because she discovered that the women could not leave their business to queue at the banks. Also, Mann Deshi initiated the smart cards system for the women because keeping a passbook will mean creating awareness for their husbands to the amount of money they have saved.
Before long, the Mann Deshi began to granting loans to the women, and this was really mind blowing. It made the women realized that they could reach for the skies if they wanted to and grow to any height.
Looking at the motives behind all of Chetna’s institutions, they came about as a result of a problem, Chetna was totally sold out to the needs of these women who lived in that rural area. She launched each initiative as an answer to a problem that the women brought to her. Currently, the institutions of Mann Deshi covers the whole of Maharashtra and Karnataka, but it all began in Mhaswad, the little village in Satara district, of south Mumbai where Chetna’s heart beat to serve mankind started.
The Mann Deshi Foundation has a business school set up for the rural women. The need arose when Chetna realized that even with the availability of the financial support, the women could not break free from low lifestyles. She wanted them to begin creating their own job agencies, enterprises and more. So starting a business school for the rural women at their own level was necessary.
Under the business school initiative, the women were trained on financial and business management, community radio as well as in health and farming. They also reached out to women in other rural communities who were interested.
In addition to all of these, bicycles are provided for girls to go to high school.
On one occasion, one of the women came to the bank to mortgage her gold so that she could buy fodder for her animals. After her conversation with Chetna, she bargained to mortgage her gold if she is provided with water.
This inspired thoughts for a positive solution to the water issue. Having discussed the issue with the board, it was decided that a cattle camp is set up where water arrangements would be done.
At first, Chetna was reluctant but in less than a month, they controlled the biggest cattle camp in Mann Taluka having almost 7000 farmers with 14000 animals.
Although this decision came with a number of challenges, it was for the best.
A system was created that provided both the fodder and water to the sheds where the animals were placed and this made the camp a home for the farmers and their families.
It was amazing how Chetna who left the beautiful life of Mumbai city to an enclosed village made such huge impact. She is perceived as a savior to these common women. She has given rural women insights to better living.
Mrs. Chetna Sinha is happily married to Vijay Sinha and they have three children, she has received numerous awards, promotions, and recognitions, in the course of her work.