How women in rural India turned courage into capital: Story of Mann Deshi Mahila Sahkari Bank

Inspiring TED talk by Chetna Gala Sinha who started the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahkari Bank. She came in KBC as well which was quite inspiring too.

What led to the formation of the bank? The other banks were unwilling to open bank accounts for rural women:

I was staying with my family, with my three children in the village, and one day, a few years later one day, a woman called Kantabai came to me. Kantabai said, “I want to open a saving account. I want to save.” I asked Kantabai: “You are doing business of blacksmith. Do you have enough money to save?You are staying on the street. Can you save?” Kantabai was insistent. She said, “I want to save because I want to buy a plastic sheet before the monsoons arrive. I want to save my family from rain.”I went with Kantabai to the bank. Kantabai wanted to save 10 rupees a day — less than 15 cents.Bank manager refused to open the account of Kantabai. He said Kantabai’s amount is too small and it’s not worth his time. Kantabai was not asking any loan from the bank. She was not asking any subsidy or grant from the government. What she was asking was to have a safe place to save her hard-earned money. And that was her right. And I went — I said if banks are not opening the account of Kantabai, why not start the bank which will give an opportunity for women like Kantabai to save?And I applied for the banking license to Reserve Bank of India.

(Applause)

No, it was not an easy task. Our license was rejected —

(Laughter)

on the grounds — Reserve Bank said that we cannot issue a license to the bank who’s promoting members who are nonliterate. I was terrified. I was crying. And by coming back home, I was continuously crying. I told Kantabai and other women that we couldn’t get the license because our women are nonliterate. Our women said, “Stop crying. We will learn to read and write and apply again, so what?”

04:21

We started our literacy classes. Every day our women would come. They were so determined that after working the whole day, they would come to the class and learn to read and write. After five months, we applied again, but this time I didn’t go alone. Fifteen women accompanied me to Reserve Bank of India. Our women told the officer of Reserve Bank, “You rejected the license because we cannot read and write. You rejected the license because we are nonliterate.” But they said, “There were no schools when we were growing, so we are not responsible for our noneducation.” And they said, “We cannot read and write, but we can count.”

(Laughter)

(Applause)

And they challenged the officer. “Then tell us to calculate the interest of any principal amount.”

(Laughter)

“If we are unable to do it, don’t give us license. Tell your officers to do it without a calculator and see who can calculate faster.”

Needless to say, we got the banking license.

(Laughter)

(Applause)

Today, more than 100,000 women are banking with us and we have more than 20 million dollars of capital. This is all women’s savings, women capital, no outside investors asking for a business plan.No. It’s our own rural women’s savings.

The story is quite similar to that of Syndicate Bank which started in 1925. RBI objected to Directors of Syndicate Bank as well for similar reasons.

In 1940s, RBI said that none of the Directors of the Syndicate Bank were well known and all from rural background. RBI asked the Management to have bigger names to the Board but the Syndicate Bank management declined the idea. Amazing, even after nearly 60 years the Central Bank barely changed its approach!

Syndicate Bank could come up as it started before RBI otherwise in all likelihood, it would have also not got a bank licence.

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