About You and Your Work

Your bio:

My name is Chetna Gala Sinha and I am an Indian social activist. In 1996, I set up the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank - India’s first bank for and by rural women. I also founded the Mann Deshi Foundation in Mhaswad, a drought-stricken area of Maharashtra, with the aim of economically and socially empowering rural women. I and six other women chaired the 48th Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland in January 2018. I was awarded the Nari Shakti Puraskar, India's highest civilian award for women. 

Growing up in Mumbai in the 80s in the heyday of political activism, I was drawn to Jayaprakash Narayan's brand of politics. I moved to rural Maharashtra, to live and work and was involved in the land rights movement, farmers movement and women’s movement. Meeting and living with the women there inspired her to start Mann Deshi. 

Project name:

Mann Deshi Foundation

One-line project summary:

Mann Deshi’s mission is to empower rural women in India with the knowledge, skills, access and capital to become successful entreprenuers

Present your project.

Rural Indian women are held back from growing their income by a lack of access to institutional banking services, opportunities for skill building and access to support networks. Moreover, they have to battle socio-cultural norms and the patriarchy leaving them unable to have a say in how to spend their income.

We focus on nurturing and supporting micro-entrepreneurs. Our model starts with creating access to and control over finance. Our programmes are developed organically to address needs identified by the women we work with. We continue to evolve and adapt our programmes based on their inputs in order to better suit these needs.

What specific problem are you solving?

70% of Indians live in rural areas. Poverty, especially amongst rural households employed in the agricultural sector, is very high. Further, in spite of having significant economic growth, strong fertility decline and rapidly rising female education in the last two decades, India has not witnessed a commensurate rise in the female labour force participation rate. The decline in since 2004-5 has been driven by a decline in rural female labour participation rates. 

This has to do with the various barriers to entry rural women face. They have to contend with socio-cultural norms based on patriarchal values that assume a woman's place is only in the home. Women traditionally tend to be burdened with domestic work, leaving them little time to contribute economically. Furthermore, women often have low literacy rates, leaving them unable to secure a job. 

Women have the potential to become successful entrepreneurs, but they have no experience with savings and repayment of loans, lack the business skills required to start and sustain an enterprise, have no means to market, and lack access to government and business networks which can help their businesses grow. 

Building livelihoods through entrepreneurship is an effective way to solve the problem of rural poverty.

What is your project?

We build a sense of personal and professional agency by supporting Indian rural women to become successful entrepreneurs. Access to finance isn’t the only factor for success. Building business skills and access to markets unlocks the true potential of rural women entrepreneurs.

The Mann Deshi Foundation works with the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank to empower rural women entrepreneurs with the knowledge, skills, courage, access to markets and capital to have more control over their lives. We do this through two major programs: our business schools and our chambers of commerce (CoC). Our business schools run courses for aspiring and existing women entrepreneurs.We also run a Business School on Wheels through which the trainings are provided at the doorstep of the rural women in remotest of the villages. Through our CoC, we run a toll-free helpline, provide customised advisory services, facilitate market access and advocate for existing women entrepreneurs. 

We also work with local farming communities to address fundamental development issues such as access to water, farm to market access and youth empowerment programmes.

Who does your project serve, and in what ways is the project impacting their lives?

We work with rural women micro entrepreneurs in India. They include street vendors, small shopkeepers, marginal farmers, and women who run a large variety of home-based businesses.

All our women belong to marginalised communities. 56% of these earn about $2 a day. Our programmes support women in four distinct ways: 

  1. Community Leadership: Mann Deshi celebrates women's entrepreneurship. Our programmes encourage women to discover their capabilities, develop their confidence, and fulfil their dreams. It nurtures leaders that serve as mentors and our Community Radio highlights success stories. 

  2. Access to Finance: Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank is a cooperative bank that was set up in 1997 by and for rural women. It is entirely dedicated to rural women micro-entrepreneurs and customises its products to suit their needs. 

  3. Entrepreneurship Support: Mann Deshi Foundation’s Business Schools for Rural Women provide the training, skills and support women need to set up and expand businesses. Our Chambers of Commerce provides advisory services, customised marketing training, platforms for peer networking and collective bargaining, and access to new markets.

  4. Access to a Collective: Our programme ensures that women do not feel alone but have a comprehensive support system that is responsive to their needs.

Which dimension of The Elevate Prize does your project most closely address?

Elevating opportunities for all people, especially those who are traditionally left behind

Explain how your project relates to The Elevate Prize and your selected dimension.

At Mann Deshi, we work with marginalised rural women who are often underserved economically and socially. Not only do we financially include women who are often left unbanked, we help mould them into business women and respected leaders in the community, develop their confidence and fulfil their dreams. 

Through Mann Deshi foundation, we are working towards building a world where women have complete control and agency over their own lives, contribute to their family income and build their community. We show that rural women can bring themselves and their families out of poverty and can thrive as business owners.


How did you come up with your project?

In 1996, I decided to set up the first rural bank for women when Kantabai, a welder who lived in Mhaswad, Maharashtra, narrated an account of being repeatedly rejected by banks when she tried to set up a savings account. Kantabai, a welder who lived on the street, wanted to buy a tarpaulin sheet to protect her family from the rains. She needed a safe space to save her money however, she was repeatedly refused a savings account. She wanted to save just Rs. 10 (less than 15 cents) a day but no bank would accept her as a customer. 

The aim of the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank was to address a lack of access to formal financial institutions and be a safe space for rural women to save their money. The Mann Deshi Foundation supports the bank by addressing needs beyond financing. We work on building business skills and facilitating market access for women entrepreneurs as well as their communities.

Today, we work in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Karnataka.


Why are you passionate about your project?

When I was younger, in the late 80s, I was involved in the women’s right movement. I spent time in Northern India, in Bihar, working on women’s land rights there. During that time, we saw to it that women gained ownership of their property. I noticed that they felt empowered once they owned their own assets. Their whole life changed and they gained status and dignity. When I saw that, it was very clear to me that I wanted to work with women and fight for their rights, especially women’s right of ownership of finance and property. 

 When I got to Maharashtra, I noticed that due to frequent droughts that plagued the areas, and subsequent migration to the cities due to a lack of job opportunities and deteriorating conditions in the villages, women were particularly disadvantaged. Few women in this tradition-bound society own assets or have access to educational and job opportunities. However, it was clear that they wanted to. Inspired by the change that can come from empowering women, I started Mann Deshi Foundation. 

My passion comes from the women I serve.

Why are you well-positioned to deliver this project?

  • Mann Deshi Foundation has been serving marginalised rural women for 23 successful years. 

  • We have reached solid numbers and had decent successes - reached 600,00 women 

  • The model of the Bank and the Foundation work very well together

  • With falling work force participation rates of women, policy makers are looking for solutions and grassroots models that work.

  • Our management staff is being recognised as leaders who have influence at the state, national and even international level. They are being approached to sit on national and international advisory committees for the  government (RBI, WCD) and are being invited to the most sought after international forums – WEF, Milken, W20.

  • We have built a great deal of trust in the local communities where we work and we can tap into hundreds of community women are keen to engage with us

Provide an example of your ability to overcome adversity.

The collective power of our women always helps me deal with difficult challenges.

When I first applied for a banking licence to the reserve bank of India, my application was rejected on the grounds that our promoting members were illiterate. I was devastated. I knew how stubborn those official could be and this made me feel dejected. 

When I went back to the village and told the women my story, they said “So what? We’ll learn to read and write and apply again!” 

It is this conviction, the excitement in these women's soul that helped me overcome this adversity. We set up a literacy school so that they could learn. They were so committed to getting this banking license that they would work all day and still attend class. 

When we reapplied, I didn't got alone. 15 women accompanied me to RBI. They challenged the RBI members and said "We can not read and write but we can count!"

Needless to say, our banking license was then approved. 

Describe a past experience that demonstrates your leadership ability.

When you're working with communities, what I am always reminded of is that it is most important to listen to them and understand their problems.You have to create a space to listen because communities themselves best know what they need. As a leader, this is integral. 

In 2012, one of our customers, Kera bai came to our bank and mortgaged gold for a loan. When I asked her why she did this, she said that because of the bad draught, there was no water and no fodder for her animals. Desperate, she and other were even planning on leaving the area and selling tier animals to butchers. 

I couldn't sleep at night after hearing this story. This is why we decided we had to do something about this. We started a cattle camp in the area. Within just 8 days, nearly 14,000 animals were brought with 7000 farmers. It didn't rain in all of Mhaswad that year so they stayed for 14 months. 

The mass turn out helped save the livelihood of many famers and also brought to attention the dire condition of the area to policy makers. 

How long have you been working on your project?

23 years

Where are you headquartered?

Mhaswad, Maharashtra, India

What type of organization is your project?

More About Your Work

Describe what makes your project innovative.

  1. The Mann Deshi difference is that we provide our women with holistic support. We support our micro-entrepreneurs beyond just credit and help them access resources to help them thrive as confident members of their community.

  2. An important element of our work is that our programmes are developed organically to address needs identified by the women we work with. We continue to evolve and adapt our programmes based on their inputs in order to better suit these needs.

What is your theory of change?

Encouraging women to be entrepreneurs encourages them, first and foremost, to believe in their own capacities. Running a business means producing something that others appreciate and want to buy, explaining the value of your product, negotiating with buyers and sellers, taking risks, and learning from failures. Success in business, however small, has the power to transform the way a person feels about herself and her abilities. As her business grows, so does a person's confidence. She is able to own more, do more, make and control more money, spend on the things she values, imagine a different world for herself and her family, and negotiate more for herself in her personal and social life.

For Mann Deshi, we promote women's entrepreneurship because our vision is for women to have more control over their lives and to value themselves and feel valued by others. We encourage women to become entrepreneurs, connect them to a large collective with networks and resources, support them become role models that inspire other women to follow their example, and help to become leaders in their communities.

Select the key characteristics of the community you are impacting.

  • Women & Girls
  • Children & Adolescents
  • Elderly
  • Rural
  • Poor
  • Low-Income
  • Minorities & Previously Excluded Populations

Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your project address?

  • 1. No Poverty
  • 2. Zero Hunger
  • 3. Good Health and Well-Being
  • 4. Quality Education
  • 5. Gender Equality
  • 6. Clean Water and Sanitation
  • 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • 9. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • 10. Reduced Inequalities
  • 15. Life on Land
  • 16. Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions

In which countries do you currently operate?

  • India

In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • India

How many people does your project currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?

Every year we reach around 60,000. Till date, we have supported 600,000 women. 

What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?

Mann Deshi aims to support one million women entrepreneurs by 2024. We hope to grow organically to other locations in India, but also, more importantly, facilitate partnerships that embed its model in other organisations. Finally, it aims to actively influence policy on supportive markets, institutional credit, financial inclusion and business support for women micro-entrepreneurs.

Our focus areas for the next five years include:

Scaling up:

  • Setting up new branches

  • Promoting community women leaders at the forefront

  • Partnerships with individuals, NGOs and institutions

  • Establishing alternate financing models to provide capital outside of Bank geography

Strengthening our Model:

  • Academic engagements to deepen, evaluate and demonstrate impact and create research collaborations

  • Creating a cadre of trainers

  • Adding/Strengthening/Promoting courses for expansion eg. Digital Lit.

  • Adding/Strengthening/Promotion programmatic areas for expansion eg. COC and Mobile Buses

Advocacy with Government Institutions:

  • With the MSME department of our country and state government to represent informal, rural micro entrepreneurs

  • RBI (our central bank) for financial inclusion of last mile women

What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?

  1. Technology barrier: our beneficiaries are rural women who tend not to have access to the internet, wifi or smart phones. During disasters such as COVID, we hope to find a way where we can safely reach them. For example, we hope to create a customised online portal just for our women so that they are able to continue to access our services. 
  2. Market Linkage - we believe we can help our women much more if we can arrange consistent market linkages for them to sell their products fairly. So far, we have a farm to market program that takes place once a week. We also hold a three day event every year that brings our beneficiaries and buyers together to showcase their products.

How do you plan to overcome these barriers?

Through partnerships with the government, corporates and industry experts.

Your Business Model & Funding

What is your business model?

We have 2 major programs- Business School and Chamber of Commerce. We also run a Business School on Wheels through which the trainings are provided at the doorstep of the rural women. Through 11 Business Schools coupled with 9 Mobile Business Schools, we have offered Financial Literacy, Digital Financial Literacy, Livelihood Workshops, Business Development Workshops and Deshi MBA course (Yearlong intensive business support program) to more than 4,88,900 rural women. 

The Mann Deshi Chamber of Commerce for Rural Women Entrepreneurs (CCRW) works towards setting up and strengthening the network of rural women entrepreneurs for facilitating their business growth. 7 chambers, with more than 1,00,170 members across 6 districts, offer customized business support services to established rural women entrepreneurs. These services include but are not limited to mentorship, financial and marketing linkages, legal support and exposure to successful businesses. 

Following parameters are used to measure the impact which is used to measure the impact. 

  1. 80% of members connected to the formal economy reporting improvements in business performance

  2. 65% of members reported an increase in revenue.

  3. 50% of members use (new) information technology or digital services.

  4. 80% of members with strengthened relationships with customers, input suppliers, and service providers.

  5. 60% of members reported to have gained new (forward) market clients.

  6. 80% of members trained, supported or more knowledgeable on key business-related skills

  7. 60% of members reporting new business activities

  8. 30% members that obtained a loan from a financial institution

What is your path to financial sustainability?

Our programs, in its current structure, are operated through external funds. For the courses being offered, we charge a nominal fee just to bring responsibility among the attendees. If we charge the beneficiaries according to actual expenses occurred, the intended target group may not be able to avail the training. In the future, we plan to increase the fees to a certain limit to at least cover the operational costs. Though, the human resource costs will remain to be funded through external sources. In order to reach out to a large number of women, we provide doorstep training. Every year, thousands of the women graduate from the Business School. After they graduate, we have our network of alumina who act as mentors and the trainers for the further batches. Also, our role models from this project will help us in developing new entrepreneurs.

If you have raised funds for your project or are generating revenue, please provide details.

Majority of the funding comes from the CSRs of different companies – Accenture, Mastercard centre for inclusive growth, Dow Chemicals, Bajaj Pvt limited, Walmart India, Commonwealth of Learning, Edelgive Foundation, GMSP Foundation, GES- Great Eastern Shipping, HSBC, H T Parekh Foundation, RBL Bank, Credit Suisse, Rhythm Foundation and some part of it comes from the individual donors and well wishers. 

What are your estimated expenses for 2020?

$ 26,80,255 for 20-21

The Prize

Why are you applying for The Elevate Prize?

  1. Technology Partnership: in order to serve our beneficiaries efficiently, online. This is especially relevant now considering the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  2. Knowledge or Corporate partnerships that will aid scaling our market linkage initiative. 
  3. Funding to scale: we have an ambitious goal of reaching 1 million women by 2024. Funding will be essential to help us get there.

In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Funding and revenue model
  • Mentorship and/or coaching
  • Legal or regulatory matters
  • Marketing, media, and exposure
  • Other

Please explain in more detail here.

Technology Partnerships as detailed above

Solution Team

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