Our Story

We were recently asked at a conference why the Mann Deshi Bank was not bigger. Given the well documented explosion of microfinance and the millions of women it has reached, how come we had not grown exponentially in the same way? It was an important question. We thought it would be useful to share our story.

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Chetna Sinha

Founder and Chairperson

When I set up Mann Deshi, I had no idea that we would ever go beyond Mhaswad. We had begun as a social movement - working on women’s rights and increasing their participation in local community decisions. In 1996, Kerabai, a welder who lived on the street with her family came to me and told me about how banks were refusing to accept her savings. So we set up a bank. Not because we wanted to instill a sense of fiscal discipline among women so they could eventually get and repay loans, but simply because we realized that poor rural women needed a safe space to keep the money they had worked hard to earn. So the real issue we were working on was supporting these women control their own finance. And we were clear – there was no way we were going to create poor solutions for poor people. Whatever we did had to create real opportunity and real wealth, in the way and manner that worked best for women. And all the strategies the bank and the foundation employed revolved around addressing this need.

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Vanita Shinde

Chief Administrative Officer

A few years after I joined, a woman came to us and asked us to help her to use a mobile phone. She also suggested we train her and other women to upgrade their business skills. And that’s how our Business School for Rural Women was born. It was incredible; because very soon we began to come across powerful stories – of courage and of overcoming numerous obstacles - and we knew that many women would be inspired by these stories. It was important to share these widely and so our Community Radio was born. And when women became confident and began to experience the flush of success, they wanted more – more markets, more money. So we started setting up Chambers of Commerce and our Deshi MBA to provide all these services.

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Rekha Kulkarni

CEO, Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank

I am the CEO of Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank and my story reflects the philosophy of Mann Deshi. I am the first woman in my village to go to university, and I was very excited about working at Mann Deshi. When I joined in 2000, I was in a clerical post. In four months I became a Branch Manager. Around that time, I noticed that a lot of women were running small businesses around the temple that our town was famous for. We decided to start by experimenting with small individual loans of Rs. 5000 – Rs. 10,000. It was such a success that we started giving out 25 a day, a few hundred a month, and soon our Mhaswad branch followed suit. Over the years, tens of thousands of women have set up and expanded their businesses and taken over a dozen loans each from us to do so.


All this we have learned by observing, listening to and being responsive to the women we worked with. That’s been the Bank’s philosophy and its something that I have learned enormously from and try and practice in my daily work. The point is that as an organization, we invest in creating opportunities for women – whether our clients or our staff - to expand their ability to earn and make choices in their lives.

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Vanita Shinde

Chief Administrative Officer

In 2012, there was a terrible drought in Mhaswad and people starting selling their livestock – their only assets – and migrating in search of work. And again we were challenged by a woman who asked us who we were planning to work with if everyone was forced to migrate. And so our Water Conservation and Community Development work was born. In fact, even though Mhaswad only received five inches of rain this monsoon, it has overflowing rivers and dams. There’s a festive air about and everyone from the area is at the river, marveling at it. I can proudly say this is because of our ground water rejuvenation work. And today we are also working with small and marginal farmers to help them directly access markets and improve their livelihoods. We are setting up Warehousing facilities and a Cold Storage, and creating a customized loan product to prevent distress sales.

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Chetna Sinha

Founder and Chairperson

When I was setting up the Bank, I was told that I should apply for a state-wide license. I had laughed and said – no, no, we are just going to work in Mhaswad. How wrong I was! I never realized how far our women would take us. This past year, we have even set up an office in Mumbai and moved into our new office - the tallest building in Mhaswad!

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Rekha Kulkarni

CEO, Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank

I want to emphasize this symbiotic relationship that our Bank and Foundation have and that everything is run at women’s doorsteps. In November 2016 when demonetization was announced, our clients were in a very difficult position. Mann Deshi Bank jumped into action. Special desks were set up for the illiterate and elderly. Mann Deshi Community Radio started relaying important information and dispelling rumours. But there was another concern. The majority of Mann Deshi Bank’s customers are small and marginal farmers, daily wage labourers and street and vegetable vendors who need small amounts of cash to run their businesses. How could they possibly spend the entire day waiting in line to exchange money? And in any case, Rs. 2000 note would not be useful for them.


I decided to approach SBI for the coins and small change they had lying in their reserves and lockers. And then we hired a van to collect all their change – it was really heavy!. This money was sorted and organized to create individual pouches worth Rs. 500. Mann Deshi then converted its mobile business school into a mobile bank which we ran at weekly markets and exchanged old Rs. 500 notes for these pouches.

In the course of next two weeks, nearly 5000 people benefited from this initiative. Mann Deshi customers continued to be able to run their businesses. It has also meant that many new people, drawn to Mann Deshi Bank’s innovative approach, opened new accounts and became customers!

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Vanita Shinde

Chief Administrative Officer

The theme of this report resonates deeply for all of us. "My courage is my capital," said Sugradi Mulani, whose story is featured later. It is this courage that inspires us, and that our work at Mann Deshi nurtures and celebrates. Our success is because of the everyday struggles that rural women micro-entrepreneurs overcome. And today, we are poised at significant growth because of their collective aspirations, and because we have a tried and tested model that can truly be expanded to support many more women.

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Rekha Kulkarni

CEO, Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank

The growing confidence of our women is also reflected in the numbers who are now keen to learn digital banking. And just like we started – 20 years ago – by going to women’s homes and places of work and training them to open accounts and manage electronic passbooks, we have now launched a digital literacy bus. There’s so much excitement as women are lining up to learn how to use their ATM cards and buying smart phones to improve business efficiency. We are even going to start a digital literacy van in weekly markets for women entrepreneurs and teach them. All this is based on the responding to women’s need to control their own finances. We are just trying to keep pace with them! The technology is not cheap, especially for a Bank like us, but there’s no question of not fulfilling these aspirations.

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Chetna Sinha

Founder and Chairperson

There are many challenges to growth ahead; especially how to marry our organic approach with professional expertise, and how to maintain our quality as we explore new distant locations. We are in the process of setting up an Advisory Panel to guide us. I am grateful to our Board and many our long-term partners like Accenture, Agarwal Foundation, Brihad Bharti Samaj, British Asian Trust, Cherie Blair Foundation For Women, Commonwealth of Learning, Dasra , EdelGive, GiveIndia, Give2Asia, Global Giving, Hindustan Unilever Limited, HSBC, National Skill Development Corporation of India (NSDC), MasterCard, Swift, Xynteo and YCMOU and a growing family of new supporters like Amdocs, Great Eastern Shipping, ISWAI, Kalapataru Trust, Mahindra Insurance, and Micro-Housing Finance Corporation. We are always grateful for the financial, networking, volunteering and organizational development support we have so generously received. In fact, analyzing all the data for this annual report has been made possible because of the pro-bono work of Accenture, who spent hundreds of hours developing a comprehensive MIS and data management system for our Foundation.

Chetna: There are also numerous individuals – from across the country and world – that support our journey. I hope together we will be able to fulfill a million dreams.