Maharashtras women coop bank spreads wings

Written by Nanda Kasabe | Pune | Updated: Sep 3 2014, 07:06am hrs
This rural cooperative bank run by women for women in rural Maharashtra has been breaking several stereotypes. Among the first to be issued a licence by the Reserve Bank of India ( RBI), the Mhaswad-headquartered Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank has also been running a business school for rural women, helping unlettered women become entrepreneurs. Today, both the bank and the school are ready to scale up operations.

Mann Deshi MahilaSahakari Bank has acquired a non-banking finance company (NBFC) in Madhya Pradesh and now wants to take its micro-lending initiative to other states as well, says Chetna Gala Sinha, founder and chairperson of the bank. The NBFC has been acquired for R70 lakh. It was after the US President Office began to display interest in the innovative remote doorstep banking model and also sent a team to Satara to understand how this worked that Sinha realised that she had a winner on hand.

"At present, MannDeshi Mahila Bank has seven branches at Satara and Pune. The NBFC model will help us begin micro-lending initiatives in other parts of the country and scale up pan India gradually," she explained. "The model for growth has been very simple. Expand branches and, alongside, also open rural business schools for women in the area," Sinha added. Mann Deshi has enabled 1,85,000 women to save, 10,000 to own property and 42,000 to set up businesses and emerge as developers of their local eco-systems. Last year, the bank funded some 74,000 women entrepreneurs. Today, it has a customer base of over 1,65,000 clients and offers products, including group loans, savings, insurance and pension plans, to women.

What has worked in favour of the bank are the new products that have been designed with the consumers in mind. The newest such product is a savings account only for adolescent girls who want to save for higher education. The plan is to give a matching fund to these girls that will not only create a savings culture but also enable them to opt for higher studies, she said. At present, some 1,200 girls in Pune and another 1,500 in Satara district have opened such accounts. These girls manage to save upto R 3,000-4,000 and, if they are given matching grant, this will help them opt for higher studies, Sinha said. The bank has approached the Maharashtra government with a proposal to offer matching grants to such account holders. The NBFC will also be able to attract funding from NGOs, she said. The US administration had also shown an interest in this initiaitive, she said.

The bank's business school has now begun to offer formal education in addition to the various vocational courses. For interested women, the school has begun BA/BCom courses with certificates from the Yashwantrao Chavan Maharashtra Open University ( YCMOU). The Mann Deshi Udyogini (MDU), a micro-business school, founded by Sinha with a $17,500 grant from HSBC, coaches women in entreprenuership, accountancy, bank finance and marketing skills, and teaches them to run independent enterprises as vendors, screen printers, bag makers, goat de-wormers and photographers. As on date, the bank has a working capital of R100 crore, a deposit base of R68 crore and advances of R42 crore. There are plans to open new branches in Navi Mumbai soon.