Recently micro-finance has caught the attention of the public specially after Prof. Yunus was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2006. Worldwide there are thousands of these institutions providing micro-credit to hundreds of thousands of people, mostly women.
One of the challenges that micro-finance faces is that beyond providing its borrowers with credit, it needs to make sure that they also have marketable skills and training that will increase their income generating capacity and the required business skills to help them manage their enterprises. One of the innovative organizations that has attempted to tackle this issue is the Mann Deshi Mahila Bank, a women owned cooperative foudned by Chetna Gala Sinha. They not only put a business skills program together, they also provided a mobile mechanism to bring the training out to the rural villages where it would have maximum impact.
I had written an article about my visit to the Mann Deshi office and their unique Business School on Wheels for Women in a column for Lokvani that is reproduced below. You can see some of the photos I took here.
Mann Deshi Mahila Bank and Its Business School on Wheels for Rural Women Raj Melville, Lokvani.com, 05/15/2008
Over two dozen expectant faces turned in our direction as we walked into the small crowded room on the second floor of a storefront office in downtown Hubli. These women had come from surrounding villages, some a half a day’s journey by bus, to attend the final graduation ceremony of their rural business course. I was introduced to the group by our guide, Sheela Munro, Program Officer with the Mann Deshi Mahila Bank. Over the course of the past month, these graduates had learnt basic computer skills or sewing skills from a mobile training center in a converted school bus.
The Mann Deshi Mahila Bank, a women owned co-operative bank, was started by Chetna Gala Sinha, an economist, farmer and activist in the drought-prone Mann Desh region of Maharashtra. Its goal was to help empower the women in the area and to enable them to achieve financial independence and self sufficiency. Due to the poor agricultural conditions, many local men wound up leaving the area to look for employment in urban centers. The burden of responsibility at home fell on the women who were left behind. With a high illiteracy rate and low level of basic skills, most women worked at meager jobs on farms or as street vendors. By providing women with both basic vocational training and the ability to save and borrow money, Mann Deshi has created thousands of budding rural women entrepreneurs.