Chetna Gala Sinha - Courage Personified

“My courage is my capital” [1] quoted Chetna Gala Sinha during her speech in an event for the TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference 2018, at Vancouver, Canada. Chetna Gala Sinha was born in the year 1959 and she grew up in Mumbai during the 1970s and 80s. She completed her B.Com, and earned her master’s in economics from Mumbai University. She was inspired by famous social activists to work for rural India, and during her political ventures, she met and married Vijay Sinha, an activist-farmer. Owing to her marriage, in 1987, she relocated to Mhaswad, which by then was a very underdeveloped rural village in the Satara district of Maharashtra.

It is in Mhaswad that Chetna’s mission to serve rural India grew roots and attained meaningful dimensions to convert her passion into action. A mother of three children, Chetna was approached by Kantabai Salunke, a blacksmith in the village, to help her open a savings account. But, as Kantabai could only save and deposit Rs. 5/- per day, the bank rejected her plea to open the account. The denial to open a simple Savings account on the grounds of poverty became the event that transpired into a decision, Chetna recollects, “with that, my activist side emerged and I said ‘Let’s open a bank’,” [2]. This decision propelled her and the women of her village to open their own bank with a license from the RBI in 1997 [3].

Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank, a local cooperative bank for and by women, was thus incepted with a working capital of Rs. 7, 08, 000/- that was raised from among its 1,335 members. After just over 2 decades, today, the bank operates with a working capital of over Rs. 150 crores and has over 3,10,000 women members across seven branches in Maharashtra. Briefing this success story of the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank during her speech in the TED conference at Vancouver this year, Chetna assertively reminisced the teaching she learned from the women, “never provide poor solutions to poor people” [3].

In addition to opening the doors of financial freedom to the women in rural Maharashtra through the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank, Chetna Gala Sinha has also empowered them with financial and business literacy through her Mann Deshi Foundation. This feat won her the Forbes India Leadership Award 2017: Entrepreneur with Social Impact. Registering this accolade, Kathakali Chanda, in her article titled “Chetna Gala Sinha: The silent crusader”, writes, “With her credentials, Sinha can segue between the roles of an economist, a farmer and an activist with ease. But her USP lies in straddling lofty theories with the realities at the grassroots, in abandoning armchair activism and translating her vision into practices that work in a local context”. She goes on to substantiate this tenacity of Chetna with the example of Kerabai, a shepherd, who asked the Mann Deshi staff to teach her how to use a cellphone when they asked her if she knew how to use one in the process of addressing her request for a loan to buy two cellphones to be in touch with her son during the months she was away attending to the cattle. This naïve response from Kerabai instigated Chetna to start a business school at the Mann Deshi Foundation in the year 2006. This business school combines the vision of regular management courses and the mission of Chetna Sinha to deliver modules that are “customized to train rural women in setting up businesses, and in running and scaling them up. How to run a fast food centre, a home bakery, rear cattle, do up a mehndi or ward off unwanted attention if you are setting up a shop on the roadside” [2].

Notwithstanding, Chetna Sinha’s contribution to upskill and empower the people of rural Maharashtra extends to diverse facets like cattle-rearing, agriculture, sports, building check dams, etc. In recognition of her bold and enterprising initiatives and accomplishments, she has received numerous national and international awards and prizes. Appreciating her service to the nation, in 2018, the Government of India awarded her the Nari Shakti Puraskar, India's highest civilian award for women who work in the area of women's empowerment. [4]

An epitome of courage that she is, Chetna Gala Sinha, through the magnitude of her success has proved that a person propelled by courage cannot be limited by the logical norms of the world. She is a standard of courage for any person aspiring to assume leadership and is undeniably an inspiration for entrepreneurs to resourcefully strategize their business ventures to be profitable while also contributing to the wellbeing of society.



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