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Thursday , September 20 , 2012
 
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Changing lives

Meenakshi Pise, who runs a tea and vada pao stall in Mhaswad town (in Satara district in Maharashtra), joined the Mann Deshi Business School (MDBS) when she took a micro loan from the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank. The bank gives only rural women microloans and everyone who takes a loan has to attend courses on financial literacy, wealth creation and asset management.

The bank, started in 1997 by economist Chetna Gala Sinha and some local women, seeks to make women borrowers financially independent. If their businesses are successful, it helps the women as well as the bank. Though the school was started primarily to teach women how to manage money and market their products, the founders soon realised that more active mentoring was needed to ensure that the women succeeded. Thus started the vocational and computer literacy courses. “We didn’t want to provide just business capital,” said Sinha in an interview. “We wanted to also offer skills, knowledge and motivation to run their enterprise,” says Sinha, who is married to a farmer in Mhaswad.

Typically, the women who want to join MDBS attend a free counselling session where consellors evaluate their skillsets and recommend a course. A woman can enrol at MDBS anytime, no matter what her age or education level is. Classes are held between 11am to 3pm as the timing suits the students who are mostly housewives.

At present, MDBS offers 25 course modules, most of them developed in-house. These include classes in financial and marketing management (including asset management and wealth creation) as well as vocational skills such as computer training, tailoring, embroidery and beauty treatment. The fees range from Rs 180 for a month-long computer course (school students have to pay only Rs 70) to Rs 2,000 for a month-long course that trains girls to become beauticians. Most women who pick up a skill in MDBS usually go on to a management course before taking a loan from Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank and starting a business. And just like MDBS management students are very different from the average well-heeled MBA student, the Deshi MBA too is a very different kettle of fish. The year-long programme, that is taught for free, is actually a series of five workshops.

The courses taught at MDBS are very hands-on. Tea-stall owner Pise, for example was taught client handling and negotiation with a warning not to offer anything gratis, even to the village sarpanch. When Shobha Raut, a middle-aged, physically challenged woman who runs a lingerie shop in Mhaswad, went to Mann Deshi for a loan it was suggested that she also sell sari blouses to boost her earnings. “My business is thriving and now I need my mother’s help, “ says Raut.

It is the little things that decide whether a business will succeed or not and MDBS takes care of them. For example, women who sell curds are taught to set it using a 50:50 combination of pasteurised and raw milk to prevent the curds from going sour. “If even that does not succeed, they can churn it into butter milk and sell it,” says Sinha.

MDBS was started in 2006 and in the last six years it has set up four branches in Maharashtra and one in neighbouring Karnataka. The one in Hubli, Karnataka, is a mobile school and there is another one that serves villages around Mhaswad. The other MDBS branches are all located on the premises of the Mann Deshi Bank except in Satara where classes are held in any available place, including fields and a student’s living room. In Mhaswad itself, a three-storey building to house Mann Deshi Bank, MDBS and a guesthouse is being built. Sinha aims to have nine branches of MDBS, four mobile schools and change the lives of another lakh people by 2015. We wish her good luck with that.