Chetna Gala Sinha is an activist, farmer and banker. In the early 1980s, while still a student, she joined the Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) movement and travelled through the country championing land rights and other social issues.
In 1996, she founded the Mann Deshi Foundation in Mhaswad, a drought-stricken area of Maharashtra, with the aim of economically and socially empowering rural women. In 1997, she set up the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank - India’s first bank for and by rural women.
Today, the Mann Deshi Bank has over 100,000 account holders, has loaned over $50 million and regularly creates new financial products to support the needs of female micro-entrepreneurs. It has received the 2006 Microfinance Process Excellence Award, the 2014 Best Eco-Tech Bank Award by the Indian Bank Association and the 2015 ‘Best Bank Award’ by the Maharashtra Urban Cooperative Banks Federation.
In 2006, Chetna founded the first Business Schools for Rural Women and in 2013, she launched the first Chambers of Commerce for women micro-entrepreneurs in the country. In 2012, she set up a Community Empowerment Programme for Farmers that supports Water Conservation. It has built 13 check dams and impacted 50,000 people. Mann Deshi Foundation also has a Sports Programme for talented athletes (2012) and a women-owned Community Radio (2008) that reaches over 50,000 listeners. In 2013, Mann Deshi Foundation was awarded the Best Innovation Award by the National Rural Livelihoods Mission. To date, Mann Deshi has supported over 400,000 women and plans to reach one million women entrepreneurs by 2022.
Chetna Sinha has received many accolades for her work. In 2002, she was part of the first class of Yale University’s prestigious World Fellows Programme. She has awarded the 2005 Jankidevi Bajaj Award for Rural Entrepreneurship, the 2005 Ashoka Changemakers Award, the 2009 Godfrey Phillips Bravery Award, the 2010 EdelGive Social Innovation Honors (Livelihood Category). She has won the the Schwab Foundation’s Social Entrepreneur of the Year Award (2013), the Forbes Social Entrepreneurs of the Year Award (2017) and was included by Fortune India as one of the country’s 50 top businesswomen (2018).
She has been instrumental in driving significant policy changes. These include:
- Successfully advocating with the RBI to relax stringent KYC norms so low-income customers could open bank accounts. This led to the creation of the immensely popular Basic Savings Bank Deposit Accounts (BSBD) which require no minimum balance.
- Successfully advocating with the RBI to increase collateral free lending to support low-income customers.
- Creating the first low-cost pension scheme for women micro-entrepreneurs in 2007 which influenced the national Pradhan Mantri Atal Pension Yojana (2015).
- Successfully advocating with the State Government of Maharashtra to create a more comprehensive drought-policy in 2012.
The RBI, NABARD and other regulatory financial and banking institutions regularly seek her advice on financial inclusion. She is on several national boards including:
- The Rashtriya Mahila Kosh (RMK) of the Department of Women & Child Development
- The National Committee for Promotion of Social and Economic Welfare constituted under Section 35AC of Income Tax Act, 1961 (both since 2014)
- The Maharashtra State Livelihood Mission Board (2012-2013)
In January 2018, she served as a Co-Chair of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and as a Co-Chair of Financial Inclusion at the W20 Summit in Argentina.