Women's Empowerment

A Network of Know-How Helps Women Entrepreneurs in Rural India

A chamber of commerce for women is making an impact.

A Network of Know-How Helps Women Entrepreneurs in Rural India

August 20, 2019

In a small village in Maharashtra province in India, Aarti and her husband were having a hard time. Aarti’s mother-in-law had fallen ill and the medical bills were leaving little money in the budget at the end of the month. Aarti thought it would be smart to capitalize on the tourist trade that flocked to their historic village of Vardhangad on Satara-Pandharpur highway by opening a snack shop.

The business took off and she soon found herself working morning to evening. Yet despite her hard work, she still had little left over after expenses. She needed advice and a mentor, so she turned to Mann Deshi, a bank in rural India owned and operated by women.

Founded by Chetna Sinha and supported by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, the Mann Deshi Foundation offers women entrepreneurs in the Satara district a network of contacts and education to help them expand their businesses. Aarti would become one of 5,500 women to join the first-ever Chamber of Commerce for Rural Women in its first year of operation.

Aarti learned about financial management, bookkeeping, the basics of marketing and customer relations. She also learned about credit and was introduced to the local bank during one of the sessions. She later received a loan for $281 to add new products to the menu and redo the shop’s setup.

Applying what she learned in the workshops, Aarti was able to more than double her daily profit and save $6.00 a month; the average monthly household savings in Maharashtra is $29 from an average monthly income of $126, according to a recent survey.

The Center’s partnership with Mann Deshi Foundation recognizes that connecting women to know-how, along with access to financial services, is essential to helping women-owned businesses like Aarti’s grow and thrive. The two-year goal is to connect 10,000 women-business owners to the networks they need to be more productive. 

Helping women succeed as entrepreneurs creates a ripple of benefits beyond the added income security. The majority of women who participated in Mann Deshi programs in 2018, for example, used the added income on their children’s education. The women also gained status in their homes and communities, leading to more active participation in household financial decision-making.

Countries where women have greater success as entrepreneurs tend to offer access to bigger networks of resources and support, research shows. Sometimes it’s as simple as tapping existing networks that women use regularly. In Indonesia, we recently launched a program to help midwives deliver not only babies, but also mobile banking services; a novel workaround that improves women’s comfort and trust when engaging in the formal banking system. It also helps midwives—entrepreneurs in their own right—expand the services and value of their clinics for customers. Working with Industree Foundation in India, we helped assemble and transform women’s self-help groups into employee-owned businesses. By joining together, women are now able to produce enough high-quality artisanal products to open up new market opportunities, such as supplying international companies like IKEA with baskets. By tapping into community networks, we help empower women entrepreneurs to succeed. 

Back in Satara, the aim is to create three member-driven chapters of a chamber of commerce by and for women. Each chapter will serve as a community node where women can exchange information, learn from one another and gain access to financing and larger markets, as Nanda, a small dairy farmer, did.

Nanda lives on a farm in Ambawade village with her husband and in-laws. The family was selling milk to a collection agent who in turn sold it to a packaging center. But Nanda thought they’d make more money if they kept production and distribution in their own hands. Nanda’s brother worked for a transportation company in Mumbai and could help them bring their milk to bigger markets there.

Nanda enrolled in a Mann Deshi course, where she learned about legal registrations and safe processing methods as well as insights on how to expand into other markets. After successfully tapping into the Mumbai market, she is now looking to expand to new outlets, like restaurants and quick-stop stores.

Thanks to programs like the Chamber of Commerce for Rural Women, more women are able to share successes like Nanda’s and Aarti’s. At a recent Mann Deshi market exposition, 95 percent of participating business owners said it would have taken them up to six months to sell the same amount as they did in the four days at the expo. On average, members of the Chamber of Commerce earned approximately $1,000–$1,400 through this new market opportunity. The new business connections the women formed at the expo also continue to reap benefits. Access to networks of financing, know-how and contacts will continue to help women entrepreneurs realize their dream as they strive to build a financially secure future for their families. 

We are honored to be ranked #2 on Fortune’s Change the World 2019 list in recognition of our work with Mann Deshi. Learn more here.