This B-school is India Shining

Mann Deshi Udyogini is like no other business school. Its students don’t come to the class armed with laptops, the faculty does not moonlight by writing reports for big business groups, companies don’t fall over one another to give its students jobs with fat salaries. In fact, it does not even have campus recruitments. Yet, its strike rate in producing successful businessmen — no, make it businesswomen — is perhaps better than any other B-school.

Since inception in 2006, it has trained over 7,000 women, 75 per cent of whom are on their own now, having become entrepreneurs in their own right. All its students have been rural women — poor, often illiterate or school dropouts.

The B-school was started in Mhaswad by the Mann Deshi Foundation, a NGO behind the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank. With four branches (in Mhaswad, Vaduj, Dahiwadi in Maharashtra, and Hubli in Karnataka), it also has two vans that operate as mobile B-schools.

The B-school draws faculty from the world over; often, alumni double up as teachers, imparting techniques of business and sharing their own experience. It has tie-ups with Yale University and Harvard University. “Students from these universities come here on scholarship,” says the foundation’s chief executive officer, Rekha Kulkarni.

“The school has become a symbol of empowerment for women at the bottom of the economic pyramid,” says Shobha Raut, a former student who now owns a garment shop.

The school has generated interest worldwide. Alexis Shenfil, an alumnus of Skidmore College in New York came to Mhaswad after hearing about it from an NGO in Berkeley, California. “This interesting concept compelled me to come to this place and gain experience of a lifetime,” she says.

Shenfil is not alone. Every year, many students from Yale and Harvard universities come to study the way it has changed the fortunes of many women in a shot span. “The school was started with a grant of $17,500 from HSBC Bank, which continues to give an annual grant of Rs 20 lakh,” says Chetna Gala Sinha, the Yale graduate who began the foundation and initiated all its allied activities.

Gala hopes to take the B-school module successfully beyond Maharashtra. “It has already done considerably well and we are planning to take it to more places in Karnataka, and to Jharkhand and Gujarat.”

This HSBC grant, coupled with funds from the Deshpande Foundation of the US and the Bonita Trust of the UK, helps run the school. It coaches rural women in entrepreneurship, computer, tailoring, accountancy, bank finance and marketing skills, and supports them in running independent enterprises.

With a local micro-finance community in place, Gala expects the school to promote entrepreneurship and also boost the bank’s business. “The school is a vehicle which equips poor women to achieve financial independence and self-sufficiency,” says Gala.

Vinita Paise, an alumnus of the B-school who bagged the a women’s entrepreneurship award from the prime minister in 2006, has this to say: “Going to the school has opened up a lot of opportunities for me. After teaching me stitching and paper-cup making, the school also gave me a scholarship to take up another professional course in Pune. This made me a successful businesswomen.” Her connection with the school continues. She finds time from her business to come and teach at the school.

And to think that once Paise worked as a labourer. “B-school education and micro-finance have changed her life totally,” says Gala.

The mobile vans of the schools go round villages and train women in tailoring and computers. The mobile school programme is fully funded by the Bonita Trust. “The programme changes a nominal fee. We are overwhelmed by the response and plan to expand the mobile school,” says Kulkarni. “We give basic education to our students. Our main focus is on skill development, which can help our students to start their own business.”

What next? A bank cooperative exclusively for men, on the lines of the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank? Sure, but not before the visionary objectives in women’s welfare are fully met, says Gala.

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