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GU Impacts Reflections: Mann Deshi Women

Jennifer Ding, College, Class of 2017, Major: Economics, Minor: French
GU Impacts Summer: Mann Deshi Foundation and Mann Deshi Bank, Mhaswad, India
Hometown: Plainsboro, New Jersey

Mann Deshi Foundation and Bank work together to equip women in rural India with knowledge, courage, and capital. Mann Deshi’s work is focused on empowering women and their families living in the rural areas of Maharashtra and Karnataka. Mann Deshi has directly supported over 300,000 women and girls transforming the whole community.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

One of the most rewarding things about working for Mann Deshi is learning about the women it serves—women who have battled violence, spousal abuse, gender bias, and extreme poverty.

One such woman is Archana Rasal, who faced sexual assault from her father-in-law and whose husband’s family starved her while she was pregnant to the extent that she would have died if she bled during her delivery. Archana ultimately fled from her husband’s home and started a successful sari blouse business, rising above social constraints to financially support herself, her daughter Sonia, and her parents. She started a self-help group, a group (usually made of women) that saves collectively and provides group loans to members, to help other women and become more engaged in her community.

Another such woman is Bainabai Sagar, who was married off when she was nine years old because no one in her father’s house wanted to care for her. She moved to Mumbai with her husband, who was a drunkard and never held a steady job. Eventually, she returned to Mhaswad to work as a daily wage laborer. After taking out a loan from Mann Deshi Bank, she decided to start her own chai stall, and has been able to provide for her children, feeding them three meals a day, buying them new clothes, and sending them to school.

Archana and Bainabai are just two examples of a remarkable group of women. To describe Mann Deshi women, I would say that they are innovative, resilient, courageous, and frankly, too complex to be done justice by a list of adjectives. Of course, I would be remiss to leave out the word “entrepreneurial,” though if I got a rupee every time that word was uttered in the office I would have enough money to buy that goat Shola and I talked about getting.

Learning about these women reaffirms why I chose to work at Mann Deshi in the first place. I feel grateful to be able to listen to their stories. I feel inspired by their success. I feel inadequate because despite all the privileges and luxuries afforded to me, I haven’t done anything as brave or impactful as these women. I feel motivated to pursue working in sphere that promotes female empowerment and economic development.

It feels good to read the success stories and see how Mann Deshi has helped rural women, but I also wonder about the women that Mann Deshi has not been able to reach yet, the women who wake up at 4 in the morning to take three hour train rides to work in someone else’s fields, women who must leave their children in someone else’s care. Knowing those women are out there makes me want to work harder too.

On the second to last Sunday of our stay in Mhaswad, we visited the Mann Deshi Champions program, a sports camp with the goal of developing interpersonal relationships between girls and boys. I was swarmed by a group of girls (in the best way). They seemed so carefree and lively and happy, jogging with me on the dusty track and begging (demanding) that I sing and dance for them. I wonder how much hardship they have faced already in their lives and how much hardship they will face in the future. However, if they are like anything like the Mann Deshi women I have learned about, I am sure they will overcome it.

About the Author

Jenn spent 10 weeks in India in temperatures that soared daily above 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Mhaswad, Maharashtra. Jenn’s main project was to write a five year plan for the Mann Deshi Business School. On campus, Jenn is a consultant with Georgetown Global Microfinance Initiative, a student run organization that provides consultation to microfinance initiatives in the developing world. She is also on the board of Venture Capitol, an online publication that highlights Georgetown’s entrepreneurship ecosystem.

The views, opinions, and positions expressed by the author of this article do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University or any employee thereof.

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