How Bandhan Bank puts power in the hands of millions of women across India

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“He who controls the finances, controls the family, the society and even the country.” With this awareness, Gender Equity Champion and Founder of Bandhan Bank Chandra Shekhar Ghosh embarked on a lifelong mission to transfer power into the hands of women and build a financially inclusive India.

A mission that began over 20 years ago and officially took shape in 2001 when he first launched microfinance operations for women in rural West Bengal through a business in non-profit which later became the Bandhan Bank. Now, two decades later, Bandhan Bank has more than 15 million female customers who make up two-thirds of the bank’s total customer base, which stands at 22 million.

Bandhan Bank Managing Director and CEO Chandra Shekhar Ghosh believes more needs to be done to empower women and a financially inclusive India

And yet, Bandhan Bank Managing Director and CEO Chandra Shekhar Ghosh points out that “this is not the end” of the bank’s goal of reaching women in the most disadvantaged and underserved communities in the world. across India. He says Your story Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma in a recent interview,

“Now 1 crore 50 lakh of women are my clients. I increased this day by day, month by month. But this is not the end. There are a lot more clients than I can reach. Every time new customers arrive (to us). New mothers are coming (to us). They tell us about their very bad experiences with their family, but they are now able to start a new business or relaunch an existing business or work together for their husband’s business. So this is a change that I saw.

And yet, this change did not happen overnight. It took years of hard work to build trust between women and their families in these rural areas, understand their challenges and learn firsthand about their situation.

Watch the full interview of Bandhan Bank Managing Director and CEO Chandra Shekhar Ghosh with YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma:

Promote the empowerment of women and female entrepreneurship

Indeed, Bandhan Bank – which became the first microfinance institution in India to obtain a universal banking license and operate as one in 2015 – has grown from just 2,523 outlets when it was launched five years ago to over 5,300+ of these points and 1,000 branch banks in 34 states and union territories out of a total of 36 by 2020.

With the broad reach of the bank and Chandra Shekhar’s innate understanding of the challenges facing the most underbanked sections of the country, Bandhan Bank is today widely recognized for its role in serving all socio-economic sections, with special emphasis on her accomplishments in empowering women, promoting female entrepreneurship and eradicating poverty in some of India’s most remote rural areas.

Today, if women in rural India need money to start a business or to run or expand an existing one, they know where to go to get the money, says Chandra Shekhar. “It’s the confidence that came to them,” he adds.

With that trust comes financial independence and power. Thanks to the money loaned to them by Bandhan Bank, many women have become entrepreneurs and have been able to provide for their families and their children’s education.

Bandhan Bank CEO and Managing Director Chandra Shekhar Ghosh interacts with the bank’s clients, many of whom have gone on to become entrepreneurs

Take the example of Renuwara Bibi from the city of Pakur in Jharkhand. With a Rs. 7,000 loan from Bandhan Bank in 2008, Renuwara opened her own grocery store to support her family of four unable to make ends meet on her husband’s education income alone. With the ensuing Bandhan Loans, Renuwar started his own business making disposable paper utensils and now runs a thriving business that employs several people.

Nilam devi de Begusarai in Bihar is another successful entrepreneur from Bandhan Bank. Through the simple loan application process at Bandhan Bank, Nilam was able to secure her first loan of Rs. 10,000 with which she started her own costume jewelry business. Thanks to the financial stability that his business gave him, Nilam was able to defend the education of his children and provide jobs for other members of the community.

Indeed, there are countless such stories about women’s empowerment in every corner of the country. Chandra Shekhar attributes this success to the commitment of women to their work and their willingness to improve their situation.

He admits that these successes are a matter of pride for him. Especially given the myriad of challenges he faced early in his efforts to empower women in a community.

Bandhan Bank CEO and Managing Director Chandra Shekhar Ghosh in Conversation with YourStory Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma

“A very big challenge has been to transfer power from men to women. It is very hard in our country. Even if women have the income, it is not very easy to transfer power. Because ours is a predominantly patriarchal society, ”he told YourStory.

At first, men found it difficult to accept that women received money. For this reason, Chandra Shekhar observed that beatings and violence increased in these homes. But slowly he also saw that the men began to realize that women were the source of the money since only women could benefit from these loans.

With this realization came the fear that their wives might return to their father’s house, which meant that they would lose the source of their money. And so, men gradually began to realize that they should work together with their wives and treat them with respect.

In this way, victories have continued to come over the years – in different ways, in different sizes. Some were small wins. Some big. But they were all alike in that they signaled the slow and steady transfer of power into the hands of these women.

Like when Chandra Shekhar went to a bank branch. He saw how all the mothers were sitting inside in the branch while their husbands stood outside waiting for them. “It’s power. It is the only office where husbands do not have power, but where wives do, ”says Chandra Shekhar triumphantly.

Many times Chandra Shekhar quietly observed such activities in bank branches. Witness to this ‘cash’ To take place. This transfer of power. This change in stature for women. He elaborates,

“Several times I observe how the men stand in front of the bank branch and discuss among themselves. And later when the woman arrives, they take her home in the backseat of the bike, while talking very patiently and respectfully with her. So things have changed. ”

Banque Bandhan: genesis and impact

Indeed, these are welcome changes for Chandra Shekhar, whose first observations in the 1990s on the status of women in the family shaped her drive to empower women while her observations on the plight of small traders have fueled his desire to help them and to work. towards a more financially inclusive India.

A young NGO employee at the time, Chandrasekhar saw the lives of the women in the family up close. He observed the amount of responsibility they took on throughout the day, the long, ruthless hours they worked without any manifestation of complaint, the violence and disrespect they suffered, and their lack of status in their families and society despite their many contributions.

At the same time, he observed how these less privileged families had to go to pawn shops and take out high interest loans to meet their daily needs because the banks did not lend them.

Driven by a deep desire to help these people by doubling family income and empowering women, Chandra Shekhar established a non-profit company in 2001 to provide microcredit to women.

“It was then that I decided to create this NGO where we can empower women to earn money on their own and this can increase family income while reducing conflicts between husband and wife. and improving the lives and educational reach of their children. Chandra Shekhar remembers.

Today, more than two decades later, Chandra Shekhar has been able to accomplish all he has set out for himself and on a larger scale. During his visits to the field, people say to him: “Sir, everything you see with your eyes, everything has been developed by you. When he sees this, he feels a sense of pride for the level of impact he has been able to create with his efforts so far.

On another field visit, he saw a person sleeping in a client’s house. He asked the lady if the person was his relative and she replied, “Sir, now that I have an income, my parents have also started to come. Before, no one gave me a chance.

“It’s power,” says Chandra Shekhar. “When you talk to these people and ask them about the beginning of their life, they cry. They say, where we were and where we came from. So that’s where I feel humbled and happy that God has given me the opportunity to do something for these people.

But there is still a long way to go to empower women and build a financially inclusive India, he adds.

On the one hand, the husband’s participation in taking on responsibilities within the household must increase, as women still end up doing all the household chores in addition to running businesses, says Chandra Shekhar. Second, there are still a large number of women who do not have access to credit. The reasons can be societal or political. They should also have access to credit, he adds.

Because as Chandra Shekhar points out, in the pursuit of women’s empowerment, their financial freedom is key.

“So far we have been trying to empower women. But you see, finance is power – the one that controls finances, controls family, society and even the country, ”he concludes.


Watch the full interview here:

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