ONLY 39, Vanita Salunkhe of Degaon village in Satara has been running a small unit manufacturing cloth bags for almost eight years. This year, having finished the one-year ‘Deshi MBA’ programme run by the Mann Deshi Foundation that works to empower rural women, Salunkhe has decided to expand her business, so that by 2022, she is able to generate employment for 1,000 women.
On Saturday, Salunkhe will be one of 18 women “graduates”, some of them having received formal education only up to Class VIII or X, to be given certificates at the foundation’s annual festival showcasing products from rural women’s entrepreneurial initiatives in Satara.
“About 350 shops in and around Satara showcase my school bags, shopping bags and other kinds of cloth bags. Fifty village women are employed in my unit right now,” Salunkhe told The Indian Express over the phone.
A school dropout herself, she waded into business to provide her three daughters the best education possible, starting with micro-credit from a small savings group and then from the Mann Deshi Bank, India’s first bank for women. Her eldest daughter has now completed her Bachelor of Engineering degree. “When I took a loan of Rs 5 lakh a couple of years ago to buy a screen printing machine, the men in the family as well as in the locality said I would end up running into losses, and that women, especially from villages, are fit for cooking and domestic chores. I took their comments positively, but I didn’t give up,” Salunkhe said.
From financial management to planning and business development and linkages with various marketing platforms, Deshi MBA is a mentorship programme to provide rural women with skills they need to start an enterprise, and to upskill women entrepreneurs for expansion and growth. With 13 physical business schools for rural women in areas such as Satara, Pune, Chiplun, Nashik, Latur and Sinnar, the programme also uses nine mobile school vans, including some equipped with ATMs for digital literacy.
“We help them with marketing, banking, printing pamphlets and visiting cards, corporate partnerships where they can market their products and we also have a tracking system whereby we know the progress of all the women entrepreneurs undergoing our programme,” said Vanita Shinde, chief administrative officer of Mann Deshi Foundation.
Also to be handed graduation certificates after the year-long mentorship is Renuka Ghorpade (34) from Koregaon taluka of Satara, who started her business with a handcart selling lassi. She now has a rented space where she makes and sells almond shakes, pani puri and other snacks.
Jaywanti Bhoye (41) of the tribal Peth taluka in Nashik, said when she initially started making and selling her ‘Nirgudi Oil’, a massage oil infused with wild-growing herbs in the forests around her village of Bhoipada, she didn’t even know where to buy bottles or how to make labels. “Mann Deshi helped me with every single detail. Now, my business partner and I have begun to grow these medicinal plants on our own land because we know there is demand and that we can sell larger quantities,” said Bhoye, who is the president of the Mahalaxmi Self-Help Group. Her business partner is its secretary.
“The ability to get loans has helped us change our lifestyle. We hope that expanding the business further will bring in more change in our region,” she added.
For Pusegaon’s Sunita Khatavkar (35), not only do her earthenware goods now have a market at Mann Deshi’s stalls and elsewhere, but she has also had the opportunity to conduct pottery classes in schools and companies after completing a one-year training in pottery in Chandrapur. “I have studied till Class VIII, but I am able to teach others something too,” she said.