Top philanthropists, business leaders and campaigners joined forces to celebrate the pioneering work of India’s first business school for rural, illiterate women and how it is driving social change during the panel discussion ‘Women Helping Women, Helping Themselves’ on Wednesday, 25th May.
Hosted by The British Asian Trust and Dasra, in cooperation with HSBC Private Bank in London, the event featured globally-recognised social entrepreneur Chetna Sinha in conversation with entrepreneur and philanthropist Seema Sharma, recently featured on Channel 4’s ‘Slumdog Secret Millionaire.’ Anjalika Bardalai of The Economist’s Intelligence Unit moderated the discussion.
Showcasing how poor, rural women are winning against poverty through access to finance and business education, the panel discussion invited guests to look behind India’s economic growth to the deprivation in rural and urban areas. Statistics show that only 50 percent of the Indian population have bank accounts.
“When women have access to education, skills and control of finances, they can transform their families and their communities,” said Chetna Sinha, founder of the Mann Deshi Foundation. “We aim to give women that power.” A British Asian Trust charity partner, Mann Deshi supports poor, rural women to become entrepreneurs by providing financial literacy courses and vocational training linked to loans.
Mann Deshi’s entrepreneurs provide role models for other women in their communities who are inspired to launch their own businesses, Chetna Sinha explained. “What we need are hundreds and thousands of role models across India,” she said. “We need to give poor people an asset – livestock, grains, property – to generate income.”
Co-panellist Seema Sharma, founder of The Sharma Foundation, (pictured above) explained the importance of selecting effective, innovative charities to support so that donations make the greatest impact. Finding a balance between being part of the growth and development of a charity to support long-term change and addressing ‘here and now’ needs is a challenge, she said. “I had to manage my own expectations,” she said. Seema’s foundation focuses on sustainable development and innovative charities providing models that can be replicated across poor communities.
Following the event, panelist Chetna Sinha said: “It is always meaningful to share the work that we do with rural women in India; particularly with friends of two organisations that have helped us to grow, flourish and transform lives – The British Asian trust and Dasra. The British Asian Trust and Dasra are committed to provide the training, skills and support so disadvantaged women can become successful business entrepreneurs and improve their families and communities.”
Among the audience was Trust Ambassador Neev Ranu, the voice of Kiss 100 radio, and Oxfam’s Sarah Pryke:
“It was such a pleasure and an honour to attend the ‘Women Helping Women, Helping Themselves’ debate at HSBC Private Bank. It means so much to be part of The British Asian Trust and to see just how organisations like Mann Deshi and Dasra really are making waves in India was an uplifting experience. I met some wonderful people and I look forward to the next event.”
Neev Ranu, Kiss 100 Radio DJ
“Those of us who work in the charitable sector sometimes forget or overlook the inherent power of one person acting as a change agent within their own community. The Mann Deshi Foundation partners with local women, the experts in their own community, in a grassroots approach that is a very effective and inspirational business model.”
Kerry-Ann Francis, Fundraising Manager, Halcrow Foundation
“Congratulations on an excellent event last night! I was very inspired by Chetna and the incredible work the Mann Deshi Foundation is doing in partnership with The British AsianTrust in India. It’s really great to know there are so many of us working towards such an important shared goal.”
Sarah Pryke, Trusts & Foundations Account Manager, Fundraising Partnerships, Oxfam GB
“It was such a privilege to be with such inspirational people!”
Sangita Myska, BBC Television News Correspondent
See coverage and photos of the event by Red Hot Curry here.