BY SAVANNAH NEWMAN
Savannah Newman is a second-year student in the International Development program who spent her summer working with Mann Deshi Foundation in India.
The IDEV Summer Internship Series highlights the experiences of IDEV students participating in internships this past summer. Each year, IDEV students intern with various development organizations around the world. These internships are generously funded by SAIS donors, and offer valuable opportunities for students to gain real-world experience between their first and second years at SAIS.
This summer, I had the opportunity to intern with the Mann Deshi Foundation, a sister organization of the Mann Deshi Bank that offers support programs to the women entrepreneurs who are taking out loans from the bank. My main project for the summer was creating and administering an evaluation of the Young Girls Program, which specifically targets girls between the ages of 15 and 25 whose income is below the poverty line (BPL). Along with the organization’s traditional workshops in financial literacy, marketing, and supply chain management, the Young Girls Program focuses on life skills, conducting workshops on legal rights, health and hygiene, and child marriage. The goal is that, after participating, women will be equipped to start their own micro-enterprises. The team I worked with surveyed 65 women who had participated in the program. Below are some of their stories.
Supriya currently runs a business selling cleaning solution out of her home, and also sells her goods in her village’s weekly market. As a result of opening her own business, her life and the life of her family has changed. Even during the interview, Supriya’s husband specifically emphasized some of the changes Mann Deshi’s program had made for their family: typically, husbands were careful to monitor the interview of their wives, often wanting to intercede and answer questions. However, Supriya’s husband never once interrupted, allowing his wife to speak for herself. This space that he gave his wife were reflected in the answers she rendered.
As an unmarried 24-year-old, Ashwini is very different than most of the girls that participate in Mann Deshi’s programs. Typically, girls in these programs were married at or before the age of 18. Ashwini owns her own goat rearing-business and because she is in charge of herding them, it took us a while to track her down. However, getting to spend time interviewing her among her herd was incredible: I was able to see her confidence firsthand. Ashwini travels as much as 20 km daily on her own to take care of her goats. She does not view her gender, age, or poverty level as barriers to her happiness, but rather simply obstacles to be overcome. Throughout my entire time with her, she never stopped smiling, obviously proud of all that she had accomplished.
Komal is a nurse at a hospital in Nasik, Maharastra. Her father passed away at age 4, and soon after, her mother became sick. Growing up, she worked on a neighbor’s farm to help support her mother and her medical costs. However, she was not making enough, and so she turned to Mann Deshi, beginning the courses offered through the Young Girls Program. She discovered an interest in courses on health and hygiene. Through the mentorship program, she was able to continue taking nursing classes and, eventually, with Mann Deshi’s help, went back to school to get her degree in nursing. She now has a steady job as a nurse and can support her family on her own. In her own words, “I have done all that I have done because of MD.”
My biggest takeaway from this summer the is the importance of empowering women—and the impact doing so can have on the communities around them. These women, through the help of Mann Deshi, are changing their family’s lives and fostering change in their communities. Not every interview I took part in was as positive as the ones above. Gender inequality still underpins community life in the villages Mann Deshi works in: Mann Deshi has been in operation for over 20 years, but there is still so much work to be done. Change does not happen overnight, but change is possible.