Meera Sanyal, CEO of RBS India and AAP Politician, on women, governance, and India

This week, on, we have Dhanya interviewing Meera Sanyal – a very inspiring leader who has juggled multiple roles personally and professionally. Aside from leading RBS India, she is now working on making a difference by joining the “Aam Aadmi Party” or AAP. The AAP just upset the ruling power by winning the elections in the capital.

I found it impossible to pick out a few excerpts. Instead, I’ve picked out an inspiring paragraph where Meera talks about the changes she drove as the Chair of the RBS Foundation while being CEO. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.



“You asked about community involvement.  It’s very interesting that you say that so many leaders whom you have interviewed have that aspect of their life.  The most recent job I held was as CEO and chairperson of RBS in India which I have been doing for the last six years.  I had three parts of that job.  One was the CEO of the bank. That is the front office; the customer facing side, the revenue side, etc.

The second was heading the global share processing center in India which employs over 12-13,000 people. That’s a very exciting part because you have young people and it’s being a grand ambassador for India in one way, presenting the high quality of their services.

The third role that I had was as chairperson of the RBS Foundation. Through the foundation we do the community work or the CSR work.  I have to tell you that that has been the happiest part of my job. I’ve enjoyed all parts of my job, but whenever I’m having a difficult day, then I just go to my memories of what we do at the foundation and that lifts my spirit.  I have really enjoyed that.

How did that start?  I’ll give you a brief answer.  In the early part of 2000, we started a Micro Finance program at the bank in India.  At that time the bank was ABN AMRO and I mentored that program. We started in the early part of 2000 and over the years we have financed (through Micro Finance) about 650,000 women across the country.

I used to love to go out into the field meeting these women and it has made a big difference. At one time our bank held about 25% of the market for all of Micro Finance.  Then it became a part of the regulatory environment.  The banks said that all banks should do it and gradually the share of the pie increased and many people were doing it.  I’m sure if you’re following the sector you know what a lot of problems have arisen through the Andhra Pradesh crisis, etc.  I am very sorry about that because I think it can really have a powerful impact on women’s lives.

Nevertheless as we were doing Micro Finance we found that there were women who were so poor that they were at subsistence level. They could not come to the level of being an entrepreneur. So we set up the foundation which is the RBS Foundation and we said that we will make outright grants to these women.  In the process of giving the grants, we will teach them a livelihood.   We won’t give them money, but we will give them things through which they can start a small business. We will train them and we help them to learn and provide access to markets, etc.  For example, we would give a woman 10 goats, or 20 pigs, or 50 chicks, or 2 beehives and with that we would give veterinary assistance.  How do you feed them?  How do you take the product?  How do you bring it to market?  We taught them how to be a little entrepreneur.

Over the last 5-6 years we have financed and trained over 175,000 women like this. It is just fantastic because the results have been great.  I would say between 60-75% of the women we have financed have turned out to be successful.  And of course, 35-40% have not worked depending on where it is.  Mostly I think that’s a very good result.  Our grants are very small.  They are 5000-1000 rupees. Within a year some of these women were earning 60-75,000 rupees.  It is just magical.  I have really enjoyed it, I have learned a lot. “

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