Women being an integral part of the society and a force to reckon with at every level, it was known that they would match steps with men, in attempts to help our nation to survive, revive and thrive in the post-COVID19 era. To maximize the response to and recovery from Covid-19, India needed the most creative and diverse people at the table – women! It would not be incorrect to say that women are literally carrying the country through this pandemic. Be it frontline health workers, teachers ensuring uninterrupted academic lessons for students or women entrepreneurs, both big and small, women have been omnipresent, delivering their best. For example, self-help groups (SHGs) run by women have risen to the extraordinary challenge of the pandemic. They have started producing masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) like sanitisers to meet the supply shortage. In addition, they are running community kitchens and fighting misinformation by spreading knowledge through community gatherings, besides providing assistance with banking and financial transactions in remote communities. Today, let us summarize how women entrepreneurs can further boost economic recovery post COVID.
- Breaking barriers to move ahead – While the need to break barriers is widely recognized, there is still a long road ahead for women to overcome conventional norms and societal challenges, for witnessing change on the ground level. Such a push requires creating a nurturing ecosystem that provides women with the resources to motivate and enable them to leap forward. In tandem with this, recognizing and promoting those invisible women who have already made the leap is equally important.
- Leveraging government support – The government has launched and amended various initiatives to extend support to small and medium sized businesses, but only few of them have gender-specific clauses to help female entrepreneurs bridge the gap. The Micro Units Development and Refinance Agency Limited, or Mudra, launched in 2015 under the Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana Scheme (PMMY), provides loans at low interest rates to anyone looking to start, support or expand a Small or Medium Enterprise. What caught my attention is that in 2019 itself, 70% of the loan accounts belonged to female entrepreneurs. Having gauged the need for more such schemes, The Mahila Udhyami Yojana scheme was included under the PMMY specifically for new female entrepreneurs involved in small scale production and manufacturing businesses like artisan groups, craftsmen, vendors, service providers and so on. This shows that government initiatives for women entrepreneurs can be the fuel which will rekindle the fire of women entrepreneurship in India and keep the path of progress for our economy brightly lit. For instance, a small push from the government and support from civil society, coupled with their personal resolve, has created exemplars like Ruma Devi, R. Sagunthala and Radhika Shinde. Ruma Devi works from a small village of Barmer, Rajasthan, and her love for applique work evolved into an income opportunity for over 20,000 women. In Tamil Nadu, six self-help-groups (SHGs) set up by R. Sagunthala created several farm and non-farm enterprises for the entire village and in Maharashtra, a simple 6-day training course produced a successful cohort of women para-veterinarians in the area, one of them, Radhika Shinde now earns enough to support her entire family. These are just a few, there are many women who are now endeavouring to become self-sufficient and thereby make our country self-sufficient too.
- More scope for re-skilling – Although, we have charged ahead into the ‘Digital Age’ and technology has been thrust into the limelight, albeit under unfortunate circumstances, the lack of technical knowledge amongst female entrepreneurs and workers, is a glaring reality. It is a crucial handicap in the age of e-commerce and must be addressed immediately through re-skilling programmes especially designed for women entrepreneurs. Female entrepreneurship is seen as having a catalytic effect on the female labour force across the world; but this requires investments in their education, skills and assets. In fact, the impact of COVID-19 on micro-enterprises has also revealed the need for alternative skilling of women to align with changing demands
- Generating a more knowledgeable citizen count – According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), investing in women entrepreneurship will enable a gradual social shift from high fertility, low education and poor health to making more conscious reproductive choices, higher education and better health for herself and family. Bain and Company’s recent report on the state of women entrepreneurship highlights that ‘women entrepreneurs experience greater financial independence, autonomy and control. About 59% of women believe working for themselves reduces their dependence on a spouse or family, while 46% view it as a means to break through the glass ceiling. Women are the backbone of our society, strengthening which will help the economy to grow.
- Women and innovation, two sides of the same coin – Women from time immemorial have been known for their ‘quick thinking’ to solve issues which appear out of thin air, on a day- to- day basis. Putting their creative side to use, women-led enterprises also have the potential to create innovative products and services that cater not only to the women demography but also aid in the endeavours of the nation to become ‘Atma Nirbhar’. Some examples include Chaitra Vedullapalli, the founder of Women in Cloud (WIC), a community-led initiative to support and promote women technology entrepreneurs; and Sairee Chahal, the founder of Sheroes.in, a women-only platform to share tips and concerns. Not to mention, these are just a few examples of a wide range of successful enterprises run by women for women and the nation.
Women entrepreneurs use their economic success as a platform for social empowerment in their communities, spearheading rich social outcomes like girl-child education, better health and hygiene choices and a new thought process of becoming self-reliant. It is these outcomes which will be the catalyst that will lead not only towards the development of inclusive communities and a more inclusive nation but towards a humongous economic growth as well.