Remember the movie English Vinglish! In her first class, Shashi is asked about her profession. Unable to coherently define in limited words, she narrates her work profile as making snacks & laddus to sell in the market. The teacher then summarizes her occupation in one word: “Entrepreneur”- a person who does business; an innovator who shapes the economy by infusing wealth, time and energy; the fourth factor of production who adds value to the entire socio-economic system. Knowing her new identity, Shashi feels elated, confident, motivated and energized. She pronounces the word till she gets it absolutely right, till the time it percolates down to the innermost recess of her mind. She was doing the same work all her life, still hearing and being referred to as “Entrepreneur” attaches new meaning to her mundane life.
Shashi is not alone. She is the representative of plethora of women working worldwide, adding value to their ecosystem and still unaware of the magnetic field they are sub-consciously creating for the world to prosper. With more than 163 million women entrepreneurs worldwide today, startup community is undergoing rapid changes globally. In fact my NRI friends cajolingly say that the speed with which women entrepreneurs are capturing the global business space, the word CEO will soon be re-nomenclatured as “She-E-O”! This entrepreneurial phenomenon has donned multiple hats; from being a catalyzer of the economy at one hand to a disrupter of the established system on the other.
Indian economy is also not aloof from this creative disruption. There was a time in Indian business set up when Lijjat papad and Amul cooperatives were a few faces of women driven initiatives. But today, we have women not limited to small or medium enterprises. Rather, they have traversed their boundaries, spread their wings and have entered into a wider, experimental arena of Robotics, Electronics, Artificial Intelligence, Space Sciences and a lot more. They are trying hard to break the glass ceiling imposed on them. But, statistically speaking, the country is far from any idealistic situation. India has a total of 58.5 million entrepreneurs and 8.05 million of those are women entrepreneurs, which adds up to only 14% women entrepreneurs in Indian business settings. Interestingly, the data also highlights that 79% of women owned businesses are self financed and are relatively smaller in size and scale. This justifies the low contribution of Indian women to the GDP (17%), which is far below the global average of 37% and is further beaten by respective figure for Sub-Saharan Africa (39%). We are a country of 1.3 billion people which has ripened demographic dividend. In next 5-10 years, we will have 150 million students lined up to enter the workforce of which half will be women. So, what is our roadmap to ascertain that a higher portion of these women become job creators rather than job seekers?
There are umpteen number of stones that needs to be crossed over before the world starts calling it milestones. Ladder of biases starts from home and reaches to that of a venture capitalist who is pre-occupied with a limited mindset that women are suitable to manage enterprises domiciled to a few sectors. Conflict between work and domestic commitment pre-dominates the scene with women being epitomized as a prime care giver in the family. According to 2011 census, literacy rate of women is 65.46%. The problem aggravates when combined with lack of awareness about vocational technical skill, work experience, market knowledge which form prime ingredients of developing a productive and sustainable business. Access to finance is a common challenge faced by women entrepreneurs but lack of financial literacy and knowhow about availability of new financial products further worsens the matter.
Being an entrepreneur is the psyche make up of a person. It cannot be thrusted upon by an outside force. It is a conscious decision which is taken naturally, based on the surrounding and the experiences at hand. Therefore government should play role of a facilitator to provide a level playing field to women entrepreneurs to succeed in the competitive atmosphere. Endeavours such as National Skill Development Policy provide skill training, entrepreneurship development and vocational education to instill the needed qualities and has transformed lives of more than 35.56 lakh women through nationwide training programmes. Under Stand-Up India scheme, financial support in form of bank loan may be provided to at least one women entrepreneur per bank branch between Rs. 10 lakh- Rs. 1 crore for setting up a greenfield project in manufacturing, trading or services sector. As of November 2019, more than Rs. 14000 crore has been disbursed to women entrepreneurs. Under Pradhan Mantri MUDRA Yojana, collateral free loan of up to Rs. 10 lakh can be availed by entrepreneurs for activities allied to agriculture in non-agriculture sector.
For almost a year and a half, being part of Women Entrepreneurship Platform (WEP), NITI Aayog, I had the opportunity of working for and interacting with women entrepreneurs from across the country. There are several schemes of Central and State government benefitting women entrepreneurs; but most are working in their respective silos. This platform was developed with an idea to become the holistic knowledge base for women entrepreneurs and provide them information about networking, mentorship and financing at one place. It’s six verticals comprising of Incubation and Acceleration, Compliance, Funding and financial assistance, Marketing, Skilling and Training and Social Entrepreneurship are designed to handhold women in their entrepreneurial journey starting from embryonic stage and bridge information asymmetry by providing right, authentic information to help them make a right choice. This is a first of its kind of initiative where no specific sum has been earmarked for the project and it is through collaboration with private partners in different verticals that WEP has been planned to function. Today it has an entrepreneurial base of more than 13000 women. Atal Innovation Mission (AIM) is another initiative of NITI Aayog which is doing an excellent job to promote a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship throughout the country. AIM & WEP synergize their efforts from time to time to support and handhold entrepreneurs in their journey. State governments can also integrate their respective initiatives with these platforms.