Unleashing the Potential of Women Social Entrepreneurs in India

UNDP India Team

By Rajiv Tewari, for CharityWorld.Com.  Based on an interaction with Mr Clement Chauvet, Chief, Skills and Business Development and Ms Kanta Singh, State Project Head, UNDP

Importance of Role Models

There is no dearth of role models in India. Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad. Rajkumar Devi, popularly known as Kisan Chachi of Bihar. Divya Rawat of Uttarakhand, popularly known as the Mushroom Lady. Operation ASHA, founded by Dr Shelly Batra. Breakthrough Trust, founded by Mallika Dutt & the operation flood by Dr Kurien, that made India the highest producer of milk in the world with the support of Gujarati Women. This is just a sample list of what women are capable of achieving in the area of social enterprise.

Exposure at appropriate platforms and linking aspiring women entrepreneurs to their role models has the potential to expedite the change we are hoping to see. Ensuring women achievers are given the same, if not more, visibility as their male counterparts to inspire the next generations of women will also go a long way.

A good example is that of the Disha project, a three-year partnership between the India Development Foundation (IDF), UNDP and Xyntéo, supported by IKEA Foundation, which seeks to improve the lives of one million Indian women through skilling and training, entrepreneurship education and development, as well as through unique PPP market linkages for employment and self-employment opportunities. Disha has a robust module focused on entrepreneurship that aims to enhance attention and curiosity toward self-employment opportunities using interactive approaches which includes case studies, role modelling and workshops.

Disha project informs young girls about entrepreneurship as an option for livelihood. For instance, the Disha project’s implementing partner Pratham Foundation’s earlier model of Rozgar Mitras – created a deeper reach within various communities for vocational training awareness programs – to launch Skill Sakhis in Maharshtra. Skill Sakhis are young girls voluntarily involved and trained in mobilizing and sensitizing other girls in their villages towards various opportunities available from the Government and private sector for various skill trainings/ vocational education leading to employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for their livelihood and empowerment. It is envisioned that Skill Sakhis shall be women role-models and the next generation leaders for the community who will create further women role-models and leaders across India. Within only three months of implementation, the Skill Sakhis have gained popularity not just in Maharashtra but also with the NITI Aayog as well as in other states. The Government of Maharashtra and UNDP have been requested by many states to share the concept note and arrange field visits to study the Skill Sakhis in order to replicate the model in their states.

How can India move up in the Gender Female Entrepreneurship Index?

Women-owned enterprises represent about 10% of all MSMEs in India and employ over eight million people. A 2014 International Finance Corp. (IFC) study found that nearly three-fourth of women-owned MSMEs have an unmet financial need. Out of a total financing demand of $158 billion in India, formal financial sources are able to channel only $42 billion. Many Women-owned Business (WOB) either wind up their businesses or stay small, mostly due to a critical challenge — lack of credit and confidence.

However, the situation is gradually changing. Since 2011, India has seen significant shifts in this domain – the new government formed the first-ever Ministry for Skill Development & Entrepreneurship (MSDE) to focus on enhancing employability of India’s ‘youth buldge’ through skill development. In 2015, it updated the 2009 National Policy on Skill Development to include entrepreneurship (National Policy on Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, 2015) with the aim to meet the challenge of skilling at scale with speed and standard (quality). It aims to provide an umbrella framework to all skilling activities being carried out within the country, to align them to common standards and link the skilling with demand centres.

National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) offers courses across 40 sectors in the country which are aligned to the standards recognised by industry and the government under the National Skill Qualification Framework. The ITI ecosystem has also been brought under Skill India for garnering better results in vocational education and training. The Hon’ble Prime Minister’s flagship scheme, Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY) alone, has till date seen close to 20 lac people, including women and girls, get skilled and prepared for a new successful India. What’s more, the 2015 National Policy on Skill Development and Entrepreneurship explicitly calls for catalysing a culture shift to encourage entrepreneurship with a focus on the promotion of entrepreneurship amongst underrepresented groups and women.

Greater economic empowerment of women & gender equality are the key

Greater economic empowerment of women and greater gender equality are key pillars of a wider social approach for stronger, better and fairer growth of economies. Government policy can play an important role in closing the gender gap in workforce participation and encouraging female entrepreneurship. For instance, the United States government actively promoted female entrepreneurship since the 1970s, when the federal Office of Women’s Business Ownership (OWBO) was established within the US Small Business Administration (SBA). The purpose of the OWBO is to foster the participation of female entrepreneurs in the economy, particularly among women who are economically or socially disadvantaged, and promote several initiatives to this end . Hsieh et al. (2013) suggest that between 17 and 20% of US economic growth between 1960 and 2008 can be attributed to the greater intake of under-represented groups in the workforce, notably women .

More recently, in South Korea, the Small and Medium Business Administration (SMBA)  has also developed initiatives (some were introduced in 2014) to promote female entrepreneurship which are similar to US policies. The situation of women entrepreneurs seems to have progressed at a faster pace in China, where female entrepreneurship boomed after the establishment of the new economic model in 1995. Data from the China Association of Women Entrepreneurs show that women entrepreneurs account for around 25% of all entrepreneurs, are more educated than men, optimistic about their future, and increasingly likely to seek business information from the internet and reach international markets (Shi, 2012).

The results from the 2015 GEDI Female Entrepreneurship Index (FEI) point that the UK, Denmark, and the Netherlands climbed into the top five, displacing Sweden, France, and Germany. All six of these European countries have strong ecosystems for female entrepreneurs, so even small changes can result in year-to-year rank shifts. The GEDI Index also highlights that 47 of 77 nations scored below 50 points – an indication that these countries must pursue significant changes in order to reduce barriers for female entrepreneurs. Of note however is Chile, as it outperforms the rest of Latin America and obtained rank 15 – among the top nations in the world for female entrepreneurship. FEI’s findings indicate that there are systematic gaps in low performing countries pertaining to economic freedom, entrepreneurial ecosystems, business environments, and individual aspirations in terms of how well their governments support women to start high-growth-oriented firms.

India is moving in the right direction through policy interventions

The current situation in India, given the government’s recent wide-ranging skill development and entrepreneurship promotion initiatives, is moving swiftly towards an enabling environment for women entrepreneurs and could soon itself be a country example of best practise in the domain.

The government’s flagship scheme, Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PMKVY), incentivises skill training by providing financial rewards to candidates who successfully complete approved skill training programmes. The scheme aims to recognise and provide skill to 24 lakh youth, both women and men, who lack formal certification, such as workers in the vast unorganised sector. Special camps have been organised at 100 locations with Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan (NYKS) and a national SMS campaign is being rolled out to build awareness of the program, reaching about 40 crore subscribers. Under the Skill Loan scheme, loans ranging from Rs.5000-1.5 lakh will be made available to 34 lakh youth seeking to attend skill development programmes over the next five years.

Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Kaushalya Yojana (DDU-GKY) is the skilling and placement initiative of the Ministry of Rural Development (MoRD), Government of India. DDU-GKY has its origins in the Aajeevika Skills programme and the ‘Special Projects’ component of the Swarnjayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojana (SGSY). The scheme focuses on catering to the occupational aspirations of rural youth and enhancing their skills for wage employment. Implementation of DDU-GKY involves State Governments, Technical Support Agencies like the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj (NIRD & PR), and Project Implementing Agencies (PIAs).

The Government of India and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), partners in development for over five decades, are working closely to address the issue of gender parity in the workforce. With the government’s endorsement, the Disha project is working to address the demand and supply side of women’s employment by securing commitments from businesses in identifying employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for women; mobilizing women to participate in training courses to bridge both information and skill gaps; and supporting the development of training curricula relevant to aspirations of women and business needs.

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