India has experienced incredible rates of economic growth in recent decades, but still has one of the lowest rates of female labour force participation in the world. Worst still, a recent report by the World Bank found that this rate is in further decline.
Combine this with the fact that jobs were created for the equivalent of 0.9 percent of the adult population between 2005 and 2012 – with most of these regular wage jobs going to men – and you can start to see why women’s entrepreneurship offers such an exciting and necessary opportunity.
The untapped potential among India’s women is why we developed our WE Can India project. Conceptualised and funded by U.S. Embassy India and delivered in partnership with Dhriiti, we supported aspirational women entrepreneurs in Northern India to realise their business potential and develop a range of sustainable enterprises.
WE Can India provided intensive business training and mentoring to 125 women entrepreneurs across five Indian cities, all at varying stages of their business journeys. Twenty six of those women then went on to receive incubation support, including one-on-one coaching, advanced business training, as well as links to networks, markets and financial services. At the end of the process, five enterprises with high growth potential were awarded a start-up package, which included a cash prize and ongoing advice from business experts.
The project might have come to an end, but the impacts have not. According to an independent evaluation conducted by the Grameen Foundation, 87% of women feel that their business skills had improved, 90% feel more confident about developing key business tools like a business plan, marketing strategy or cash flow statement, while 72% felt that WE Can India had helped them access new business networks. The key findings are summarised in this infographic:
The best thing about WE Can India has been the inspiring women entrepreneurs we have had the chance to work with. We are so excited to see what the future holds for women like Nidhi, Romita, Surekha, Rituparna and Vaishali:
Nidhi Pant, Co-founder of DesiVDesi
A chemical engineer by education but entrepreneur at heart, Nidhi is the co-founder of healthy food brand DesiVDesi.
DesiVDesi aims to reduce farm produce waste and subsequent loss of earnings for farmers, through the company’s patented award winning Solar Conduction Dryer technology. They use the technology to preserve fruits that otherwise might’ve gone to waste, which then form the healthy dried fruit products DesiVDesi sells.
“WE Can India has helped me find a sense of purpose. Learning from the best trainers and experienced entrepreneurs provided clarity in my vision and provided a strong foothold. It is an incredibly exciting and rewarding platform in terms of the powerful learnings from other women. We formed a strong support group, making friends for life… I feel I have found my sanctuary.”
Romita Ghosh, Founder of MedSamaan
After surviving an acute disease in her childhood, Romita from Delhi has now dedicated her life to health, and has founded the MedSamaan online platform. She believes that “without health, we are nothing” and she has leveraged technology to build an online platform for building and selling medical devices effectively, efficiently and ethically.
MedSamaan allows manufacturers to easily find end users; doctors and clinics can order innovative medical devices without the burden of minimum orders and long procurement lead times; and patients can access the products they need, at prices they can afford. Romita believes that a marriage between digitization and healthcare is the only way to transform healthcare in India. Since taking part in WE Can, Romita has gone on to win a PayU Inspiring Women Entrepreneur Award.
“This would not have been possible without the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women’s support. I am hopeful that I shall be able to achieve my goal of bridging the gender gap in India by making healthcare delivery the vehicle for women’s empowerment.”
Surekha Waldia, Co-founder of E Shiksha Chaupal
Surekha has an extensive background in education, but had always felt that there was something important missing from formal teaching methods. Whilst working in rural and urban schools, she developed her ideas around blending traditional and non-traditional teaching methods to make them more enjoyable and effective for students.
Eventually, she launched E Shiksha Chaupal – an online community providing teachers with access a content library of resources and a forum to share their experiences and ideas with other educators.
“These five months have been just beautiful. WE Can India happened to us at that time when my team and I were struggling with just the development of the software. WE Can has been a catalyst which we needed desperately to structure our own thoughts, our finances, our reach, promotion and all the expertise an entrepreneur needs to roll out the product at the right time. A mentor helps you to structure the ideas and also guides you to make use of all the opportunities that come along the way. That’s what you are to us – a very strong pillar of support which we need right now.”
Rituparna Ghosh, Founder of Your Story Bag
Rituparna had built up a successful career as a journalist and television producer. When she became a mother she wanted to find a way of combining parenthood, her love for storytelling and enterprise, so she launched Your Story Bag, a storytelling and training consultancy. From children, to teachers, professionals, entrepreneurs and corporates Your Story Bag helps people to find their inner storyteller.
Having started out with an idea driven by her passion, WE Can India provided the skills and support Rituparna needed to turn her dream into a sustainable business model.
Vaishali Zavier, Founder of Kalpvriksh Home
After gaining years of experience working as a textile designer and merchandiser, Vaishali Zavier decided she wanted to strike out alone. In 2012 she launched Kalpvriksh Home, an export house with a strong sense of ecological and social responsibility. The company connects local artisans with bigger markets, ensuring that all products are carefully sourced from all over India.
Despite having an established business, Vaishali felt that she needed a skills and confidence boost to keep business momentum going. “I have got clarity and have made relationships for life on WE Can India. I feel more confident and the programme has reaffirmed my belief in everything we are trying to achieve.”
Photo credit: Shikha Mahipal