Active participation of women in the mainstream workforce is crucial to creating inclusive growth both in terms of human and economic development for the country. Time and again, initiatives, movements, philosophies and history have supported that, educating a woman, promoting a woman’s development will lead to a multiplier effect around her.
This has been recognized by many of the world’s leading thinkers and doers including the Dalai Lama, who said:
“According to scientists, women have more sensitivity than men. Sometimes I really feel that more women should take responsibility in the leadership of our planet. It would mean less violence.”
Picking up from where I left off in the last piece, patriarchal Indian society is sluggishly coming to terms with women in leading positions. But, we are still miles away from a level playing field for women in terms of job opportunities, equal pay and a safe working environment.
Now the question is, How will having more women entrepreneurs, especially in social impact sector benefit our nation?
Let me begin answering this question again with a question. What are the most hard-hit areas in terms of development? Or what are the development hotspots in India? Water & Sanitation (WASH), Gender discrimination, Maternal health, Education and health of girl child, are the some of the chief developmental areas for the government and the civil society.
In most of the above areas the disadvantaged group is primarily women and children. Intuitively it follows that having women participate in addressing these developmental issues and driving solutions for them can lead to their empowerment. Women entrepreneurs are better positioned to empathize with disadvantaged women and hence more likely to be more effective at solving issues.
For instance, EcoFemme, started by Kathy Walkling and her partners is a completely women-run social enterprise who are not only trying to make managing menstruation sustainable but also bringing about awareness among women about how to reduce the waste.
Although today we have movies like ‘Pad-man’ that have tried to make people aware of menstruation as a natural phenomenon, this has always been a closed-door issue for centuries. During her chat with us, Kathy said,
“Menstruation is a sensitive topic and a cultural taboo in India and getting the girls and women to talk us about this was a difficult task. But eventually they opened up.”
Afshan Khan of Purple Impression has created a gateway for development for the women of the male-dominant society of Multan.
“The society in Multan is very patriarchal and women are not allowed to go out and work. And then it gets worse for widows, divorcees and spinsters. They are treated as an outcast. They need a means of livelihood where they can work from the confines of their homes. Through Purple we are trying to give them that opportunity.” – Afshan Khan
Creating A Level Playing Field For Women
In order to deliver sustainable social impact in the developmental hotspots, women entrepreneurs need access to equal opportunities as men to compete. A conducive business environment and a level playing field for women social entrepreneurs need to be created wherein the government, impact investors and the academia have a crucial role to play.
Government has already started taking steps in this direction, wherein, banks and government-run entrepreneurship development institutions have launched schemes that help women entrepreneurs to kick-start their businesses and bring their ideas to fruition.
Policies like the Annapurna scheme, Stree Shakti Package for Women Entrepreneurs, Bhartiya Mahila Bank Business Loan, Dena Shakti Scheme, Udyogini Scheme, Cent Kalyani Scheme along with a few more initiatives are offering specialized loans for women entrepreneurs through banks that have slightly different and more flexible set of terms and conditions pertaining to collateral security, interest rates, etc.
Impact investors are the crucible for impact-driven initiatives in the country. Some of the most passionate changemakers and innovators are moulded into equally passionate entrepreneurs by early stage impact investors. They can scout, identify, mentor and fund promising women social entrepreneurs. A fair chance to pitch their ideas will go a long way in offering a level playing field to women.
Academia has the most important role in shaping women students into future entrepreneurs. Introducing social entrepreneurship as a career option specifically to girl students and inculcating the spirit of creating social change through problem solving and innovation can be immensely effective in tapping them in the bud.
To achieve sustainable development of our country we need all productive hands on the table. In short, if India’s growth story has to translate into shared prosperity for all its people, then it cannot afford to have women excluded from this. Creating more opportunities for women social entrepreneurs to hone their ideas and above all, a level playing field is necessary.
Cover Image Source: wisdomblow.com