How Technology can Catalyze Women’s Entrepreneurship in India

Sunita started a silkworm microenterprise to breed and sell cocoons to traders and government agencies. A wife and mother, earnings from her small business supplement her family’s income. Her mobile phone has become vital to her work. She uses it to learn market prices for her cocoons. She calls traders to let them know when her next batch of cocoons will be ready. And she can even use her phone to remotely operate a pump that sends well water to her silkworm shed, which saves her a 4 km walk.

The above example is just one of many stories that the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) team came across as part of a case study on how technology is changing the lives of women entrepreneurs in India. World Bank and UNCTAD’s 2011 Information Economy Report demonstrates that providing women with ICT tools such as mobile phones can lead to a better quality of life and wider economic growth. However, despite the fact that mobile phones are seemingly ubiquitous, previous research indicates that there is a significant gender gap in access to mobile technology in South Asia, where a man is 37 percent more likely to have access to a mobile phone than a woman.

Some significant findings of the case study:

• When given a chance, Indian women seek out and use ICTs to develop their business ventures. They are readily adopting ICTs for business in large part because they recognize that these technologies can not only improve efficiency but increase social status as well.

• Mobile phones, more so than computers or the Internet, allow women to build entrepreneurial success. While women use all forms of ICTs, mobile phones’ portability and ease of use make them a particularly friendly tool to support business growth.

• ICTs for women’s businesses in India are providing a unique opportunity to empower women on multiple fronts. Women are not only benefitting personally and professionally by incorporating ICTs in their business, they also are serving as ambassadors for technology, by promoting its benefits among their families, communities and other women.

• ICT initiatives that spur women’s entrepreneurship in India show great promise. But more investment is needed, given that the four case studies in this report are reaching only a few thousand low-income women entrepreneurs in a land of half a billion women.

• Partnerships among the public, for-profit, non-profit and social enterprise sectors are core to initiatives that link women entrepreneurs with ICTs. Sustainability remains a challenge for most initiatives promoting ICTs for women’s entrepreneurship. The successful ones are built out of multi-sectoral partnerships, which can be difficult to create and maintain. But the economic and social benefits can strengthen these partnerships and ensure they are sustained over time.

• ICTs are most effective at helping women entrepreneurs save time and access new markets. Technologies like mobile phones allow women to eliminate travel, multitask and coordinate business with domestic responsibilities. However, few initiatives underway for women entrepreneurs use technology to share information, mentor or collaborate with others on business matters.

Click here to download the report.

Image Courtesy: ICRW