Conversation with Rama Devi, Founder, ALEAP and a former President at Chamber of Commerce (AP)
Association of Lady Entrepreneurs in Andhra Pradesh is now a benchmark platform for entrepreneurs in 1993, way before it became the Buzz word
YourStory met with Rama Devi who started ALEAP in the year 1993 to promote women entrepreneurship in Andhra Pradesh. Rama Devi, a former President at Chamber of Commerce (Andhra Pradesh), shares her journey with us - on how she started the venture with like-minded women as a non-profit and non-governmental organization to support women entrepreneurs( when entrepreneurship was not the buzz word in the Indian eco system).Rama Devi and ALEAP today stands as a role-model in creating industrial estates for women entrepreneurs for countries like China, Africa and across Europe. Today ALEAP has over 70 acres of land across Andhra Pradesh dedicated to over 70 independent industrial units which provide employment to over 2,000 rural dwellers.
YourStory: Can you share a quick back-story on how ALEAP started?
I was the president of the Federation of Andhra Pradesh Chamber of Commerce. It was during my work there I realized that being part of a male dominated society created a lot of problems for female members and there were hardly any opportunities for the development of women. So, I along with a few like-minded women decided to start our own organization. So, we founded ALEAP as a non-profit and non-governmental organization in 1993 to support women to set up SM-industries in different sectors
In 1994, the Government promised to support us and allotted 20 acres of land to set up an all exclusive industrial estate for women entrepreneurs. Initially that itself seemed like a challenge, since the land was far away from the city, it was very hilly and seemed impossible to employ for women's enterprises. We turned that challenge into an opportunity and around 50 women started their industries there. Within 1 year of starting we had close to 100 members already. Impressed by our initial work, the Government of India allocated us a grant which allowed the members to redeem 40 percent of the cost incurred in setting up industries. Those were the days when no private body was given a grant. Soon, we opened another multi-product industrial cluster in Vijayawada. Today we have over 70 acres of land across Andhra Pradesh with over 70 independent industrial units. Over 3000 villages around these Industrial Units have been developed and these units provide employment to over 2,000 rural dwellers.
YourStory: What were the challenges you faced in promoting active participation from women
We realized that due to lack of proper education and skilled training it was almost impossible to convince women to start something of their own. In order to address this challenge, we started the Entrepreneur Development Institute for women which was inaugurated by Dr. Abdul Kalam. We started to train women properly. We designed informative training programs like entrepreneurial development program. Our simple strategy of successful entrepreneurs of ALEAP mentoring an early stage or a budding entrepreneur (especially uneducated women), helped us minimize the risks.
The other challenge faced by women was finance. We addressed this through ALEAP Credit Guarantee facility. We tied-up with various banks that provided loans to SMEs and ALEAP became a guarantor. This really helped us and our entrepreneurs have availed most of the schemes available with the Government to build their industries.
Infact, Government has a lot of schemes for entrepreneurs, but, dissemination of information doesn’t happen effectively. ALEAP’s training Institutes bridge that gap for our members. We figured that sometimes even after providing infrastructure, training and finance, some of our entrepreneurs still found it difficult to make a mark. So, we have taken another bold step by introducing Vipani, a marketing platform for our entrepreneurs. We use Vipani as a platform to showcase the product, act as a distribution channel for the product and take it to the consumers without incurring more cost. Vipani is the marketing wing which ensures that information reaches the consumer. We organize exhibitions through which we showcase our entrepreneur’s products. In fact, we have collaborated with a chain of super markets like Wal-Mart where our products are distributed.
YourStory: Today, things have changed, lot of awareness, growth, facilities etc yet we don’t see another ALEAP in other states?
We already have our presence in Delhi, Bihar and Jammu &Kashmir. So there is a good scope for replicating our model in other States as well. I really don’t know why things are not moving fast in other states, but, the need is certainly the same everywhere. What we have done can certainly be a role-model for others. We have researchers coming in from Africa and Europe to learn from ALEAP’s experience. We have become a best practice in most of the developing countries. But, it is sad that it is not yet replicated in other states in India. It is not an impossible task if all of us come together and solve the initial problems.
For example, when ALEAP took up the industrial estate, getting power was very difficult, so we planned in such a way that we had an exclusive power station for the estate. So if an entrepreneur has a project approved, she gets power within a day. Similarly, every entrepreneur felt that accessing finance was a big issue. Then we founded the ALEAP credit guarantee scheme. We created a platform where entrepreneurs and bankers interacted with each other. ALEAP has an integrated approach and through this approach entrepreneurship can be fostered.
Today, Nepal and Africa are looking for our support to create a similar kind of industrial estate for women entrepreneurs. We have partnership with Ignite from Germany which offers capacity building trainings to women entrepreneurs. We want to expand in a big way in Andhra Pradesh itself. Later we want to expand in India before we expand globally.
We regularly work with Universities and young entrepreneurs. We have interns from various premier B-Schools like ISB. We help them understand how things in small scale industries work. We provide hands on experience to them as well.
We have a huge plan for the next five years. We want to strengthen ALEAP in a very big way. We are looking forward to expand. We want to provide the necessary trainings and create a platform so that an entrepreneur can minimize the expenditure and maximize the profit.
YourStory: Do you have any last words/messages for women entrepreneurs in India?
The journey is always difficult but the happiness I derive when someone who couldn’t read and write becomes a successful entrepreneur is incomparable.
YourStory wishes Rama Devi and ALEAP success in creating many more women entrepreneurs and enriching many more lives. We applaud her efforts at empowering women and hope ALEAP is replicated all across India and abroad... To learn more about ALEAP visit http://aleap.org/