In November, the Schwab Foundation in association with the Jubilant Foundation awarded the Social Entrepreneur of the Year (SEOY) India award to Chetna Vijay Sinha, founder of Mann Deshi Mahila Sahakari Bank and Mann Deshi Foundation. Sinha’s Mann Deshi Group of Ventures, has a goal to create one million rural women entrepreneurs in India by 2020. For the first time ever, the rest of the four finalists – Mallika Dutt, founder of Breakthrough, Mrinalini Kher, founder of Yuva Parivartan (Kishore Kher was a co-nominee) and Sheely Batra founder of Operation Asha- were all women.
While there is no hard data to support the growing trend that social entrepreneurship is well-suited for women, and is attracting a fair share of them, one can hazard an educated guess that it is indeed the case. In July this year, there was a report released by Social Enterprise UK that revealed that in the UK, social enterprises are far more likely to be led by women than mainstream businesses (38 per cent of social enterprises have a female leader, compared with 19 per cent of SMEs and 3 per cent of FTSE 100 companies).
Also, 91 per cent of social enterprises have at least one woman on their leadership team, while 49 per cent of mainstream SMEs have all-male directors. In some countries like in Malaysia, Lebanon, Russia, Israel, Iceland and Argentina, women are more likely to start a social venture than are men. If that’s a pipe dream for a country like India, where at the very least it can hope to have an equal number of men and women entrepreneurs, like Latvia, the United States, Finland and China does.
India could employ a number of ways to get more women into social entrepreneurship. One was to do it is to nudging them towards social entrepreneurship right from the time they are in college. In the US, for example, a surprising number of Yale students, who go on to start social enterprises are women. India will do well to start nurturing potential women entrepreneurs when they are college itself. Most of the time what they really need is mentoring, business advice and funding.
India does not make good use of its women workforce, let alone promote women entrepreneurship. The UN and International Labor Organisation suggests that India’s GDP could jump by 4. 2 per cent if more women were drafted into the workforce. Social entrepreneurship is more likely to nurture women. A recent article in The Independent corroborates this fact. Apparently women are twice as likely to reach the top echelons of social entrepreneurship when compared to mainstream businesses.
Social entrepreneurship might be a great opportunity for Indian women professionals to breakthrough the glass ceiling that typically exists in traditional corporate life. Indian women do not receive a lot of support when it comes to professional advancement. India ranked a miserable 115th out of 128 countries in the Booz & Company created the Third Billion Index, coming below countries like Ethopia, Papua New Guinea and Bangladesh. The ranking is based on how effectively leaders are empowering women as economic agents in the marketplace.
While there haven’t government or private programs of note to support women social entrepreneurs, foreign players like the British Council are doing their bit. In India, British Council launched the New ‘Young Women Social Entrepreneurship Development Programme,’ to help train Indian social entrepreneurs that will identify women from social enterprises train them to become ‘Master Trainers’.
More of these type of initiatives will be needed. Some of these could be the availability of soft loans, mentoring, a national association for women social entrepreneurs, tax breaks and incentives to hire more women in the workforce.