As women break barriers, these entrepreneurs are driving social change and helping create sustainable livelihoods for many.
The role of women entrepreneurs in an economy is often not acknowledged enough. In fact, at the recently-concluded Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Hyderabad, US President Donald Drumpf’s daughter and advisor Ivanka Drumpf said, “Only when women are empowered to thrive will our families, our economies, and our societies reach their fullest potential.”
In India, while there is still a long way to go, there are many women who have broken societal barriers, and taken the road less travelled to emerge as role models for their peers and the youth.
Hailing from Osmanabad in Maharashtra, Kamal Kumbhar was born to a daily-wage worker. Following a failed marriage, she started Kamal started Kamal Poultry, and Ekta Producer Company in 1998 with an investment of Rs 2,000. So far, she has mentored over 5,000 women in her village and neighbouring areas to set up micro-enterprises. At present, Kamal she owns six businesses and her monthly income is above Rs 1 lakh a month.
Based in the Kashmir valley, 38-year-old Nusrat Jahan Ara started Petals and Fern, which sells flowers. Back in 2010, this computer graduate left her government job to start growing flowers in her ancestral home. Today, she not only runs a successful company but has also helped rejuvenate the floriculture sector in the valley. Putting in all her savings into the startup, today, Nusrat owns three flower farms and a retail outlet. Her company employs 20 people, and has an annual turnover of Rs 2 crore. Nusrat also runs Kashmir Essence, which retails Kashmiri products like saffron, almonds, cherries, walnuts, apples, apricots, and gives employment to local people, especially women.
She started out with making hand-knitted woollen blouses, socks, gloves to provide for her four children. From there, Jina Khumujam went on to make herbal soaps, and today, the 66-year-old entrepreneur from Manipur sells eight varieties of soaps under the brand name ‘Mangal’.
She started with raw materials like cucumber and lemon, and gradually went on to include other ingredients like aloe vera, neem, and turmeric, etc. Her products have a huge fan-following, both locally and with overseas tourists. Her monthly income is around Rs 10,000 a month, though the numbers shoot up during the tourist season.
Jina also sells her soaps online.
Twenty-five-year-old Mehvish Mushtaq Hakak develop her first app, ‘Dial Kashmir’, in 2013. The app is a directory, and provides phone numbers, and email and postal addresses of commercial establishments in the state, as also addresses of essential services. In addition to its key directory feature, the app also has other features like finding the pin code, railway timings, and list of holidays.
In 2001, Chinni Swamy and her husband moved to Purkal village in Uttarakhand, which is located between Dehradun and Mussorie. Starting with teaching children from nearby villages, Chinni decided she wanted to do something more meaningful and thus started her entrepreneurial venture, Stree Shakti.
Stree Shakti empowers women, helping them produce textile products such as quilts, cushion covers, bags, stoles, and other accessories. The company employs women from 15 villages around Purkal.
Mumbai-based Revathi Kulkarni Roy in 2007 started ForShe, the first women’s taxi service in Asia. She followed this up with similar initiatives Viira in 2010, and HeyDidi, a women-only delivery platform.
Revathi had launched ForShe on International Women’s day to empower women to become commercial drivers, and earn a livelihood. “At a time, there was no cab service at all for women, and ForShe provided a 90-day course in which lessons on self-defense were taught,” she says. Over the last 10 years, more than 1,000 women have been trained across Mumbai and Delhi through the various ventures Revathi has started.
Neha Juneja is co-founder and CEO of Grameen Infra, which is improving the lives of rural Indian women by transforming the way they cook. At Grameen India, Neha designed smart stoves that burn biomass efficiently, reducing smoke emission by up to 80 percent, and fuel consumption by 65 percent compared with traditional chulhas.