Women's Day: A lowdown on how to help women entrepreneurs kickstart their business
Women make up almost half the population of India. Despite this, less than 14 percent of all Indian enterprises are women-led. India’s ranking on the gender inequality index declined to 112 last year. Economic independence is one of the surest ways of ensuring real, meaningful equality and empowerment. Every Indian woman entrepreneur can tell a story of success in the face of adversity, and gender should not be a determinant of business success.
Yet, in a country struggling to outgrow millennia of entrenched gender hierarchies, being a woman entrepreneur is one of the most challenging career paths a person can take. It doesn’t have to be this way. Between greater government focus on women entrepreneurship and greater public awareness, there is a path forward for the Indian woman entrepreneur of tomorrow.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways that solution providers can help women entrepreneurs kick start their businesses:
Ensuring ready access to finance
A key roadblock for many women entrepreneurs is access to affordable finance. Because assets in many households are in the name of a male family member, women entrepreneurs may find it difficult to come up with collateral or guarantors for loans. Both private banking institutions and the public sector provide favourable, collateral-free loans to women entrepreneurs. However, information asymmetry and access challenges make it difficult for them to actually obtain these loans. This creates an opportunity for technology solution providers.
Digital solutions, delivered through mobile apps, could create awareness about loan schemes, consolidate KYC and loan application information, and facilitate loan application submission. This would enable women entrepreneurs, even in remote areas, to fully leverage the credit opportunities that are available to them.
Ensuring continuous education and skill development
While over 80 percent of Indian men are literate, less than 66 percent of Indian women are. The disparity in women’s literacy is just one indicator of the great disparity in educational outcomes between Indian men and Indian women. This has a tangible impact on labour participation. India’s female labour participation rate is just 23 percent.
The answer is simple: Indian women entrepreneurs need access to continuous education and skill development platforms. Only this will ensure that they have the requisite knowledge and skills to successfully run an MSME. Digital solution providers can look to the success of MOOCs and online courses when introducing skill development and education-centric solutions for women entrepreneurs.
Mobile-friendly skill development platforms, localised in vernacular languages, can ensure that women entrepreneurs obtain the skills they need at their own pace and at their own convenience.
In a situation where formal education continues to be a challenge, technology solution providers have a window of opportunity to offer digitally enabled remote learning experiences. These solutions can draw from the large existing open knowledge pool of solutions like SWAYAM.
Bringing Indian women entrepreneurs online
India has nearly 600 million internet users. However, less than 30 percent of them are female. Less than a third of Indian MSMEs are online. Together, these two facts indicate that Indian women entrepreneurs have a very limited online presence. This offers technology solution providers an immense opportunity: to be digital enablers for millions of Indian woman entrepreneurs.
Solution providers can leverage mobile apps and on-the-ground POS terminals, supported by last-mile network connectivity, to help bring Indian women entrepreneurs online. Consolidated solutions could allow women entrepreneurs to access e-learning resources, register social media profiles, and access government e-services from a single point of service. These solutions could be vernacularised and offered at a nominal cost to promote widespread uptake.
Addressing the specific needs of Indian women entrepreneurs
In a society where gender roles remain entrenched, women entrepreneurs face a number of unique challenges that are as yet unaddressed. Solution providers have a unique opportunity here to address these needs and drive social transformation.
Safety and ease of access are two critical challenges faced by many Indian women entrepreneurs. Existing technology solutions for women’s safety can be adapted to address the specific needs of women entrepreneurs in situations such as interacting with credit providers.
Ease of access is also critical: many Indian woman entrepreneurs are limited in terms of how far they can physically travel. This could make existing, relatively distant point-of-service terminals inconvenient. By leveraging mobile technology and last-mile connectivity, solution providers could offer women entrepreneurs service access right from their houses and places of work.
(Edited by Evelyn Ratnakumar)
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)