How Project Saksham is aiming to empower 50,000 women entrepreneurs

Project Saksham has proved to be a catalyst of change for women for their economic empowerment which has changed their conditions socially as well
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What happens when a woman builds and runs an enterprise in a family? Firstly, it does wonders for the family, financially. If the woman is a micro-entrepreneur, the impact does not end here. It changes mindsets and perspectives about her within the family and across the community. Samina, a beautician, who resides in Mumbai’s Kurla suburb realised this during the lockdown that began in late March 2020. Her family includes her husband and three children.

When her husband lost his job, the family of five was left with no income for months. Samina also could not support her family as she did not have the products and resources to serve her clients. She received support in the form of a ‘Saksham’ kit with all the products she needed to restart her small business, which eventually was enough to support the family.

Today, her husband encourages her to focus on her work as a beautician, and has willingly taken on the household chores. He has also resumed work, but is advocating for Samina to continue with her enterprise - something he never valued before the pandemic. In fact, Samina’s father who was never in favour of her doing this business is now happy that his daughter is able to earn a livelihood.

The initiative hopes to impact 50,000 such women across the county and build a growing movement of women entrepreneurs.

The nationwide lockdown impacted millions of daily wage earners and self-employed persons to lose their jobs and revenue streams. The International Labour Organization (ILO 2020) report has indicated that as a result of COVID-19, an estimated 400 million informal sector workers are at risk of abject poverty in India. Women bore the brunt of these job losses because much of their work is invisible; and they are more likely to work in informal work arrangements.

A 2017-18 Periodic Labour Force Survey (PLFS) shows that the participation of rural women in the workforce fell to 18 percent and the participation of urban women is down to 14 percent. More than half (53 percent) of the women’s workforce is self-employed.

The economic census 2013-14, showed that only 13.8 percent of total enterprises were run by women. While women possess the skills; the lack of access to tools, opportunities and resources prevent them from being entrepreneurs. In other instances, family and society impose restrictions.

But many women like Samina have been able to demonstrate the immense value of their artisanship and enterprises to their families through Project Saksham. Women entrepreneurs have to fill an application form in their language, and attend an interview that assesses how Covid-19 impacted them, and their aptitude to set up and run the business.

The support goes beyond providing equipment and raw material, but extends to training supply management, operations, fiscal management etc.

Their husbands have also realised the value of the skills their wives possess and have become equal partners in running enterprises. In some instances, husbands have quit their own jobs to help out. Running a business also comes with exposure to the outer world, which means increased interactions with customers, suppliers etc. which was denied for many women, earlier.

Participation in decision-making in the family especially on aspects related to health and education has opened up to women. Many of these women entrepreneurs have become champions for better education and nutrition opportunities for their girl child in the family and within their communities as well. Their voices are now heard and families transformed.

Project Saksham of United Way Mumbai recognises that promoting entrepreneurship among women is one of the ways to address the challenge of low female labour force participation and supplement the family income during this time. Today, over 1300 women have been supplied with business kits, and had capacity building interventions on financial inclusion and skills to scale up their business. The initiative hopes to impact 50,000 such women across the county and build a growing movement of women entrepreneurs.

Edited by Diya Koshy George

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