“Empowerment through entrepreneurship”


“We need to move away from gender stereotyping and let children’s aptitude, and ability drive who they become”, said the legendary Anu Agha, ex Managing Director of Thermax, Pune. There could not be a better and bitter truth than this about gender stereotypes and the impediments they impose on the process of growth of girls and women. Only when we open our ‘blind’ eyes to this fact of the damage being done by ‘gender’ and their formation in traditional ways, and move to change it, society will move forward towards creative fulfilment. Just as careers of men are decided by their aptitude and their ability to do things and not by virtue of they being males, women too should decide their careers on the basis of ability and not on gender-stereotyping.

I am sure no one can express any doubt about women possessing every type of talent and ability and the fact that they are struggling hard against odds to express themselves in various fields, whether it is science, technology, art, design, financial management or even running a business or being an enterprising entrepreneur. The space programme of India (ISRO) which made news last month by breaking a world record by launching 104 satellites in record time is headed and ‘manned’ by eight dynamic women. If we unleash the power of women we could create a revolution of sorts by ushering in a just and humane world. “I always tell my children that the biggest tragedy in life is not achieving your potential” said the iconic Shikha Sharma, MD and CEO of Axis Bank, third largest private sector bank in the country. Actualising potential in whatever form is what women must do to liberate and elevate their economic and psychological status.

Economic empowerment is an imperative. Every woman must have money and property in her name. She must understand her own legal position and status in the family where she is born and where she marries. Many a married wives slog it out at the family businesses without asking for anything in return except her continued pride in her marital status. Most of them have no monthly remuneration, no legal post or position and as a fall-out no decision making authority. One lady asked me ‘why is it important to make her position in the family company legal and was not ‘trust’ the most important factor in a family’. Many women feel obliged to support family businesses without asking for job titles and salaries or being part of the ownership structure. They mostly play supportive roles and rarely become CEO’s of the company. Women somehow do not seem to understand the importance of it and hence do not mind as they continue to play secondary roles.

Besides economic empowerment, actualisation of potential is a necessary prerequisite for spiritual existence and growth. The worth of a person lies in self growth and self development and each must arise to fulfil their selves. Women have talent and strengths and they need to be given opportunities on an equal playing field. As a society rife with inequalities, injustices, oppression of women, it is entirely up to the women to arise, awake and achieve.

Let us talk about the highest form of enterprise and that is being and becoming a successful entrepreneur. Women desirous of being their own bosses and of executing their innovative ideas face much resistance from not only family members but also funding agencies like banks and venture capitalists. It is well known that majority women entrepreneurs put in their own money to start their business. As women we all have experienced the obstacles since centuries– social programming that drills into your head assumptions such as, ‘women cannot do business, it’s a man’s job, women’s place is in the home, motherhood is supreme’ etc. A 2015 study revealed that 92% of investment teams in the top global Venture Capital firms are men and another study suggests that only 4.2% of VC funds go to women-founded businesses. When are we going to change this mindset and subsequently the statistics which is so pathetic today?

Let’s have a look at reality of numbers. Women entrepreneurs comprise only 9.7 % in India (in comparison to 29% of enterprises in Canada and USA being women owned). Global Entrepreneur and Development Index (GEDI) Gender Index for 2014 states that India ranks in the bottom 5 of the 30 countries surveyed for conditions that foster “high potential” women entrepreneurship. Among top 5 are USA, Australia, Sweden, France and Germany. Among the last 5 is India at 26th position, at 27th and 28th position is Uganda and Egypt, Bangladesh at 29th and Pakistan at 30th position.

Taking this entire dismal picture of the status of women into account, an excellent initiative has been taken by the US Mission India, US Department of State (DOS). TIE Global (world’s largest non-governmental organisation for fostering an entrepreneurial ecosystem) successfully bided for the project named ‘All India Road Show on Women’s Economic Empowerment through Entrepreneurship” (AIRSWEE), a three day workshop in tier 2 and tier 3 cities in India, Nagpur being one of the five that were chosen by TIE Global! This project, is in progress as you read this piece, is being conducted by mentors selected specially for this effort, from USA and Mumbai, aimed at nurturing women start-ups with an eye on scaling up for growth and creating an impact. AIRSWEE was specifically aimed at women belonging to tier 2 and tier 3 cities and towns and not the metropolitans due to obvious reasons. This project besides the workshop, also aims at reaching out to the leadership of various institutions such as the State level governmental authorities, the University leadership, to know what initiatives are being taken and can be taken to give an impetus to women empowerment. The ball has been set rolling. And there is a growing impatience to speed up the change and push things forward which is visible at the national and international levels.

Rita Aggarwal.

Consulting Psychologist, Columnist.
Charter/Governing Council member, TIE, Nagpur. Maharashtra, India.
Chapter Champion, AIRSWEEE Nagpur.