Innovation, a word that has come up in repeated conversations, serves as a tool that not only creates value but also facilitates growth and employment
According to the Sixth Economic Census, only 13.7% women-led enterprises exist in India. While women entrepreneurship has the potential of adding $7 trillion to the Indian GDP, the participation of women in the labour force as well as entrepreneurship remains consistently low. Even though half the population in India is comprised of women, i.e., 48.1%, the Global Gender Gap Report, 2021 ranked India at 140 out of 156 countries. Majority of women account for the most unpaid work in India and the women in paid work are over-represented in the informal sector. Furthermore, women also face noteworthy wage differentials in comparison to their male counterparts.
It is widely known that the challenges of growth, need for inclusivity and creating employment opportunities are closely related. Thus, growth and stability are key markers of a country’s economic standing wherein female labour force participation is equally essential to this equation. In a rapidly growing economy such as India, enhancing women empowerment via employment can help in leveraging a larger workforce that contributes to the economy, collectively.
The need for higher female labour force participation coupled with the rapidly growing environment for innovation and digitization in India calls for thrusts towards women entrepreneurship and employment as key pathways towards achieving economic growth. Innovation, a word that has come up in repeated conversations, serves as a tool that not only creates value but also facilitates growth and employment. Moreover, innovation also fuels enhanced competitiveness and results in new businesses. Research and Development is a focus area that has consistently witnessed increased funding as far as the budget is concerned, with an aim to increase India’s capacity to innovate.
A PwC report states that India has the potential to boost its GDP to $10.4 trillion by 2034 by attaining a GDP CAGR of 9% and increasing its R&D spend to 2.4% of GDP by 2032. The Budget 2022-23 proposed to augment capital expenditure by 35.4% from INR 5.54 lakh crore in the year 2021-22 to INR 7.5 lakh crore in 2022-23. This increase in capital expenditure is in continuation of 34.5% rise from financial year 2019-20 to 2021-22. The increased prioritisation of the budget allocation for R&D has been a positive step towards India’s prioritisation of innovation as a key lever to becoming the fastest growing economy in the world.
Realising their own potential while leveraging the support from external institutions, women entrepreneurs have played a significant role under the ambit of innovation in the country. Leaders such as Richa Kar, Founder, Zivame; Falguni Nayyar, Founder, Nykaa; Sairee Chahal, Founder, SHEROES; Aditi Awasthi, Founder, Embibe (an Artificial Intelligence platform); Priyanka and Boteen Mandal, Founders, Clean Earth among many others, have broken the grass ceiling and have overcome stereotypes and hurdles. The one thread that is common throughout these leaders’ ideas is innovation. Hence, it is fair to say that innovation is also fuelled by women entrepreneurs and women leaders when they are enabled through access to the right resources, information and awareness.
Even though women entrepreneurs have achieved noticeable heights in their careers and journeys, it is essential to note the unrecorded participation of rural women entrepreneurs as contributors to the economy. Despite recognition of the requirement of women’s contribution to the economy, deep-rooted socio-economic complexities in form of gender stereotypes, lack of information, and low literacy levels result in fewer women entering the labour force or adopting entrepreneurship. However, even then, rural or micro women entrepreneurs have broken the chains of patriarchy and fought for their businesses and economic independence through innovative means and strategies. Programs such as UdyamStree by EdelGive Foundation, Women Empowerment Mission by SheReal and Women Innovation and Entrepreneurship Foundation (WIFE) have emerged as key successful pillars to enable innovation and women entrepreneurship. WIEF in particular has focused on innovation as a key pivot for women empowerment and entrepreneurship. In its endeavour, it has enabled rural and micro-women entrepreneurs in establishing an enriching journey to become self-reliant.
A case in point includes that of Tasneen Quasar. Tasneen faced several hardships at the hands of societal orthodoxy including the lack of support from her husband. She aspired to start her own business in the pursuit of setting an example in her community and inspiring other women to begin their journeys. Her father’s accident that forced her with overwhelming responsibilities also drove her to pursue her goals. WIEF helped her in setting up the business of stitching, paving the way for further exciting opportunities in her future. Under the cluster program of SME, she got immense support and acknowledgement towards her business. Tasneem now runs her own stitching classes by the name of Tasneem learning class of stitching. In her classes, she also trains women in application of mehndi. Tasneem keeps motivating other women who aspire to do something similar despite the hardships that come their way. She keeps working towards opening her own boutique with the main agenda to uplift like-minded women.
Women’s equal access and control over economic and financial resources is critical to achieve gender equality as well as sustainable economic growth and development. However, the Landscape Study on Women Entrepreneurship conducted by EdelGive Foundation found that the lack of access to funds makes the condition of women entrepreneurs extremely vulnerable. The complex procedure (in terms of fulfilling the eligibility criteria and documentation procedure) to obtain a loan from bank usually discourages women from establishing an enterprise of their own. Thus, while recognising this gap between financial access and rural women entrepreneurs, WIEF, akin to Tasneem, also impacted women entrepreneurs such as Sangeeta to overcome hurdles and attain independence.
Sangeeta decided to build her own venture without having any support from her family or friends. WIEF trained her and her entire team to establish and grow her business while creating access to finance via the Mudra loan. MSME Director of Delhi conducted the training along with Dr. Shweta Singh, Founder of WIEF, for Sangeeta and her team. Today, she is successfully running her flourishing jute bag business with her staff aided by the WIEF grant funded under a government scheme.
Thus, through ideas of innovation from institutions such as EdelGive Foundation’s UdyamStree campaign and the WIEF, women entrepreneurs have been able to sustain and scale their enterprises. In addition to this, they have also managed to innovate and identify ways to create better sustenance and scale-up strategies, financial procurement, and marketing, among others. The advent of digitization, awareness and literacy among women has helped them fulfil their entrepreneurial dreams and become Aatmanirbhar– with innovation, at its core.
The author is the founder and chairperson of Women Innovation Entrepreneurship Foundation (WIEF). Views expressed are personal.