Women Entrepreneurship is not a new concept in India. Since time immemorial, women have been at the forefront of businesses, whether in the form of running a small home based salon or a textiles’ export unit serving thousands of international clients. The question then arises as to why there is a need to study and discuss women entrepreneurship separately and as a distinct theme? In her book ‘May you be the mother of a hundred sons’, American reporter Elisabeth Bumiller writes, “A woman’s role in the Indian society is full of contradictions. While enormous numbers of them are illiterate, many hold important positions in politics and the arts. While most suffer discrimination and poverty, others are transforming India into a modern nation.”
An important reason for analyzing the issues and challenges of women entrepreneurs is that they do not operate in isolation. They are faced with the same macro framework as their male counterparts. Jude Kelly, Artistic Director, South Bank Centre, in her address to the Yatris explains the overall global challenges facing women, “Women own only 1% of world’s land and property. If you educate a woman, her children have 40% less chance of dying. Every 90 seconds, a woman dies in child birth. Globally, 52% of the population is female. Despite this overwhelming statistic, 70% victims in war are women. How can we be okay with half the world having lesser rights than the other half? For any woman, what is needed is to not be afraid, to fight for equality.” Jude advises the young women on the yatra to not invest in someone else’s dream if you are not prepared to invest in your own.
The spirit of the Yatra lies in the diversity of the selected Yatris. 40% of the Yatris this time are women, and amongst those, many are entrepreneurs. Take the case of Pranjal Jain, Co-founder, SOUL (School of Universal Learning), Pune. She smilingly explains how she has always wanted to be an entrepreneur. What was the reason behind choosing entrepreneurship over any other job? Pranjal explains, “The idea of doing something new, innovative and challenging always excited me. It was the only way for me to realise my fullest potential. Secondly, as a woman I felt that I’ll have more control over my time, a better work-life balance overall. Lastly, I got into corporate training out of passion. I saw immense opportunity in training. A lot of excellent professionals weren’t doing well simply because of lack of skills like communication, leadership, etc.”
Nagajyothi, Founder, La Exotica, a Chennai based personalized gifting solutions venture, shares her story, “I never wanted to take up a traditional corporate job. After graduating, I had the option of joining an IT firm but I decided to start my own personalized gifting business. My venture is all about making someone close to you feel special. I had earlier been doing this informally for the past 5-6 years and it is what I felt I was good at. Entrepreneurship brought out my creativity and free expression. Yes, the challenges are definitely greater. There is peer pressure, family expectations, etc but at the same time, learning is also manifold when you are an entrepreneur.”
After speaking to many women entrepreneurs on board, it was clear that it is the passion for what they do which keeps them going. Mukta Darera, for instance, founded iReboot with the concept of enabling one to experience their dream careers even if for just two days over the weekend. Explaining further, Mukta adds, “I was working with Intel for a couple of years. It’s a great company but my work did not feel meaningful. I wanted to figure out what I wanted to do. I looked around and found out that most people did not like their jobs; my survey revealed a statistic of 80% for it. At that time, I also applied for my MBA and got through SP Jain, Mumbai. I could resign my job, study or do something I really wanted. On the SP Jain website, I saw the start your business (SYB) link. Then I took up a two month short term course of management for women entrepreneurs at IIMB. After that I started iReboot as an attempt to address the needs of those who don’t know what they want to do or those who do but don’t have the courage to experiment try it fulltime. As far as being a woman entrepreneur is concerned, I have not experienced any specific issues. In fact, it opens up more doors if you are a woman and you also get more attention!”
In addition to these experienced, young women entrepreneurs, many of who started their businesses while in college, there are also those who are aspiring to become entrepreneurs. Take the case of Kirti Poonia who is planning to quit her job soon and start her own fashion line, especially evening dresses and formals for women. There is also Anusha Pinto who has just started her own applied arts brand called Art Umbrella in Mumbai.
The wave of women entrepreneurship in India is hence, led more strongly and visibly today. These women have better access to resources in terms of knowledge, networks, funding, supporting organisations, etc. While in the past, Indian women were confined to petty business and cottage industries, they are now looking beyond the horizon to spot growth opportunity and lead change in their various fields. Today’s women, as compared to previous generations, are more likely to have a stronger passion for what they take up, a desire to constantly innovate, a greater appetite for capital and higher sensitivity to the environment.