Building The Ecosystem For India’s Women Micro-entrepreneurs

All the statistics point to women being better borrowers. (Representational image)

© Provided by The Financial Express
All the statistics point to women being better borrowers. (Representational image)

By Sairee Chahal

Among the various entrepreneurship entities, micro-entrepreneurship is especially attractive to India’s women. Ownership of a micro-enterprise has given millions of women a platform to build social identity and financial capital, while being able to grow it, flexibly.

Around 98 percent of businesses owned by India’s women are micro-enterprises, and of these, approximately 90 percent operate in the sectors like health, cosmetics, clothing, education, women’s wellness products, fashion, food and nutrition, garments and textiles. From job seekers, women are becoming job creators.

India’s accelerated Internet economy, presents a real opportunity to support India’s women microentrepreneurs as passionately as we do, the creation of unicorns. With the right infusion of resources, tools and support, women micro-entrepreneurs can play a lucrative role in job creation, flipping the gender indices, and boosting the economy.

Building digital access

The United Nations and India’s Supreme Court both declared “access to Internet” as a fundamental human right. Digital access can be a real enabler for the set-up, and flourishing of women-led micro-businesses. It can level the playing field. Hence, distribution, penetration and evangelisation of data and smart devices, must be prioritised. They open the doors of access to learning resources, marketplaces, marketing tools, and communities, that will play a key role in fuelling women-led micro-businesses.

Cultivating learning ecosystems

The micro-entrepreneurship landscape is filled with first-time internet users and first-time entrepreneurs, who must learn the rules of business, from scratch. A culture of conversational and community-based learning, and access to especially curated resources, needs to be encouraged. Online learning ecosystems must create access to a wide range of digital, financial, and general business skills. Mentorship is a key component, as a culture of learning needs to be nurtured. It cannot be a static thing, that is created and forgotten. It has to be an evolving, vibrant learning ecosystem, where women micro-entrepreneurs want to show up every day.

Women-led community marketplaces

Online marketplaces that prioritise the products and services of women-led businesses, can be a lifeline for growth, exposure, visibility, and personal branding. Traditional ecommerce marketplaces have a functional approach to selling and commerce. But community marketplaces are reimagining the eCommerce experience. They enable microentrepreneurs to build identity for their brands, via their online shops. This inspires creativity, conversation and content, that leads to commerce. Ready access to a community of potential buyers, is a key component of this model.

Online rural accelerators

More women are coming online every day, and rural women are the fastest growing demographic on the internet. The pandemic stopped millions of micro-businesses in their tracks. The earning potential of women entrepreneurs was adversely affected. Though they had access to the Internet, they were not prized to leverage it for business. Those that did, managed to emerge even more successful. Launching online rural accelerators at scale, with the core elements of skilling, mentorship, and community support/ engagement, will help rural women micro-businesses to stay relevant, and scale. It will nudge more women to become entrepreneurs, create jobs, and invest in their communities.

Access to capital

All the statistics point to women being better borrowers. Putting more capital in the hands of women micro-entrepreneurs will help them dream big, and grow faster. Yet, millions of unbanked women are left out of the traditional banking and credit systems, and they are unable to access institutional finance. Neo banks have a real opportunity, here, to create access for women micro-entrepreneurs, by reimagining products and services for women. The financial needs of women micro-entrepreneurs must be understood, and catered to, specifically. We cannot apply a one-size-fits-all approach.

Online community support & engagement

Offline community models like SEWA and AMUL, have successfully nurtured lakhs of women micro-entrepreneurs, because they created constructive, safe, resource-rich spaces for women to thrive. Online communities have the potential to scale and deliver rich ecosystems to millions of women micro-entrepreneurs. Safety, conversations, expression, recognition are the cornerstones of supportive ecosystems, and technology will place a key role in connecting all these dots. We must also develop a culture of recognising and celebrating women micro-entrepreneurs for their struggles and successes. This will encourage more women to embrace entrepreneurship and accelerate their growth trajectories.

(The author is founder and CEO, Sheroes. Views are personal and not necessarily that of Financial Express Online.)