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  • Writer's pictureImpactree Data Technologies

Enabling a Women's Entrepreneurship Framework

"We are farmers by background. We grow and sell soya, harabhara and wheat. We sell in the local markets here near our village. A year back, madam ji my wife was very quiet she was a homemaker. Today over the last year we have worked together to transform our business together as a family unit and the success shows in her confidence levels. Today we have started 3 new businesses and are expanding them together. Being a family unit where we take collective decisions means we have split our responsibilities both personal and professional and we then decide best for our family and for our business.“

Husband of a women entrepreneur

Our last article called for a review of how we define and scale women entrepreneurs in India, a missing link to the framework of growth is an enabling framework.

From a stakeholder perspective, whether it is banks, financial institutions, donor organizations, or government institutions, we are always looking at economic indicators for measuring the growth of a business. However, we fail to understand that business growth and scale are often affected by two micro and macro factors driven by social and economic parameters

When we include the same while building a framework for Data, Management, and Analysis, we are able to see the correct perspective or lens for scale. Let us understand the factors better:

Micro Factors

There are multiple microeconomic factors that affect women entrepreneurs across India when it comes to scaling their businesses. These factors include

  • Family circumstances that can affect professional and personal balance.

  • Aspirations that are influenced by exposure and role modelling.

  • Risk appetite in terms of financial and social risks.

To support women entrepreneurs, interventions need to be carefully balanced and guidance should be provided to help them balance these factors. This is important because it lays the foundation for scaling their businesses.

In 2022, collaborated with Swayam Shikshan Prayog to launch a program called NETRI in three districts of Maharashtra. The program aimed to provide capacity building, financial access support, and market linkages to women in the agricultural value chain, including those in businesses such as agriculture, dairy, and multi-brand local retail stores.

NETRI means "Guide" in Sanskrit, and at Impactree, women entrepreneurs develop as leaders and guides who can serve as role models in their communities to scale their businesses.

We interacted with 54 rural women entrepreneurs who were trained in the NETRI program in Maharashtra, 7 months after its launch. These women shared that cultural embeddedness plays a crucial role in business principles and has a significant impact on their socio-economic and cultural behavior.

Through the course of 7 months, we came up with innovative approaches to each of these micro factors

A. Family business

We have learned that family businesses can be a great way for women to balance their personal and professional lives. However, leading a family business can be a challenge for women entrepreneurs.

Studies have shown that women in India often leave the workforce if their job doesn't meet their aspirations or if their family is earning enough to support them. In these cases, some women opt for home-based work which allows them to balance their business and family responsibilities.

Netri's work in rural Maharashtra validated this perspective and showed us the importance of understanding women's cultural backgrounds when designing programs to support their entrepreneurship. By doing this, we were able to customize our training programs and engage more entrepreneurs in a short period of time.

We also found a couple of solutions that are working well to encourage women to take on leadership roles.

  • Giving her an identity - Traditionally women in India have been relegated to be producers. We focused on creating an identity for women by giving them a prefix like "Netri". This helped them recognize themselves as leaders right from the start.

  • Common problem trees - We encouraged women to work on problem trees with their family members and seek their input to help solve issues. This made it a joint exercise in empowerment. Work on one problem tree with a specific focus on seeing what is the driver or influencer behind the problem and what is actionable to solve it.

Women were encouraged to share this with their mothers-in-law, husbands, and family members and seek their input to design and solve issues. Hence then it became a joint exercise in terms of empowerment.

B. Aspiration

Women have limited exposure when it comes to understanding how to grow and scale their enterprises. But one way to give them that exposure is by letting them experience business case studies, games, and market visits.

At Netri, we found that taking women to markets and helping them understand auctioning was a crucial factor in their success. We even developed an exercise where they could ask wholesalers questions and learn from them.

A big hurdle for women in leadership positions is understanding the value of their time. In traditional business, labor is often seen as a variable cost that needs to be reduced to increase profit margins. But at Netri, we learned that labor is actually a social value and a return, not a cost.

It was eye-opening for many women to see how much their labor was worth when they saw the bags of onions they sold in the morning sold for triple the price in the market.

Even with all the business training they've received, many rural women in India still struggle to internalize the concept of labor as a cost. But when they shift their mindset to value-based economics, they understand the true value of their labor and start taking risks to build customer perception, that’s when we start seeing real transformation.

C. Risk and Social Appetite

When we started working with the NETRI women, they saw it as an opportunity to create multiple businesses and not necessarily only to increase revenue from a single business. Working further with them gave us a few key insights:

  • Farmers are cautious about diving into major crops without first having success with smaller ones. It's a way to play it safe.

  • Major crops in India are sold through traditional value chains that have been passed down for generations.

  • To build resilience, rural families often try their hand at several businesses before consolidating after a year or two.

It's important to consider the dignity and social capital that comes with each business, as well as the traditional value chain. By taking on multiple businesses, these women not only earn an income but also gain a sense of pride and self-worth. It gives them a chance to show off their skills, utilize local resources in different ways, and support their families.

Hedging financial risks by engaging in multiple income-generating activities is already a go-to strategy for rural families, but having their families believe in their abilities across different businesses is a huge confidence boost for these ladies.

Practices that have helped Netri scale

  • Introducing technological solutions that complement the traditional value chain, rather than replacing it, is a significant development.

  • Upholding the dignity of business by encouraging women to conduct a local landscape business study in their area before commencing their venture. This study should rate businesses in terms of turnover, social capital, and dignity brought to entrepreneurs' families. By doing so, women can design their business model with social, economic, and cultural gains in mind.

  • Importance of education for women cannot be overstated. For years, women have outperformed men in secondary and higher education pass percentages. However, various challenges often lead to women discontinuing their education, resulting in a decrease in confidence. Encouraging women to pursue education again, using open schooling systems and online tools like YouTube, Udemy, and WhatsApp, has resulted in a renewed interest in education as a means of dignity.

Results of Netri Initiative

Women have been able to significantly increase their income by 4X through utilizing technology and online learning.

Six women are currently in the process of restarting their education and preparing for higher secondary board examinations.

During a recent meeting, a participant from Netri effectively addressed a large audience of 100 people in English, despite being a native Marathi speaker.

Over the past decade, NGOs have implemented transformative initiatives throughout India, building community structures and establishments that could potentially drive economic value from a social and cultural perspective. However, in order to achieve this, a new framework is needed to measure these structures and adapt them to economic systems for growth.

The cultural embeddedness understanding has significant implications for enterprise design. Through their research, Netri has informed the Data, Management, and Analysis (DMA) design and tech platform developed by Impactree. This platform provides culturally embedded contexts for measurement, identifying the drivers, influencers, and enablers for women's entrepreneurship to flourish.

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