Lately a topic that has been getting a lot of my interest has been women entrepreneurs in India. You would be amazed at the dearth of material there is out there on women who run their own enterprises. This is illustrated by the fact that most of the information is about Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, the founder of Biocon. The other category of information is about women who have inherited their family run business or parts of it. What is really lacking is stories of first generation women entrepreneurs, or even those who broke out of the mould of their fathers' businesses and did something on their own.
I did come across an interesting story though. This article is an interview of Vrinda Rajgarhia, who runs a confectionary shop in Lokhandwala, Andheri. I used to stay in that area once, so I have actually seen the shop, but never checked out the sweets and candies on display. Having always seen a constant stream of people in the store, it looks like she's doing quite well indeed.
The points to note about her enterprise are:
1. Although she comes from a business family, the venture is one which has little or nothing to do with that line of business. As she says "I think that's what most Marwari women do. They just take over the family business. I think doing my own things give me a lot of satisfaction than just joining the existing family business..."
2. This is not her first business. She tried one earlier, which was a hosiery manufacturing setup. This probably indicates that her family wasn't averse to her starting another venture, just because the first one failed.
3. The idea for the confectionary store didn't just crop up. She'd been thinking about it for a while, but the tax structures prevented it from being a viable enterprise. As soon as the taxes/duties on the goods reduced, she was able to commence operations.
4. The enterprise is still not in a "traditional" business domain. In the sense, it reflects one of the issues highlighted in this ILO report on Women Entreprenurs - "Women have a proportionately greater presence in the informal economy and in microenterprises; and they are less represented in formal, registered SMEs."
While this story is a successful one, the fact of the matter is of course that in a strongly patriarchal society like India, masculine hegemonies make it extremely difficult for women to start and succeed at their own ventures. Here are some of the issues I have either read about or seen women face:
1. Lack of family support. Most entrepreneurs would tell you that a significant factor in their success has been the support of their families. And this is not usually financial support, but rather emotional support. Just the fact that they understand that the entrepreneur needs to do what she's trying to do. To not constantly question or nag her. To not make her feel guilty about "neglecting" her family/domestic responsibilities. This happens across all social strata, even with upper middle-class households where the woman's primary responsibility is still overseeing the running of her household. Even if there are maids to do most of the work, a woman is still made to feel as if that's what should be top priority for her. Fact of the matter is that entrepreneurship is one of the most fundamentally independent things a person can attempt. And any hint of independence from a woman strikes at the basis of the hegemony.
2. Lack of capital. Whereas for women from upper middle class households, finance might still be easier to obtain, for those in the lower strata, there is a strong need for loans to be available either from traditional sources such as banks or financial institutions, or from community-based funds. According to this report, women find it easier to access funds from a community-run institution, as this also helps them network and get easier access to market. The fact that most decision makers within the loan departments within traditional institutions are men, doesn't help much either.
3. Lack of confidence and faith. The sheer lack of role models undermines the confidence women have in their own abilities to successfully run independent enterprises. It is important that the role models be local and closer-to-home rather than those from socially and geographically different backgrounds. Nothing inspires more than an attitude of "Hey, she did it, so can I!". The lack of media coverage of successful first generation women entrepreneurs only makes the situation worse. This lack of confidence also results in a lesser ability to aggressively reach out to the market. The entire act of "selling" is seen as something that women simply ought to refrain from.
4. Lack of the right public/private institutions. Although, government policies do exist to make it easier for women small business owners to find funding and markets, these are most often misused by men who use it with their wives fronting through the entire process. Most of the people running these schemes are also well-aware of this potential for misuse and often take the extremely patriarchal view that loans will not be disbursed to a woman unless she is accompanied by her husband or father. Also, government policies cannot be designed at a national level, or inspired by those in existing in other countries. Policies need to be customised to be gender-, location-, and culture-sensitive.
In the ILO report I referred to above, the main findings are:
- Women’s entrepreneurship as an untapped source of economic growth;
- Women have a lower participation rate in entrepreneurship than men;
- Women choose different industries than men do;
- Such industries are perceived as being less important to economic growth and development;
- Mainstream government policies and programmes do not take into account specific needs of women entrepreneurs
Incidentally, I am planning to continue researching on this, and see what it develops into. If you have any links or information do pass it on.