Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus has said that “if illiterate and poor women can transform themselves into entrepreneurs, imagine what millions of high school and university graduates around the world, empowered by enormously powerful technology, can do”. The perception of women as mute members in a patriarchal society has begun to change across the world. Such progressive mindset has given women their rights and agency back to them and has increased their participation in social, political, and economic aspects. Women have come up in life on par with their male counterparts and organisational support to them has helped build their capacity and entrepreneurial skills. Developed countries have shown better improvement but women in underdeveloped countries represent a largely untapped pool of entrepreneurial talent.
In the countries studied through the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) project, it was evident that involvement of women in entrepreneurial activities was lesser than of men. There is perhaps no greater initiative a country can take to accelerate its pace of entrepreneurial activity than to encourage more of its women to participate. Gender distinctions created on economic and social basis have had a negative effect on the education, work, health and political participation of women.
In a study conducted by GEM in 2016-17 on women entrepreneurship, it was found that women entrepreneurship rose by 6% worldwide in the past 2 years. The Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIEW) report 2017 found that indicators such as support for SMEs, financial inclusions of women, ease of doing business, quality of governance, cultural perception of women entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurship supportive factors were the strongest enablers of women ownership of business. It also identified a few enabling factors such as positive business mindset, sheer drive and determination to succeed, and high ability to identify good business opportunities as crucial, as was found in the GEM report too.
Historical evidence suggests that in India, representation of women entrepreneurs was abysmally low during both the colonial and post-independence era, much of it due to the social set-up and the role entrusted upon women. Despite the barriers, three organisations – Shri Mahila Griha Udyog Lijjat Papad (founded in 1959), Self Employed Women’s Association (founded in 1971), and Biocon (found in 1978) –were founded by women. The history and legacy of these organisations shows the potential of women as entrepreneurs. During the era of liberalisation, there was a push towards women entrepreneurship, with several women-centric institutions cropping up, such as Federation of Indian Women Entrepreneurs (FIWE) and Consortium of Women Entrepreneurs of India (CWEI). To support women entrepreneurial initiatives, many banks, such as Small Industries Development Bank of India (SIDBI) National Agricultural Development Bank of India (NABARD), and State Bank of India (SBI) started to offer credit assistance to women. Several schemes were also launched to provide necessary momentum to women entrepreneurship in the country. Some of these schemes were:
1. With its launch in 1986, Special Training and Employment for Women (STEP) assisted women groups to set up their own businesses by creating self-help groups (SHGs).
2. National Credit Fund for Women, also known as Rashtriya Mahila Kosh (RMK), was set up in 1993 to provide micro-credit to poor Indian women, by provision of microfinance institutions (MFIs).
3. Under the Micro-Small Enterprise–Cluster Development Programme (MSE-CDP) created in 2007, clusters with more than 50% of female-owned enterprises benefit from a government grant of 90% for both soft as well as hard intervention in training.
4. Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana (PMMY) was launched in 2015, with an allocation of Rs 20,000 crore for credit and financial assistance to MFIs and other agencies that lend money to small businesses with a nominal rate of interest.
Combining the concerted efforts at all levels and with a rise in the number of educated women, the possibilities for women taking part in formal employment are aplenty, which further contributes to rise in the number of entrepreneurial ventures by them. The scenario for large family businesses once resistant to the idea of women leadership are now welcoming and favouring women entrepreneurs or leaders. The rate of growth of new-generation female entrepreneurs-led business gives direction to the entrepreneurial movement in the country.
THE writer is a research scholar at Department of Commerce, Kashmir University. [email protected]