By Navya Naveli Nanda and Madhura DasGupta Sinha
Ease of Doing Business for MSMEs: Meena (name changed) grew up in a village in the Maharashtra hinterland, she got married at 18, pregnant at 19 and struggled with an alcoholic husband for many years. Meena worked odd jobs and never quite thought she would ever be able to start her own enterprise. Meena is no different from countless women in our country.
As per the World Population Prospects (WPP) of the United Nations, India is set to overtake China’s population by 2023, to become the world’s most populous nation with over 1.4 billion people. As a country, this presents us with a very large opportunity to press the pedal on our economic growth and development. However, achieving the title of an ‘international economic superpower’, might still take some time. The missing piece in the puzzle is the participation of women in our economy.
As per the Global Gender Gap Index, 2022 (published by the World Economic Forum) India is ranked 143 out of 146 countries (i.e. 3rd from the bottom) in terms of women’s economic participation and opportunity. While we appreciate that a lot of India’s women are in the informal sector, the urgent need to change this situation stares at us – as a nation and as a society.
Women’s workforce participation in India (as per ILO) has been declining since 2005 and is hovering below 20%. That essentially means that less than 20 out of 100 women are in the workforce (the comparative figure in Bangladesh is 35% and in the US is 55%).
The MSME sector is one that has potential to accelerate the workforce participation of women. This can be done by converting women from job seekers to job creators. The MSME sector has the ability to do this by providing women with the ability to hire more women, boosting the overall economic activity of the nation.
What can we do to support the growth of women in the MSME sector?
We need to create a nurturing ecosystem, one where women entrepreneurs are promoted and motivated, through the availability of the right resources, training and mentorship. Above that, we need to improve financing mechanisms of women, by helping attract private investment in these enterprises, through provision of incentives such as tax concessions, ease of doing business, developed infrastructure etc. We must also ensure a deep focus on skill development and access to technology, with the help of local institutions to set up incubation cells where guidance can be provided.
But most importantly we need to make entrepreneurship aspirational for women by changing the mindset that stops them from taking risks and embracing failure. Five critical elements to change mindsets include mentors and role models, availability of resources to start and scale the enterprise, career previews where women entrepreneurs are celebrated and a very strong peer community where members connect with each other, motivate each other and elevate each other to collectively find creative solutions to problems.
Coming back to Meena – her moment of truth happened when she met her mentor and she became part of a rural women empowerment community. She drew inspiration from others, and started setting up business lines by using resources and skills through the community. Today she runs ten business lines from hydroponic farming to vermiculture, from dairy to poultry – with strong revenue momentum. She has won several awards and inspires other women in her community. Motivated by her success, her husband has turned sober and works with her.
With women’s entrepreneurial energy firing up the MSME ecosystem in India, we can not only leverage the demographic dividend but also challenge and change social inequities and power asymmetries.
Navya Naveli Nanda and Madhura DasGupta Sinha are building EntrepreNaari. Views expressed are the author’s own.