By Preethi Rao
Skill, Labour, Talent for MSMEs: Women entrepreneurship in India is traditionally concentrated in low-skill and informal sectors. This is primarily due to the lack of access to customised training programmes, suited to their specific requirements. In order to encourage entrepreneurship and skill development among MSMEs, the Indian government has increased spending by almost Rs 200 crores in the last fiscal year and around 25,000 compliances have been relaxed, to promote entrepreneurship among women (MSME Annual Report 2021-22).
There are many women-focused entrepreneurship development programmes instituted by both the central and state governments. NIESBUD (MSDE) has developed Entrepreneurship Development Programmes for rural women with the objective to imbibe entrepreneurial values, attitude and motivation to set up individual or group-based enterprises. The MSME Ministry launched their flagship programme Trade Related Entrepreneurship Assistance and Development (TREAD) in 2006, a scheme for women-led enterprises too. The platform focuses on providing credit opportunities, targeted business training, and advisory support that enables women entrepreneurs to better understand legal and ecosystem practices. There are state level initiatives as well that promote skilling among women entrepreneurs.
In Delhi, the Saheli Samanvay Kendra (SSK) scheme launched in 2020, aims to develop Anganwadi centres (AWC) for incubating individual start-ups, generating livelihood opportunities for women, and promoting self-help groups (SHG). Kudumbashree Mission, an initiative under the State Poverty Eradication Mission in Kerala, works with SHG women to help them launch their own micro-enterprises. Members who exhibit an interest in starting a business are given the necessary entrepreneurship training by the Mission.
However, the reach and take up of such initiatives have been low. There are only 21 courses, focused on stereotypical skills such as fashion design, beautician etc. that are offered by the National Skill Training Institutes for women, while ITIs that cater to men offer more than 153 courses, and the enrolment rate of women in these courses is at a meagre 20 per cent.
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The pandemic also showcased the need for women entrepreneurs to pivot and cater to changing demands and to leverage technology and digital platforms for better access to newer markets. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is a key enabler of entrepreneurship among women. However, women lack access to technology. Therefore, there is a need to amplify infrastructural support in order to enable women entrepreneurs to learn and use digital technology for their businesses and to also promote targeted upskilling of women-led enterprises.
Community-based organisations and the private sector have also designed programmes to promote non-traditional skills among women-led enterprises. According to the Google & Bain report (2020), organisations like Mann Deshi Foundation and Wadhwani Foundation, have developed hard and soft skills training for rural women entrepreneurs benefiting around 150,000 microenterprises.
While there are many such programmes available, there is a need to understand the specific requirements of women entrepreneurs at different stages of development and design programmes that address such needs. The Enterprise Readiness Survey conducted in Delhi by IWWAGE in partnership with the Delhi Skill and Entrepreneurship University (DSEU), Government of NCT of Delhi, showed that there is a clear appetite for training on topics such as business management and planning among more than 60 percent of the women respondents.
The study also showed that traditional skills like stitching and sewing, pickle and papad making, handicraft making, and skill training programmes focusing on soft skills using mobile phones, communication and expressing thoughts were considered important by the respondents. Majority of the respondents also indicated that they could attend training classes twice a week (up to three hours per session), offered in a hybrid model – in-person sessions at the local anganwadi centres as well as virtual tutorials to be accessed using mobile devices.
A study undertaken by LEAD university in partnership with funders’ network Asian Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN) and JPM, showcased that customised training programmes along with consistent handholding support for troubleshooting are needed to improve business outcomes over a longer period, as opposed to a one-time training. Such training needs to be easily accessible, delivered through multiple channels and just-in-time, accounting for women entrepreneur’s time constraints and care responsibilities. Training programmes need to be continuous and dynamic.
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The study also showcased that training programmes for women entrepreneurs need to focus on the following:
- Business management and planning for dynamic aspects such as cash flow and inventory.
- Marketing beyond just branding, based on customer segments and focusing on customer retention.
- Creating resilience mechanisms (insurance, savings, government schemes, diversification etc.).
- Measuring the social impact of the enterprises.
- Hands-on technical and leadership training.
Vocational, business and soft skills related training programmes have been seen to not only result in positive effects in income for women but they have a visible effect on women’s non-cognitive skills like self-efficacy, aspirations and agency. These, in turn, help improve their attitudes and confidence towards their social and economic standing. There is a need to bring forward programmes and policies that aim to nurture such behavioural changes.
Preethi Rao is Associate Director at Krea University’s research centre LEAD. Views expressed are the author’s own.
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