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Amid COVID-19 Pandemic, This Social Initiative Is Changing Lives Of Rural Women For Better

By Staff

If you are happy to sit at your desk and not take a risk then building a good business is out of the question. To be among the most successful entrepreneurs, one has to be optimistic as success is less about money and more about how much difference you make in people's lives.

In an exclusive conversation with Boldsky, the CEO of WE HUB (A Government of Telangana state, India initiative) Deepthi Ravula shares her incredible entrepreneurial journey and vouches for the fact that consistency and product/market analysis and failing fast can help not only women but any entrepreneur to thrive in the business world. A first of its kind incubator, Deepti aims to promote Women
Entrepreneurship exclusively among women.

Are Women The Overlooked Key To Economic Development?

According to an IndiaSpend analysis of government data, the number of women working in rural India is declining at a greater pace than that among women in the urban workforce.

On asking how different is being a woman and being a woman in business, Deepti says, 'I believe, the difference between being a woman and woman in business is the way society perceives them. Women in Business have not only shattered the glass ceiling but brought about innovation through their path-breaking ideas creating a positive change in the business ecosystem of India.'

Concerns over women's visibility in the decision-making process remains a fervent international discourse. These concerns are likely due to restrictive laws, cultural diversities and practices, institutional barriers, as well as disproportionate access to quality education, healthcare, and resources.

The process toward increasing the visibility of women in decision-making across the continent, requires an understanding of the progress made so far, the challenges faced and the way forward. The best way to do this is by creating a mentor and role model perspective, more visibility of women role models through their achievements will enhance women involvement and engagement in every field. So, the focus can be on equal representation of women and men which will result in democratization at a national and international level.

Challenges Faced By Women Entrepreneurs Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

India has as many as 16 million women-owned businesses, fewer than 20% of all enterprises, with most of them single-person operations, making survival crucial. Women-owned businesses saw a sharp decline in revenue: 73% reported being negatively impacted by the pandemic, and almost 20% were nearly wiped out.

Women entrepreneurs have navigated several obstacles such as societal & structural. An example, the expectation Women will take on most of the household's caregiving duties while they work & difficulty in accessing financial linkages including support from financial institutions. As a result, Women Entrepreneurs have always had to be more resourceful, flexible and agile to succeed. It is precisely these qualities which have proven invaluable qualities to navigate the ever-changing circumstances of the pandemic.

'The nature of female-owned businesses makes them vulnerable during times of crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic had a disproportionate impact on women from all over the world. In India, which has a vast gender gap across almost all social indicators, women are even more vulnerable,' says Deepti.

It remains to be seen if and how women entrepreneurs will recover post the recession and economic downturn. It is also uncertain how long the recovery process will take. But, despite many hurdles, women entrepreneurs have always claimed a space for themselves within the business sector and more broadly as contributors to India's economy., she adds.

Unlocking The Potential Of Women Entrepreneurship In India

Unlocking entrepreneurship amongst women in India is a complex effort, but one which provides an unprecedented opportunity to change the economic and social trajectory of India and its women for generations to come. Implementing these interventions to accelerate prospective and current women entrepreneurs will need a deep recognition of the urgency and a coordinated scaled effort between various ecosystem participants. These include national and state governments, grass-root organizations. The call to action is for a coordinated effort across a few key themes-an enabling and comprehensive policy framework, equal access to finance, expansion of mentorship and networking channels, tailored knowledge and capability building, and cultural openness. The below might be some key ways to increase their share:

  • Enable the aspiring and ambitious women and small business owners to scale and become high-impact entrepreneurs
  • Expand the funnel by making strategic collaborations to get more women to start enterprises

As an enabler for Women Entrepreneurs, WE HUB has addressed these issues and focused entirely on ensuring that the start-ups we work with can sustain during the pandemic, says Deepti. We are doing this by working with our start-ups 1-1 to guide them with interventions needed in organizational management, financial remodelling, financial Linkages including debit and credit linkages, Government liaising, new customer acquisition, product diversification, ideation including pivot on a few of our start-ups. With the steps being taken by the State and Central Government to contain the COVID-19 scenario, we as WE HUB are extending our support to Women-led enterprises to sustain and scale and be prepared for the post lockdown scenarios.

Supporting Rural Women Entrepreneurs During Pandemic

Our support to rural entrepreneurs has focused on changes made in business models including releasing new products or services, digital sales, and delivery channels, as well as reorienting supply chains, sales, and marketing, says Deepti. Some 60 percent of the businesses reported including new products and services, while 46 per cent of entrepreneurs focused on retraining and learning new skills.

Amid the crises, we have also seen many new budding entrepreneurs remodel their businesses and create successful growth. For instance, one of our startups Shree Latha Garments and Ladies Tailors from Nizamabad, Telangana for instance. During the pandemic, Latha Nadukuda started getting orders from local Self-Help Groups (SHGs) to make masks and PPE kits for the local government and private hospitals from parts of Telangana.

Through her small business, she along with her husband empowered several local women. Not only the couple purchased a sewing machine for each of them, but they have also trained them in various skills pertaining to the business. Of them, some women have also gone on to establish their own businesses.

With the growing reputation of the products crafted by Shree Latha Garments, more government orders came in, leading to the growth of the business. During the pandemic, all employees worked from home and had a steady source of income, with some of them earning up to INR 1.5 lakhs per month.

About WE HUB

WE HUB is helping start-ups from various sectors by addressing their pandemic-related challenges, and then extensively mapping solutions for them with the prime goal of keeping their business afloat. During this lockdown period, it is helping start-ups to re-strategize and reconnect with the market after the pandemic is over.

"We have created a strong set of new programmes to enable Entrepreneurship among women. In 2021, we are working with different state governments in India to create avenues to support women entrepreneurs across states like Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir and Assam," Deepti told Boldsky.

In the past year, they have kicked off 12 new programmes all of them virtually, launched an incubation centre in Warangal for tribal entrepreneurs, expanded their team in a tier 2 town (Ramagundam), travelled over 15000 Kms in Telangana, digitally-enabled 1250 women across the state (in less than two months).

Further, they have successfully arranged a Credit Linkages Drive from 30 districts and received 340 applications and shortlisted 98 applications and are further processed for verification by the implementing partners for the sanction of credit. We have successfully disseminated an amount of 12Cr to the women entrepreneurs through this process during the tough times of COVID.

Since the last three years of its inception, WE HUB has been diligently working on becoming a unified physical platform that brings together the various intervention mechanisms in one place. We have created a fund of around Rs 36.2 crores, and incubated 148 start-ups, connected 43 partners, supported 276 start-ups across the ecosystem and generated 305 employments so far.