There is a need for exclusive industrial estates for women entrepreneurs in every state, fostering not only economic growth but also academic and higher education opportunities, says Dr. Rajni Aggarwal, President of the Federation of Indian Women Entrepreneurs (FIWE). In an insightful interview with Education Post’s correspondent Prabhav Anand, Dr. Aggarwal talks about gender equality in entrepreneurship, collaboration between policymakers and private enterprises, and offers valuable advice to aspiring women entrepreneurs.
As the President of the Federation of Women Entrepreneurs in India, what inspired you to focus specifically on women entrepreneurship, and what are your main objectives as the head of this federation?
My inspiration to focus on women entrepreneurship stems from my deep belief in the potential and power of women entrepreneurs as agents of change and economic growth. With women constituting 50 percent of our country’s population, they possess a substantial knowledge base and the ability to contribute significantly to the nation’s economy.
Throughout my career and personal experiences, I have witnessed the immense capabilities and talents of women entrepreneurs. However, I’ve also observed the various challenges they face due to their multiple responsibilities. Unlike men, who often have a more singular focus, women have to navigate in multiple directions, dealing with multidirectional issues.
My dedication to empowering women entrepreneurs revolves around achieving gender equality and human empowerment. I firmly believe that promoting women entrepreneurs is a crucial step towards achieving gender equality. By providing them with equal opportunities, access to resources, and support, we can create a more inclusive and balanced society.
Women have already made significant contributions by actively participating in the economy. Even small-scale women entrepreneurs, such as those involved in teaching or supplying goods, have created job opportunities for others, especially women working from home.
Another remarkable aspect is the untapped talent, innovation, and creativity that women possess. Supporting their endeavors allows us to harness this potential for the greater good of society. Over the years, I’ve seen women on our platform grow from small entrepreneurs to influential figures in society, supplying goods overseas and serving as role models.
Mentorship plays a pivotal role in helping women entrepreneurs overcome challenges. It provides guidance and support, helping them focus their efforts and progress in their entrepreneurial journeys.
As the President of FIWE, my objective is to be a role model for aspiring women entrepreneurs and offer mentorship to help them achieve their goals. Mentorship is crucial for women due to the multitude of issues they face, making it challenging to maintain a singular focus.
Advocacy and policy support are essential aspects of our mission. I have interacted with policymakers for many years, advocating for changes that can benefit women entrepreneurs. Recently, there has been progress, with the creation of the Government e-Marketplace (GEM) and a commitment to allocate a portion of procurement to women entrepreneurs.
Capacity building and skill development are also key objectives. We provide training workshops and resources to equip women entrepreneurs with the necessary skills and knowledge to run successful businesses.
Access to finance and markets is critical for entrepreneurs. We work to facilitate interactions between women entrepreneurs and banks, making it easier for them to secure funding and achieve faster results.
Networking and collaboration are vital for women to learn from each other, share experiences, and collectively address challenges. Mentorship and support programs, as well as recognition and awards, encourage women to excel in their enterprises.
Finally, policy research and advocacy are essential to address the specific needs and challenges faced by women entrepreneurs. We aim to change the perception of women entrepreneurs as a minority and emphasize their role in the mainstream economy through research and advocacy efforts.
In summary, my mission as the President of FIWE is to create an environment where women entrepreneurs can thrive, lead with confidence, and significantly contribute to India’s economic growth. We are committed to empowering women and ensuring their equal participation in the nation’s development.
We were delighted to find a row of “green jobs” in the column of Sector Wise Empanelled Assessors. How do you and FIWE look at the sector of green jobs from the entrepreneurial viewpoint?
From an entrepreneurial perspective, I view the sector of green jobs with great enthusiasm and commitment. I’ve been a part of inner wheel organizations that focus on societal issues, including waste management. This presents a significant opportunity for women entrepreneurs, as waste is generated daily in every household. Handling and processing this waste to convert it into useful products like manure aligns with the concept of green jobs.
In agriculture, which predominantly involves women at the grassroots level, embracing green jobs becomes crucial. Solar power is also gaining prominence and offers sustainable practices. Industries that prioritize environmental conservation and efficient resource utilization are driving the demand for green jobs
At FIWE, we recognize the importance of sustainability in today’s business landscape. We encourage women entrepreneurs to incorporate sustainability principles into their business models, production processes, and product offerings. For instance, we recently took a group of women entrepreneurs to visit a solar panel manufacturing factory run by a woman entrepreneur, inspiring them to explore such eco-friendly ventures.
Green jobs often involve cutting-edge technologies and innovative solutions to address environmental challenges. One of our members is actively engaged in waste management projects, turning waste into manure and even bricks. Technological innovations are happening in this sector.
Creating awareness is a key objective for us. We organize workshops, seminars, and training programs to inform women entrepreneurs about the potential in green jobs. Building capacity is another focus, offering skill development programs, mentorship, and access to networks that can help women navigate the complexities of green businesses and leverage emerging opportunities.
Collaboration with government agencies, NGOs, and other stakeholders is essential. Through these collaborations, we advocate for policies that support the growth of green jobs and create a conducive environment for women entrepreneurs.
Recognizing green entrepreneurs is also part of our efforts to promote this sector. We believe in identifying market opportunities and sharing relevant information with our members. This helps women tailor their products and services to meet the growing demand for eco-friendly solutions.
In the green jobs sector, we aim to empower women entrepreneurs and position them as leaders in the sustainable business landscape. By embracing sustainability, innovation, and collaboration, we hope to make a meaningful impact and contribute to a greener and more prosperous future.
In an old interview of yours, you talked about exclusive industrial estate for women entrepreneurs in every state. Please tell us the reasons behind this demand and how would it transcend into academics and higher education.
The concept of exclusive industrial estates for women entrepreneurs is a topic close to my heart, and I genuinely believe it’s the need of the hour. Such estates are crucial for promoting women’s economic participation and fostering their presence in various industries. Let me explain how this demand can transcend into academics and higher education:
Firstly, it will provide a safe and supportive environment for women, which is paramount. Exclusive industrial estates for women can create this safe haven, where women can conduct their business activities without facing gender-based discrimination, harassment, or other barriers often experienced in mixed-gender industrial settings. This safe environment allows women to focus on their businesses and unleash their full potential.
Secondly, dedicating industrial estates to women sends a powerful message of support and encouragement. For example, Andhra Pradesh has established an industrial estate for women entrepreneurs, signaling strong government support. This encouragement can serve as a catalyst, inspiring more women to venture into entrepreneurship and invest in their ideas, skills, and innovation.
Furthermore, these estates can provide specialized resources and facilities, similar to government-run incubation centers and training facilities. Such resources can bridge the gender gap in entrepreneurship, empowering women to overcome traditional barriers and succeed.
Collaborations and networking opportunities within these estates can facilitate knowledge sharing, idea exchange, and potential partnerships. Peer support and networking can foster a spirit of cooperation and growth among women entrepreneurs.
Incorporating academics and higher education into these estates is crucial. Curriculum development in educational institutions can include modules focused on women entrepreneurship, sustainability, and innovation. This integration can help students, especially aspiring women entrepreneurs, learn from real-life examples within these estates.
Moreover, research and development can flourish in such environments. Universities and research institutions can conduct studies and gather data more effectively by directly engaging with women entrepreneurs. This research can inform policies and initiatives to further support women in entrepreneurship.
Industry-academia collaboration can thrive within these estates. Universities can engage with women entrepreneurs for practical projects, internships, and mentorship programs, creating a mutually beneficial relationship.
The establishment of exclusive industrial estates for women can have a cascading effect, positively influencing the academic landscape. It fosters a holistic approach by integrating academic resources, research, and practical applications within a supportive ecosystem. The success story of Andhra Pradesh, where the government has actively supported such estates, serves as a testament to their potential impact.
I firmly believe that every state should have exclusive industrial estates for women entrepreneurs. These estates not only provide a secure environment for women to thrive in business but also contribute to academic and higher education by promoting research, industry-academia collaboration, and practical learning opportunities. Their positive influence ripples through the economic and entrepreneurial landscape, ultimately empowering women and driving economic growth.
How can policymakers and private enterprises work together to bridge the gender gap and create a more inclusive environment for women entrepreneurs?
Bridging the gender gap and creating a more inclusive environment for women entrepreneurs is a mission that demands collaborative efforts from both policymakers and private enterprises. Allow me to elaborate on the critical points that underscore this collaboration:
First and foremost, collaborative initiatives need to transcend geographical boundaries. The government must actively engage with state-level organizations like District Industry Centers (DICs) to reach women entrepreneurs where they are. Support can’t be centralized; it must be accessible at the grassroots level. DICs in some states have played pivotal roles in supporting women entrepreneurs, and this model can be extended.
Access to finance is a vital aspect. Policymakers can facilitate women’s access to finance by establishing special funds. The Credit Guarantee Fund for women, initiated by SIDBI and later expanded, exemplifies a successful government effort in this regard. Initiatives like Mudra loans and bank support for women entrepreneurs have further eased financial barriers.
Government-led platforms like the Government e-Marketplace (GeM) Portal and ONDC (Online National District Commerce) can offer tremendous opportunities. However, there’s room for improvement, particularly in simplifying processes for women entrepreneurs and providing dedicated support for them.
Capacity building and skill development are crucial. While the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship focuses on youth, there’s potential to expand these initiatives to encompass women entrepreneurs. Collaborations with business associations like ours can help provide tailored skillbuilding opportunities
Networking and collaboration platforms are essential. The government can organize events and platforms that foster networking and collaboration. This helps in mentorship, support, and creating market linkages for aspiring women entrepreneurs.
Data collection and research on gender disparities and women entrepreneurship should receive greater attention. Government-private sector partnerships can facilitate these efforts to gain insights and inform policies.
Supplier diversity programs should focus more specifically on supporting women-owned businesses, especially in sectors that are women-friendly, like cosmetics and healthcare products.
Recognizing women’s achievements is vital. The government’s efforts in celebrating women entrepreneurs should continue and be supplemented by private sector involvement. Mentorship programs, like those initiated by NITI Aayog, play a critical role in supporting startups led by women.
Promoting work-life balance is essential. Government policies such as flexible working hours and family-friendly policies should be actively adopted by private enterprises to attract and retain talented women entrepreneurs.
Challenging stereotypes and biases requires concerted campaigns and initiatives. Policymakers and private enterprises should collaborate in raising awareness to create a more supportive environment for women entrepreneurs.
In conclusion, bridging the gender gap and fostering inclusivity for women entrepreneurs necessitates a joint commitment from policymakers and private enterprises. It demands aligning objectives, pooling resources, and coordinating strategies. While this is a challenging endeavor, the gradual transformation of societal mindsets and the sustained effort from both sectors can make it a reality, resulting in a more equitable entrepreneurial landscape.
What is your vision for the future of women entrepreneurship in India, and what steps will your federation take to realize this vision?
My vision for the future of women entrepreneurship in India revolves around empowerment, inclusivity, and sustainability. I envision a landscape where women entrepreneurs actively contribute to economic growth, social development, and environmental consciousness. To realize this vision, the federation will undertake several key strategies and steps.
Firstly, empowering women through education and training is fundamental. We plan to collaborate with educational institutions and industry experts to design curricula that cover financial literacy, essential business skills, and leadership abilities. These educational initiatives will equip women entrepreneurs with the knowledge and skills needed to thrive.
Secondly, creating a supportive ecosystem for women entrepreneurs is paramount. We aim to foster partnerships with the government, financial institutions, corporate entities, and NGOs. This collaboration will provide women with access to finance, mentorship, networking opportunities, and capacity-building initiatives. Building a robust support system is essential to help women entrepreneurs overcome challenges and scale their businesses.
Advocating for gender-inclusive policies remains a crucial aspect of our strategy. We believe in continuous dialogue and engagement with policymakers at the national level to address gender disparities and create an enabling environment for women entrepreneurs. These policies and regulations need to evolve to better support women in business.
Furthermore, fostering innovation and technology adoption is vital. We will organize events and workshops focused on emerging technologies and digital transformation. Staying abreast of technological advancements is essential for enhancing efficiency and competitiveness in today’s rapidly changing business landscape.
Promoting sustainable business practices is at the core of our vision. We encourage women entrepreneurs to adopt eco-friendly measures and contribute to India’s environmental conservation efforts. Sustainability should be integrated into every aspect of business operations.
Recognizing and celebrating women’s achievements is an integral part of our strategy. Our “Priyadarshini Award” program has gained recognition both within India and internationally. These awards and recognition programs provide exceptional women entrepreneurs with a platform to share their success stories and inspire others.
We take pride in our ability to bring together accomplished women entrepreneurs on a global platform. For instance, we recently had three renowned beauty experts from India, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia share their expertise. Such collaborations enable us to promote sustainable practices and empower women through international cooperation.
Basically, our vision for women entrepreneurship in India centers on empowerment, inclusivity, and sustainability. Through education, support, advocacy, innovation, sustainability, and recognition, we aim to create a thriving ecosystem where women entrepreneurs can excel and contribute significantly to India’s growth and development.
What advice would you give to aspiring women entrepreneurs who are just starting on their journey, and how can they benefit from the vast support network that FIWE offers?
See, for aspiring women entrepreneurs embarking on their journey, I offer some straightforward yet essential advice. Women need a supportive platform, unlike men who can network at clubs in the evenings. It’s vital for women to have a space where they can connect, network, and learn from each other. This platform facilitates knowledge sharing, drawing from one another’s experiences, and gaining insights from experts. Such networking opportunities are paramount for women entrepreneurs.
Secondly, awareness of the digital landscape is crucial. Digitization and e-commerce are rapidly gaining prominence, and women must become adept at leveraging these tools to foster business growth. Being comfortable with digital technologies is essential in today’s business environment.
Financial literacy is another critical aspect. Women often delegate financial matters to their male counterparts, be it husbands, partners, brothers, or fathers. However, if you’re steering your business, taking charge of your finances is vital. Control over your finances empowers you to navigate your business more effectively. I highlight the importance of financial literacy by referencing a Paytm research study. In this study, women initially excelled in general questions but fell behind when finance-related queries emerged. It’s imperative for women to equip themselves with financial knowledge.
Moreover, women should adopt a mindset of self-reliance and independence. The belief of “I am enough, and I don’t require anybody” can propel them forward and drive growth in their businesses. The financial resources are available, including angel investors and support from banks. The government has worked towards creating a conducive environment for women entrepreneurs. Utilizing these resources effectively is essential.
Lastly, women entrepreneurs should know that organizations like FIWE are here to mentor and support them. FIWE offers a vast support network, and they can benefit from it immensely. The organization provides guidance, mentorship, and a platform for networking, enabling women entrepreneurs to navigate their entrepreneurial journey successfully.