How women entrepreneurs and leaders can drive the next phase of growth for MSMEs

Aarthi Prabhakaran

  • Source: Read more | 10 Dec 2021

  • Growing businesses together

We all know and have heard how educating women can change the dynamics of an entire family and even a nation. Here are some powerful ones:

“When women are educated, their countries become stronger and more prosperous.” - Michelle Obama

“When you invest in a girl’s education, she feeds herself, her children, her community, and her nation.” - Erna Solberg

“A girl child who is even a little bit educated is more conscious of family planning, health care and, in turn, her children's own education.” - Azim Premji

Beacons of Change 

While we now have a lot of schemes in India for Girl child education, what happens to most of them after they are educated? The socio-cultural conditioning still finds space for the unconscious bias of family care and nurture being solely dependent on women. This becomes even more detrimental when the career progress of women is concerned. Yet, we see on a regular basis that, many women are undeterred by the hurdles that these unconscious biases (their own and that of the society’s) poses for them and can figure out their individual path, that brings them back on the track to career and contribute towards conscious community care and development as well. This lived experience is different for every woman and these variations are what bring novelty to their individual experiences. 

When these women stabilise their journey back into a career and sustain their growth despite the changes in their personal life, and challenges in their professional life that might be conflicting with their personal needs, become beacons of light and leaders, who inspire by walking the path. They inspire the possibility of change for many women wanting change in their lives due to decisions taken out of generational conditioning. Women in Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSME) are a smaller subset of this larger group of women who choose self-run business as their career option. While there are many successful women to highlight understanding those women who are probably much closer to us by the proximity of distance or relationship would help us relate to how each of us can become one such woman inspiring change by living it.

To understand this better, before we get into real-life inspirations that each of us might have in our own circle of family, friends, and acquaintances, let us take a couple of relatable modern-day movie characters, that bring out this aspect very well.

Sashi (from English Vinglish)

Shashi Godbole is an Indian homemaker who makes and sells laddoos as a home-run business. Her husband and daughter take her for granted, mock her because she doesn't speak much English, and generally treat her with disrespect, making Shashi feel vulnerable and insecure. Sashi’s character is representative of most homemakers in India. The rest of the movies unfolds with lived experiences of how a non-English speaking Indian woman finds her way around New York City, manages to enroll in a Spoken English class that has people from different countries of the world, giving her an international multi-cultural exposure as a bonus. The money that she uses for payment towards the spoken English course is from the income of her laddoo business. Finally, with her command over the language (upskilling), her event management skills to manage a wedding in foreign soil, building and nurturing relationships accommodating for the changing times, with healthy boundaries that mirror her personal values, she ends up being an inspiration to many. 

Vasanthi (from 36 Vayadhinile)

Vasanthi is a working woman, doing the run-of-the-mill job as a clerk in Revenue Department and managing her home - again a typical characterisation of a middle-class working woman in India. When her husband aspires to emigrate to Ireland, she is unable to join him due to her age acting as a hindrance for job applications. When her husband and her daughter travel to Ireland, she is left behind in India and finds a lot of time on her hand with lesser responsibilities at home after work. 

A happenstance meeting with her college friend (who is now a CXO), reminds Vasanthi of herself when she was a college student. This inspires Vasanthi to rediscover herself, whom she lost in the mundane everyday life, with no personal time or space till now. This quest of hers takes her down the path of creating a sustainable business model of sourcing and using organically grown and sourced vegetables for a wedding catering, by using the unused terrace spaces of a modern city dwelling into organic greenhouses and the manual effort of homemakers and retired citizens who love gardening. Eventually, the movie goes on to show her winning regional and national accolades for her idea and achievement and the successful meeting with the President of India, with complete confidence.

Shashi & Vasanthi inspirations in my Life

I have met such women in real life as well. A trailing spouse from India, living in the USA with a young child, graduate in her local medium (but did not know English), loved cooking, made a source of income, by making homemade Indian community around us, used that income to find a private English tutor for herself, to come home to teach her (as her child was too young for her to leave home for a class). Now, she is quite well-versed in English and financially also independent and contributing to her family. 

When I lived in the UK, I had the opportunity to know another such strong woman who was from the same state from where I come, in her late 30s, but never had the experience of having a formal school education, before she relocated. She could not read or write in any language and could only speak in her mother tongue. She had three children and loved cooking. She started with making home-cooked meals for elderly and known people, for a nominal price, to support her spouse’s paltry income, to care for the needs of the family. I saw her transform into someone who now knows to make simple sentences in English, found herself a job through a UK job centre, in one of the retail stores. Now she has a day job and a micro business.

While both these women are my real-life examples (but outside India), I am sure we all will have such stories of women who transformed to inspire others in our own lives in our own neighbourhood in India. Sometimes we miss noticing them, as we are too close to the conditioning thoughts/culture that blind us from seeing such women for their achievements. 

Champions of Change

The above examples show how traditional skills and passion areas can be turned into possible opportunities for a woman’s livelihood when supported by necessary skilling and networking. 

Many of women's contributions to the economy continue to go unrecognized because their work is not easily counted within the conventional structures. Women do most of the work within this unorganized sector (and mostly from their homes) and as a result, much of their work is not counted (or is underrepresented) in official statistics. Yet these experiences naturally equip women with some basic skills that benefit those who wish to enter the MSME segment:

1. Thriving in adversity makes women resilient in the face of failure. Setting up a business has its own journey of ups & downs, filled with challenges and changes before it can start making a profit. Having experienced such adversities on the personal front, helps them to stay the course till the business starts making money.

2. Maximising impact with limited resources: Something women are used to, on a regular basis, while running a family within budget. Bootstrapping, working with limited funds and resources in an MSME business is just a natural extension. 

3. Agile Learner: Learning to adapt to change in environment (during marriage and as trailing spouses), transitioning through stages of growth daughter, wife, daughter-in-law, mother, grandmother. In all these phases, the constant being shouldering the responsibility of home management as default. In some cases, women also play the role of a tutor, counsellor, and first aider. This ability enables women to dig into the business nitty-gritty, understand its depth and width, look for help and ask for it as well when needed, and keep marching ahead. 

4. Home Management Skills: Planning, Bookkeeping, Procurement, Budgeting, Personal care, Teaching. These are transferable skills that are useful assets in setting up a business and becoming a trainer for self and others thereby minimising training costs and personal costs. Childcare, a major responsibility heavily dependent on the woman is a viable business option today for creche or pre-school/playschools with the necessary skilling and certifications along with safety requirements.

5. Hobbies into Business Ideas: More traditional housekeeping and self-care skills that are taught as hobbies to women such as sewing, embroidery, lace making, crochet, tatting, candle making, art, craft, dance, music, yoga, fitness, are all possible sustainable business idea for MSME with minimal or no investment or advertising costs. 

6. Research shows that Women are more Emotionally Intelligent than men. Handling relationships, childcare, care of ailing family members, are natural means to learning emotional intelligence on the job and this comes in as a strength in the business world while learning to manage professional relationships and work with different people their cultural conditioning.

7 The Right to Education & Educating a Girl Child campaign has been liberating and empowering women to establish a presence in every field. MSME is no exception. Read more about the women who have achieved by being trailblazers in the MSME segment in this article by The CEO Story.

Encouraging more Women into the MSME Segment

Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSME), on the eve of International Women’s day 2018, launched Udayam Sakhi, a network for nurturing social entrepreneurship creating business models revolving around low-cost products and services to resolve social inequities [2]. The ministry’s website is also content-rich with multiple resources and reading material on MSME for those who wish to venture out in this direction.

The ministry also has a programme called MSME Champions to promote sustainable growth to promising MSME through mentoring and make them national and international champions.

For more in-depth reading and information here are a few recent reports:

MSME insider 2021 focusing on women’s role in MSME

Financial Inclusion for Woman-Owned Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in India

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