Rajasthan is one of the seven lowest per-capita-income states of India, where gender disparity in literacy is 23.2% (World Bank) and women unemployment rate is 65.31% (CMIE). Rajasthan may be a land of businesspeople, ‘the marwaris’, but women ownership in businesses is appalling.
In July 2019, CIIE.CO and GIZ started their collaborative journey to support women entrepreneurs in Rajasthan, through Project Her&Now. This would be a stage and sector agnostic intervention for women entrepreneurs from Tier II and III cities. The goal was to create and validate a framework of intervention, effective and scalable across the country. Through Project Her&Now Rajasthan, 75 women entrepreneurs were to be incubated (from idea to prototype) and 35 to be accelerated (prototype to revenue). Any enterprise with over 50% stakes with women & active role in running the business, would qualify for the acceleration program. The objective was to get the businesses formalized, stabilized & be put on the growth regime.
The Intervention & the Entrepreneurial Transformation
The initiative received over 500 applications for three cohorts, of which 110 were selected. While one cohort ran offline the other two were virtual due to the pandemic. The participants came primarily from eight cities of Rajasthan, namely: Ajmer, Alwar, Jaipur, Jhunjunu, Jodhpur, Kota, Rajsamand and Udaipur.These were from six sectors: Art & Craft; Fashion & Lifestyle; Education & Skilling; Food & Culinary; Health & Nutraceutical; and Manufacturing & Industry Services. While 35% were at an ideation stage when they joined the program, 17% were at prototype, 21% at market validation, 22% at revenue and 5% at growth stage.
A two-pronged approach was considered to bring about the desired outcomes- entrepreneurial transformation and enterprise orbit-change. A pool of over 60 mentors, experts and coaches contributed over 3,900 hours towards making the necessary change possible. Entrepreneurs could overcome their fears and expand their horizons. A participant mentioned, “My mentor only carefully offered the logical options I had, while I was allowed to make my decision. That made me more confident.” An entrepreneur added, “Program pushed me to learn-by-doing and not chase perfection. I got the courage to fail”, while another reported, “I am no longer a bonsai, nor do I feel guilty for finding time for my business. I prioritize better and am more disciplined now”.
Entrepreneurs witnessed a positive change in the levels of confidence, commitment, risk-bearing capacity and clarity of vision. Entrepreneurs also reported to have gained a better understanding of the need to build a strong team, collaborate & network, adopt technology & digital tools, investor’s outlook consideration, and business development.
The Enterprise Orbit-Change
A structured intervention comprising diagnostic panels, mentoring clinics and guided sprints facilitated orbit-change for the entrepreneurs. They experienced measurable and objective positive change in their business parameters, and progressed to the next stage of business development.
Formalization of Businesses: Over 85.7% of the women entrepreneurs formalized their businesses, by either registering the business entity or through certifications or enrolments. This was despite COVID disruption.
Business & Financial Modelling: The entrepreneurs clearly understood the need to keep the customer at the core, and build not just good products but also robust business models. In the midst of challenges posed by COVID, these entrepreneurs could manage to pivot, sustain and rebuild their businesses. While most of the focus was on enhancing sales, acquiring new customers and retaining the existing ones; entrepreneurs could also start laying adequate emphasis on data-discipline pertaining to aspects, such as lifetime value of customers and their acquisition costs, while also building strong teams.
Technology & Digital Tool Adoption: The technology and digital tools adopted by the entrepreneurs was impressive, and this is where they took COVID challenge head on. Over 46% of the entrepreneurs started using CRM platforms, like Zoho, OMS Guru, etc. Over 60% of the entrepreneurs equipped themselves with digital tools. The most favoured ones being Instagram, Whatsapp, Linkedin and Facebook. Most of them were using canva on their own. The program, through its technical assistance program (TAP), also assisted the entrepreneurs to set up their online stores and websites.
Investability & Fund-raising: The entrepreneurs have been able to build & validate investable business models, some of them have already raised funds from government schemes (like from NIDHI, MSME, CMLUPY, etc.), banks (MUDRA) and others (NIAM), while others are now investment ready and looking for funds.
The Future & the Community Model
The program was concluded in September 2021. The momentum built so far is now converting into a soft movement that will feed on its own energy. Women entrepreneurs after having realized their potential, are determined to take this to other women who need support. While the startup ecosystem has started creating an equitable space and opportunities for women, societal changes should also emerge & evolve slowly.
Understanding this, women entrepreneurs are building a one of its kind community in Rajasthan, calledAWARE. AWARE is a community ‘of, for and by the women entrepreneurs’. Considering a one year time horizon, the community intends to become sustainable and have a strong governance structure. There are over 87 members enrolled so far in the community, with an elected team of representatives who are contributing to building a strong foundation. The community would like to grow at a 30% membership rate each year, supporting more and more entrepreneurs from Tier II & III cities. This being a pilot, could then be replicated in other parts of the country, upon validation and learnings from here!
While this community gets its shape & strength, CIIE.CO and GIZ will keep working together to further catalyse the ecosystem in favour of women entrepreneurship.
Dr Pallavi Tak, heads program design and implementation at CIIE.CO. She is an economist by education and feminist by training, while she finds it interesting to balance the two approaches at work. She adds, “We unlearned, and that is my favourite learning from Project Her&Now. We could think beyond, do the unconventional and stay ahead of the curve. This has been a shared journey, and will always remain so”
She led Project Her&Now in Rajasthan, with her senior Chintan Bakshi and an exceptional team - Shilpa Jain, Amreen Ahmed, Anisha Saraf, Anupriya, Mitali Sethi, Amrit Tiwari, Abhimanyu Saxena,Tanvi Mathur, Aastha Dhandhia, Pallavi Choudhary, Harshita Rathore and Dev R. Sivarajah.
Acknowledgements: Data collection & compilation for this write-up by Shilpa Jain, Tanvi Mathur, Amreen Ahmed and Anisha Saraf.