In less than a week, Project Her&Now will end after four and a half years of working to promote women entrepreneurship in India. When looking at national-level data on female labour force participation and women’s ownership of businesses, the picture today looks as grim as when we started out in 2018. Yet, looking at the impact of our project does leave me hopeful at the end of this project’s journey. The fact that so many of our entrepreneurs were successful in setting up their own business (53% of all incubation programme participants) or advance their businesses (95% of acceleration participants), that 90% of our entrepreneurs consider themselves as entrepreneurs at the end of the programmes, or that our entrepreneurs predominantly employ other women in their companies: those figures show the potential of women entrepreneurship in India and how it could be accelerated with the right kind of intervention.
Women entrepreneurship promotion has been on the Indian government’s agenda for the last decade or so. In recent years, the narrative around women entrepreneurship in India has been changing, in the media, in the ecosystem and in policymaking circles. Women entrepreneurship is increasingly associated with strong and growing businesses that promote local economies and communities. To tell the stories of our 900+ women entrepreneurs – whom we supported with incubation and acceleration programmes and many add-on initiatives to strengthen leadership skills, international market access and help them survive the COVID-19 pandemic induced economic downturn – and to portray their innovative and growth-oriented businesses, has been a goal of Project Her&Now since the very beginning. That is why our media campaign invested heavily in showcasing these entrepreneurs as role models to inspire other women to dare to step forward and start their entrepreneurial journey. Driving this change in mindset and narrative around women entrepreneurship has been an essential part of our work and we have been able to directly engage with 1,000,000+ people through our campaign activities.
In the process of supporting these 900+ entrepreneurs, we, along with our implementing partners Dhriiti – The Courage Within, Empower Foundation, Mann Deshi Foundation, Startup Oasis, and WE Hub, have developed a robust model and curriculum for women-centric entrepreneurship support programmes. I have been fortunate to witness first-hand through discussions with the entrepreneurs the effect these support programmes have had on their businesses and lives. For many of them, it was the first time that they were recognized and taken seriously as entrepreneurs. Such validation and the self-confidence it inspires, are just as important outcomes for women entrepreneurship promotion initiatives as business advancement and performance.
Our women entrepreneurs are all change-makers in their families and communities and their strong dedication to social and economic development in their communities, often for other women, through their businesses will drive India forward. This individual commitment of many of our entrepreneurs, which in Manipur, Nagaland, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, has expressed itself in the formation of new formal women entrepreneur networks, is commendable and exciting. This is how women entrepreneurs’ voices will be heard more strongly in their local ecosystem, in policymaking circles and that is what is ultimately needed to change women’s role in the economy and create more gender equality. What has inspired me most in this project and leaves me optimistic when I look into the future, is the momentum we have created in the ecosystem by bringing together a group of committed, like-minded individuals and organisations working to promote women entrepreneurship. I am deeply grateful to our five implementing partners, our cooperation partners in the media campaign, the four new women entrepreneur networks, our partners in policymaking and many others who will use this energy to continue to promote women entrepreneurship and to fight for women’s economic and social empowerment.
I wish we had a little more time to keep doing this work because it is far from over. So now it is time to pass the torch to our partners and the Her&Now women entrepreneurs. Let me end this by giving a big shoutout to everyone in the Her&Now community – it’s been an honour to have met and engaged with each one of you and I know that you will achieve great things for women entrepreneurs in this country!
Julia Karst is an adviser in international cooperation for sustainable development. She led Project “Her&Now” in India from 2018 until 2022. She has been working with GIZ since 2012 both in Germany and abroad in different projects, spanning areas such as private sector development, women's economic empowerment and green growth.