There will hardly be any of us who do not remember the pictures of lakhs of migrants walking barefoot for thousands of kilometres for their homes. COVID-19 led to many a million losing their daily source of sustenance. During those difficult times, like many other individuals and organizations, Empower Foundation was also actively involved in and exploring interventions that could support and assist people economically. At the same time, GIZ was also exploring interventions to help COVID-affected women. GIZ and Empower Foundation joined hands, and Empower Foundation became the implementing partner for GIZ’s Project Her&Now in Uttar Pradesh. The Project is aimed at providing gender-sensitive entrepreneurial skill training to the idea and early-stage women entrepreneurs who had been affected by COVID from Tier II and III cities for actively building and strengthening the women entrepreneurship ecosystem within the state.
The Her&Now Project was launched in March 2021 in four cities of the state of Uttar Pradesh: Saharanpur, Hapur, Moradabad, and Bulandshahar. The course participants include existing or aspiring women entrepreneurs from lower-income families, aged 18-50 years, skill certified, from the cities mentioned above. Since then, four Cohorts of the Project have been completed, and a total of 300 women entrepreneurs have been skilled and trained. The last and the fifth cohort is underway, with a total of 51 women entrepreneurs. The enterprises of the entrepreneurs are varied and across sectors. The ventures of these Women Entrepreneurs we have trained have varied: plant nurseries, notebook manufacturing, bag manufacturing, parlour, boutique, brass utensil resellers, submersible pumps, cloth carry bags, and upcycling old clothes to carpets and bedsheets, among others.
Creation of strong cohorts of participants undertaken basis proven mobilisation, counselling and onboarding processes. A robust selection process ensures success and sustainable impact of the intervention. - Experiential and practical training with contextually relevant inputs on technical, business and professional skills to ensure a well-rounded learning programme. The training delivery is hybrid, in both offline and online form. Information on and facilitating access of applicable government schemes and benefits is integrated into the course curriculum. - Mentoring Support from experienced mentors, who handhold, guide, and are a sounding board for the women entrepreneurs as they enter formal workforce or work towards establishing or scaling up their ventures. - Equitable access to funds and finances is a challenge women entrepreneurs face, across the world. The project integrates credit and market linkages, facilitating the access to MUDRA loans, applicable local government schemes, access to Foundation partners like MahilaMoney, Mera Bills, and InstaMojo.
A key insight of the program has been the importance of the Mentoring support program. Over time, it has emerged as critical to the success of women entrepreneurs. Mentors, with an average age of 50, are experienced personnel from varied walks of life. They handhold the women entrepreneurs and help the women reflect on their capabilities and plan and address issues. Mentors also raise pertinent areas to the Project Team so that the women of our project adapt the best-suited path available by creating a synergy between the potential, skills, market demand, linkages and capital requirements.
The program’s impact also comes through the individual stories we have come across, which Empower Foundation has been fortunate to be a part of. One such entrepreneur is Nidhi Bhatnagar, whose journey toward establishing her venture is inspiring. Nidhi, working as a Nurse in a private hospital, initially started the cloud kitchen to support the underprivileged. After getting a positive response to the food she cooked for them, she decided to take it up as a full-time venture. Today, she has a customer base of 100+ customers, right from students to working professionals. After going through the program, she has gained even more confidence and uses various social media tools for advertising her business.
Then there is Vandana Devi, who embodies the very meaning of the words' courage' and 'strength'. Her husband left her for giving birth to two daughters. She moved back to her mother's house and has worked hard to stand back on her own feet and support her daughters. Today, she is leading a handmade soft toys business. Stories like Vandana's - stories of fortitude and quiet courage, are abound across Cohorts. As much as the women entrepreneurs have learnt from the program, we have learned just as much, and sometimes more from their stories of resilience and sheer perseverance.
As the Project enters its last phase, we have had multiple learnings, which steer the direction in which we want to move forward. We have seen first-hand, the impact that a structured, well-thought intervention focussed on the need of women entrepreneurs can have. We have seen the importance a Mentor and a peer network can have for a woman entrepreneur. To ensure that our trained entrepreneurs remain connected with each other, participants will become a part of the women entrepreneur community, MeraBizNet, a forum for peer learning. Through this platform, the Women Entrepreneurs will get a forum to network and collaborate with each other, and even act as Vendors and Market places for each other.
Empower Foundation and GIZ have also signed a tripartite agreement with MEPSC (Professional Services Sector Skill Council under Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship, Government of India) to develop a QP-NOS certified course on Women Entrepreneurship. A QP-NOS Certified course enables the creation of a standardised course for entrepreneurship training across the country. The course will be standardised across all components: course, curriculum, content, and assessments. The learnings derived from the GIZ-funded Project Her&Now, and implemented by Empower Foundation, will be incorporated into the development of this curriculum; this will enable the Project to extend its impact to a large base of entrepreneurs on a Pan-India basis, irrespective of the training delivery partner.
Ekta Gaba is an Economics graduate from Delhi University and a PGDBM from IIM (Kozhikode) who has worked across the domains of Sales, Product Marketing, and Project Management in multiple industries. Driven by a deep desire to directly impact people and the society at large, she now focuses her efforts and uses her skills in roles and sectors that enable her to do the same. She works as a Project Manager at Empower Foundation, responsible for Project Monitoring & Evaluation, and Institutionalising Quality frameworks.