Atmanirbhar Bharat: Chronicles of women entrepreneurs powering self-reliant India through innovation

If India wants to attain the self-reliant tag in a true sense, the most feasible option is to empower women economically and to integrate them with the developmental goals of the nation. SME Futures presents stories of some successful women entrepreneurs which have shown the courage to dream and to walk on the unfamiliar terrains.

   
Indian women entrepreneurs-Powering self-reliant India through innovation and entrepreneurship

A nation cannot become self-reliant unless its female population is empowered. Women play an essential role in the development of a society and economy. If India wants to attain the self-reliant tag in a true sense, the most viable option is to empower women economically and to integrate them with the developmental goals of the nation and campaigns such as Atmanirbhar Bharat.

But, India’s growth has not percolated into the development of women entrepreneurship. Women in India only account for mere 6 per cent of mass entrepreneurs. Out of these, only 27 per cent of business women register annual revenue of more than Rs 10 lakh. Furthermore, they contribute only 3.09 per cent of the total industrial output in India.

At the macro level, growth of women owned enterprises in India remains restricted. Viewing this, India’s growth story can be considered as incomplete. The success of Vocal for Local also depends largely upon the participation of women as the population of this section is almost half of the total. Unleashing this growth can hence create a ripple effect on India’s GDP and job creation.

Hence, for the inclusion of women, it is mandatory to understand the current situations and challenges of women entrepreneurs. We then will have to take appropriate actions, consequences of which should reach every aspiring woman entrepreneur at the grass-root level. According to Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship (GAME), enabling women owned business will significantly catalyse the economy and livelihoods of Indians.

Financial literacy, technology awareness, digital literacy and nurturing of an entrepreneurial mindset are key areas of support for all categories of women entrepreneurs. If efforts are made to enable growth are mapped to varying needs of the segment, it can boost up the growth trajectory of India.

According to the apex body, there can be 31.5 million women-owned enterprises by 2030, if efforts in this area are accelerated. If more women took up entrepreneurship, around 150 to 170 million jobs can be created within this time frame. Also if more women participated in the workforce, it will increase India’s GDP by 16 to 60 per cent by 2025.

There still are numerous women entrepreneurs who are contributing actively and paving India’s way for self-reliance in their own ways. SME Futures in this feature brings stories of some gritty women entrepreneurs who are contributing to economy by creating numerous jobs and hence are making country Atmnirbhar.

Monalisha Borthakur – Making self-reliant society through nutrition

An obstacle enhances someone’s innovative efforts to solve the problem. Monalisha Borthakur’s entrepreneurial journey is a living example of it. Being a professional teacher and certified yoga practitioner, Monalisha was an inherent health conscious person. She always felt a gap for healthy and natural ingredients in her daily food. This gave her an idea of starting her entrepreneurial journey.

Recalling the advent of her journey, she tells, “I always try to understand a problem by humanising it. In this case, I personally experienced the challenge of lack of natural and healthy food. While trying to resolve this, I observed the natural health food market in north-eastern region is not organised in the way it should have been. Complaining and whining about a problem does not solve a problem. One has to identify, analyse, and then implement the carefully thought solution in a calculative way.”

Monalisha Borthakur-Manorama Foods and Agrotech

According to her, the other change that she wished to bring in the region was to organise the natural health food market. She explains, “It is a bit challenging to build the entire supply-chain. At times, we face challenges in forward and backward linkage. Also, awareness among people about the super foods is still low in this region.”

Thus, this concept led to emergence of a start-up AmbyGold Manorama Foods Pvt Ltd. It deals with products related of food and wellness sector in the north-eastern region of India. She says, “My biggest motivation is to be able to generate employment and contributing towards forming a sustainable ecosystem. North-eastern states of India are rich in their natural resources when it comes to various kinds of agricultural produce or bio-diverse flora and fauna.”

The startup’s aim is to build community of producers and sellers through farm to fork model with a vision to create a sustainable ecosystem. Borthakur further tells, “We promote locally grown produce and encourage farmers to form a sustainable ecosystem. On the other hand, our mission is to create a healthy society by providing healthy and a scientific diet.”

In 2019 November, her company launched first product, indigenous brown rice, AmbyGOLD. “Our brown rice is the first branded brown rice in the entire north-eastern region. Apart from brown rice, we have our other foods items like Himalayan Red Rice, Black Rice etc where each product tells its own story owing to its superior quality,” she informs.

On government’s self reliance initiative and schemes with specialized focus on north-eastern region, she feels that these reforms will boost agriculture and food processing units while developing numerous jobs opportunities.

Further, on her contribution of making India self-reliant, she tells, “Self-reliance has always been in our core values. We are generating employment for women in our processing units and educating them to be Atmanirbhar in every possible way. Being a women entrepreneur, I encourage growth of women employees both economically and socially.”

AmbyGOLD Manorama Foods is currently working closely with fifty farmer families and is encouraging them to produce economically potential items which have high demands in urban markets as well as in global markets.

According to Borthakur, one of the best examples of self-reliance is of red rice. Her startup is keen on its mass production. She says, “Our mission is to encourage farmers in flood prone areas to grow red rice. This variety has a potential market in every corner of the world. I believe this is a perfect scenario of self -reliant India even in a catastrophic condition.”

According to her, this particular variety has a unique tolerance towards rising water levels. This makes it ideal for Assam because it is known for floods. This rice is extremely nutritious and loaded with higher levels of fibres, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Scientists have also found out the presence of Anthocyanin, an anti-cancerous element in this rice.

Along with her remarkable achievements, Borthakur also came across many challenges. Her early stage of start-up journey was a rough patch as she belongs to non-agricultural and non-technical background. Along with this, launching a product absolutely non-conventional to this region was never easy. “However, I consider myself very fortunate here that within a short period of time my idea and my MVP got validated by clients. Soon after that my startup got the government’s recognition and was incubated under Assam government start-up project,” she claims happily.

Bhuvaneshwari Seshachalam- Manufacturing opportunities in form of Diapers

Bhuvaneshwari Seshachalam, Founder, Bouncing Peaches, maker of modern cloth diapers must have never imagined that even a single diaper can generate numerous forms of employment in the entire value chain. She claims, “The chain of employment opportunities that Bouncing Peaches churns up is what makes our every sale valuable.”

She further adds, “When a diaper is bought by a customer, the conscious choice that they make helps entire value chain which includes, labour workforce employed by fabric manufacturers, digital printing team, laminating team, small traders, sewing masters, quality analysts, packaging and delivery team etc. It is an entire chain of Indians generating employment for themselves without waiting for anyone.”

Bhuvaneshwari Seshachalam-Bouncing Peaches

Being a women entrepreneur, Sheshachalam strongly advocates the self-reliant movement. She feels that a life of self-respect and self-worth is closely inter-twined with financial independence of any individual. In these changing times, it is the equal responsibility of women to identify ways to be self-reliant while balancing a family.

Her entrepreneurial journey began with a curiosity that turned into a business idea. When she was pregnant with her first baby; Bouncing Peaches started germinating in the mind of a first time mother. A prospective mother then learned few tips and tricks of motherhood from various online forums.

It was here, she stumbled upon a new kind of diapers that was being used outside India. These diapers made with modern cloth are neither inconvenient as traditional cloth diapers nor expensive as the disposables. 

She then extensively used those imported diapers and tested them on her baby for a year. When her word of mouth spread, she started sourcing and sharing these diapers with other people also. The diapers made with fabric technology were new and features never failed to impress new parents.

“Two years of research and comparing 35 odd international brands, Bouncing Peaches launched their signature brand PeachPERFECT customised to work overnight, trim with gentle elastics and proudly ‘Made in India’. In less than three months post launch, the sales target of six months was met. It left the company stock out and hustling to gear up for the next spell of manufacturing,” tells Seshachalam. 

Incorporated in 2018, the startup has received genuine mentoring support from non-profit organisations like GAME and Cherie Blair Foundation for women in which helping up each other is the primary objective. Today, starting with bootstrap funding, Bouncing Peaches has reached to Rs 50 lakh yearly turnover and is catering to the needs of parents by manufacturing sensible diapering solutions.

Poonam Garg- Empowering people through art

Till few years back, Poonam Garg, a resident of Bengaluru was living a comfortable life with a routine day job. Her dreams then took her towards entrepreneurship and she turned her passion into a full-fledged business.

Reminiscing the advent of her journey, Poonam says, “I quit the safety and comfort of my job with Madura Coats to nurture my passion, which was fabric handicrafts. I started my journey by conducting craft workshops. Very soon, I realised an urgent need to create craft products that are both practical and functional for the artist community and I made canvas as my first medium.” Today, her business, canvas2craft is a setup which provides a platform to artists and craftsmen to create useful products.

Poonam tells, “Canvas2craft is my dream entrepreneurial venture in which I make canvas pouches, potlis, purses, and home décor items for my customers to showcase creative skills of artisans in the form of painting and thread art. The single biggest inspiration has been the desire to use my skills and creativity to create something unique and commercially successful product.”

Poonam Garg-Canvas2craft

According to Garg, it is impossible for any community, society or country to be self-reliant without empowering its women who are able to make a living for themselves. She says, “Self-reliance is the solution of most of the ills plaguing our women. These issues primarily are domestic violence, poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition, mental and physical health issues.”

Therefore, her platform is obliged to provide employment to skilled women. “My platform is promoting Indian art through handicraft. Besides that, we are empowering talented women by providing them employment, and by helping them in overcoming language and social barriers. Such products are used as return gifts on various social events,” she informs.

Asking about challenges, she tells us that one of the constraints in selling the artifacts is their uniqueness. The products are meant for artists, craftsmen, and connoisseurs of art but usually don’t hold a mass appeal. Lot of things and processes in the industry are not streamlined. In addition to this, coronavirus lockdown has also cut down the revenue by one-third.

Despite pandemic’s impact on the business, Garg is planning to expand her business through major e-commerce portals. Talking about her plans she informs, “Currently, I am selling though my website www.canvas2craft.com. In next three months, my plan is to make products available on few major e-commerce websites. I am also working on research and development to add to my product range.”

So far, Garg’s business is getting good support from couple of NGOs who provide vocational training to women in this field. “My experience of working with NGOs is limited to this. Recently, Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship has agreed to support me by providing mentorship,” she adds.

Priyanka Kaushik- Developing a self-reliant silk route

An entrepreneur is a person who makes a difference by creating value using their instincts and making money as a result of it. Now, when the country needs more job creators, women have much important role to play as significant stakeholders in the collective population.

With years of extensive work experience in India’s fashion industry, Priyanka Kaushik founder of Noi Mohi is contributing in making a self-reliant India by empowering weaving community in the north-eastern states of India.

Significant data shows that Assam accounts for almost 43 per cent of the rural weaver households present in the country today. This comprises of 10.9 lakh weavers followed by 3.4 lakh weavers in West Bengal and 2.1 lakh weavers in Manipur. However, as an industry they are dealing with many challenges and raw material price rise is one of major hurdle among them.

Kaushik says, “This is a good reason for us to focus and pull all our resources in the right direction and emerge as leaders in sustainability and practice the slow yet gradual movement. It is especially important now more than ever when signs of unprecedented changes are inevitable.”

Priyanka-Kaushik-Noi Mohi

According to the latest census, 63.5 per cent weavers in India are women; 66.3 per cent earn less than Rs 5000; 23.3 per cent have bank accounts; and just 3.3 per cent are insured. Few less than that are aware of such insurance policies. Considering these facts, Kaushik’s firm is constantly working towards betterment for artisans’ community.

“In a relatively short time, we have managed to organise a small group of artisans in rural Assam that have now bank accounts. This has integrated with technology in linking the backward and forward supply chains and domestic and international buyers and also increased income of our weavers and allied crafters by 15 per cent. We spend considerable amount of time engaging with our artisans on skill upgradation and development as well,” she proclaims.

Kaushik’s journey is a road to self-discovery which was ideated during Lakme Fashion Week 2012. She tells, “In the finale show, I experienced stillness amidst utter chaos and felt an urgent need to do more with my life. After working in IMG for several years, I became capable of running a Fashion Week with ease. I learned and got everything I needed from my job. Afterwards, new and more meaningful ambitions in life came to light.”

With this discovery, Kaushik started working with Eri Silk also known as Ahimsa Silk. She recalls, “I became an ardent admirer of Eri silk over the years. This gave birth to Noi Mohi, an innate expression of my imagination. Noi means river and Mohi earth in Assamese. Hence, it is a clothing experience that is co-created with rural household handloom artisans of north-eastern India and nature alike,”

As every business faces challenges during early years of its inception, Noi Mohi also had a face-off with them. Kaushik was returning to her roots in Assam to work with women in the rural region. Hence, the major obstacle was an access to funding. She tells, “There are schemes that one may avail, but they don’t come without challenges. Women have rarely been benefitted from schemes such as Mudra Shishu loans. Still, banks don’t feel comfortable in giving loans to women entrepreneurs.”

Secondly, there is lack of innovative solutions in terms of skill development and training programs. Thirdly, there is a need of smart buyers-seller platforms that can help in bridging the gap. She feels that if top entrepreneurial stalwarts from across the country volunteer as mentors specifically for women entrepreneurs in the rural sector, it will boost women entrepreneurship.

Today, world is moving to era of ethical consumerism which is substantially visible as commercial decisions are being made by fashion retailers across the globe to venture into slow fashion. This has opened new avenues for rural artisans. Noi Mohi works with rural household artisans and co-creates handloom products using Tat Xal (traditional looms), dyes and material found locally.

Going forward, the brand’s goal is to provide livelihood to families of 100 artisans within two years. Also, the aim is to expand to 1,000 artisans families within 5 years. Another goal is to double the income of artisans, and allied craftsmen associated with Noi Mohi. Lastly, the brand wishes to create awareness and address fundamental issues of mindsets, social biases, and obstructions related to women.

Janessaline M Pyngrope – Promoting weavers of Meghalaya

Daniel Syiem’s Ethnic Fashion House (DSEFH) came into existence on 3 September 2011. It was the result of untiring efforts two young and dynamic minds, Janessaline Mary Pyngrope and Daniel Nongjop Syiem. They both belonged to different worlds and had contrasting views on fashion.

While Daniel Nongjop Syiem was an established self-made designer, Janessaline Mary Pyngrope remained eluded from this industry as she was then involved in rural developmental. She says, “The one thing that brought us together was the exquisite fabric, Ryndia (Eri Silk). It was produced and woven in our home state Meghalaya. The cluster that deals with this fabric is in Ri Bhoi District, Meghalaya.”

Debuted at Lakme Fashion Week in 2013, their first Ryndia Collection was well received and appreciated and we fetched interested buyers. According to Janessaline, this was the beginning of a journey full of fun. As a business head, Janessaline’s role was to find the market linkages to take the fabric out of the state. It provided Ryndia its due credence in national fashion circles.

Janessaline M. Pyngrope-Daniel Syiem’s Ethnic Fashion House

Janessaline told us that at certain point she and her partner had fair amount of clashes over creative and business differences. She confesses, “Daniel was adamant on not doing too much with the Ryndia because of its unique properties and versatility. We both clashed due to our business and creative differences. Our weavers came to the rescue at this point.”

It was then they realised that Eri silk products are not for mass market. She tells, “We concentrated on a niche market which understood heritage and culture. This section was supportive of slow fashion and had some knowledge of weaving techniques and praised uniqueness of hand-spun and woven fabrics.”

According to Janessaline, making contribution to self-reliant movement is just restricted to north-eastern region, particularly Meghalaya. However, their plan is to venture into e-commerce so that they can share the story of Ryndia weavers to a larger audience. “We are associated with few organisations which have supported our cause and had placed orders for Ryndia scarves as gift items,” she tells.

She adds further, “This has boosted the morale of our weavers as India is slowly waking up to indigenous fabric of Meghalaya. Once the larger mass understands the thermal and medicinal properties of Ryndia, accepts its natural and vegetable dyed colours, then we can contribute more in making India self-reliant and it will also have ripple effect on whole value chain.”

On the other hand, DSEFH has always practiced women empowerment as all our weavers are women. As most of the women take care of household and other activities, weaving is looked upon as a part-time economic activity. She further tells, “Over the years, we have worked together at institutional level. Further, by educating a husband that he should support his wife for weaving will help the family to earn and hence save more.”

Janessaline says that with support of many, they have come a long way. Going forward DSEFH will continue to strive for a better livelihood opportunity for weavers despite financial hurdles. She claims, “We have taken a hit due to the pandemic. But the faith that the weavers have entrusted on us, keeps us going. We hope to rise soon above this adversity by being well-accepted on e-commerce websites.”

Etashee by Amna Abbasi: A platform based on circular economy

A firm believer of circular economy, Amna Abbasi founded Etashee in 2014. She started it with an aim of using fashion for good. Talking to SME Futures, Abbasi elaborates about her platform, “Fashion changes more than once in a season. You could throw away or donate your old clothes. However making money out of it sounds like a best idea. Therefore, Etashee is all about repurposing old clothes or accessories.”

Amna Abbasi-Etashee

Currently Etashee is focussed on buying and selling of pre-owned clothing and accessories for women. However, Abbasi’s roadmap for the company includes making products for kids’ and men’s section too. She says, “My plan is to make a section available for kids and men too. Crossing the boundary and developing a robust marketplace is what Etashee looks for itself in a couple of years.”

As a women entrepreneur there are many challenges that one faces in the field. Talking about her challenges she recalls, “The biggest challenge I faced during this journey is create equilibrium between your instinct and what the numbers or data have to say about. I try not to get distracted by constantly assessing the situation and make the best call well in time.”

Asking about the contribution of women entrepreneurs in self-reliant movement, she concludes, “Self-reliance is often mistakenly considered as doing everything yourself. It is rather about being financially independent. Women in India are dependent upon their male counterparts for their financial needs. Major portion of women self-reliance can come from education. I am certain change is in the air.”






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