Encourage entrepreneurship among women in rural areas

Seema Prem

India is hopeful that Omicron will not be the dampening factor this year following last years’ COVID-19 slump. Hyperlocal demand has risen multi-fold mainly due to the rise of women entrepreneurs as they’ve taken over from men who lost their jobs or were laid off, giving them more opportunity in terms of leadership roles at home, while also providing economic stability for families.

The kirana stores and vegetable vending are two highly women-oriented niches that have remained shut all of last year. On the other hand, there has been a multi layered growth in the form of ‘rural start-ups’, for example, there is a story going around where several women started making and selling cloth masks. These business setups originated after the pandemic struck, but with the pandemic’s ebbing, these businesses will likely innovate to produce other kinds of cloth.

The banking correspondent sector has seen growth in multiple states in India, with the entry of ‘Bank Sakhis’, the women banking correspondents. The prime reason cited by women for taking up the role of banking correspondents is education of children and saving for the future. It has been seen that women mostly do not carry zero balance accounts and consider it safe to transact digitally.

Last year, the Indian government allocated Rs 28,600 crore for programs that were aimed at upskilling women. The Finance Minister spoke of her plan to elevate India’s growth trajectory from “doing well enough” into Dhaanya Lakshmi–the position it should be in! There was a social focus with multiple schemes related specifically towards female beneficiaries such as Nirbhaya Fund and sanitation/water budget too; all these allocations combined made sure there were huge strides taken on this front.

The expectation this year will be at par with last year’s. There needs to be more support for women-led businesses and stronger educational opportunities, so that women have the skills they need in order start their own companies or career paths outside of traditional women dominated fields like education/healthcare etc. It is also important we get girls into STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics) subjects early on because these kinds of jobs tend to drive economic growth over time which means fewer people requiring social services as well!

Some recommendations for this years’ budget would be:
– Budget should accommodate skilling for women keeping in mind that scope has now shifted to technology-based jobs.
– Women are paid 10% lesser than their male counterparts, matching salaries has to be a reform so should inclusive policies and other benefits.
– The need for financial empowerment is vital in India where women are still in minority and struggle to make decisions independently. Without access, capital or knowledge about finances it’s hard for anyone, especially for this population which has less options available than men do.
– Financial literacy goes hand-in-hand with opening up opportunities (such as buying property) so women can better protect themselves from risk. The ability understand various types of loans helps those who don’t qualify now get started on investing their money.

The National Skill Development Policy has worked to provide skills training, and the development of entrepreneurial skills that cause a mind-set shift. Stand-Up India scheme has sanctioned loans of over Rs 21,000 crore to women, as of April 2021.

The government’s stand-up loan program helps people who are looking for money without any security or collateral by giving them an option on how they want their funds used – either towards education costs such as learning new job skills through certification programs.

In 2022, the budget needs to up its game by investing in mentoring and financing. Opening of incubation centres where networking opportunities are made available will create an ecosystem for women, from inception through maturity stages. This is what is expected from Budget 2022.

The article is authored by Seema Prem, co-founder & CEO, FIA (Financial Inclusion Advisory)

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