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'Women First, Prosperity for All'

With the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, India should attempt to emphasise the role of women entrepreneurs that would ensure pervasive growth of the economy.

Women First, Prosperity for All

On November 28-30 in Hyderabad, India and the US will jointly host the Global Entrepreneurship Summit. This is the eighth annual summit which began as the brainchild of former US President Barack Obama. It has previously been held in other locations such as Istanbul, Dubai and Silicon Valley. The theme for this year's Summit is "Women First, Prosperity for All".

The Summit provides India and Hyderabad with an excellent opportunity to showcase the exceptional progress and achievements that have been made by Indian entrepreneurs in a number of areas, such as information technology, media and entertainment, health-care and the life sciences. It also provides the chance to focus attention on the fact that there is a need to increase initiatives in India to first place emphasis on Indian women entrepreneurs.
The Modi administration has been successful in placing some impetus on women entrepreneurs. For example, in April, the administration launched a Stand-up India scheme which provides loans valuing between Rs 10 lakh and Rs one crore to women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs from the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes (SC/ST). The Stand-up India programme is projected to reach up to 250,000 borrowers.
The looming concern is: What percentage of those borrowers will be women entrepreneurs? This is a central question as there is a dearth of women entrepreneurs in India and various studies have shown that women entrepreneurs in the country are among the most disadvantaged in the world. In spite of an increase of women business owners and operators over the past several years, entrepreneurship still remains a male bastion in India. A recent study by the National Sample Survey Organisation found that only 14 per cent of Indian business establishments are run by females. The same study disclosed that most of the women-run businesses – 79 per cent – were self-financed. These are bothersome findings. Even more irksome is the stark disparity of status between Indian women entrepreneurs when compared to woman entrepreneurs, around the world.
In 2015, The Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute (GEDI) issued a report containing its Female Entrepreneurship Index, ranking countries "with respect to the prevailing conditions that will fuel high potential female entrepreneurship development". India was near the bottom of that Index, ranking 70th out of 77 countries. In 2017, MasterCard issued its Index of Women Entrepreneurs, ranking countries based on an assessment of: Women's Advancement Outcomes; Knowledge Assets and Financial Access; and Supporting Entrepreneurial Conditions. India ranked 49th out of 54 countries. The MasterCard report noted, "there is significant potential to harness the untapped potential of women's entrepreneurship in India."
I would propose that the public and private sectors in India collaborate to develop a comprehensive and integrated three-pronged approach to "harness the untapped potential" and address the critical need to put Indian women entrepreneurs first. Those prongs should be:
Educate and empower women to become entrepreneurs
Ensure adequate financial resources to support their entrepreneurial ventures
Provide mentoring to promote success in entrepreneurship
The education for women to become entrepreneurs should be multifaceted, stressing not only "book learning" but also on providing the hands-on skills and abilities required to run a business. It should also be directed towards preparing women to enter fields in which there are very few female business owners today, such as information technology, manufacturing, and engineering. Numerous studies have found that women in emerging markets have much more difficulty in securing loans than men and have to rely on their own financing. That is why the World Bank launched a Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative (We-Fi) this year, to provide venture capital support to assist and encourage women to start and grow their own businesses. India should tie into and develop a programme to replicate We-Fi.
Unless they come from a family that has a business or have worked in a business, women entrepreneurs have seen no role models and have had no coaching on how to start, run and build a business. A mentoring programme can fill that gap. In the US, there is a non-profit organisation called Service Core of Retired Executives (SCORE) that provides free mentoring services to business owners. India could establish a programme similar to SCORE, dedicated to women entrepreneurs. It could recruit both retired and active professionals from all sectors – business, government, academia, nonprofit – to be mentors in the programme. A programme of this type could be coordinated through the financial institutions providing loans to women entrepreneurs.
In conclusion, the Global Entrepreneurial Summit will place the spotlight on the achievements of India's entrepreneurs and the significant contributions they have made to build the country's economy. The Summit can also be used as a magnifying glass to increase the focus placed on women entrepreneurs. If this is done and Indian women entrepreneurs are placed first, they will dramatically accelerate the country's economic development in a manner that will benefit all and propel India's holistic growth.
(Frank Islam is an entrepreneur, civic leader and thought Leader based in the Washington DC area. The views expressed are strictly personal.)

Frank F. Islam

Frank F. Islam

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