Women in tech-space have reshaped the entrepreneurial ecosystem of countries like Israel and Portugal. Educated women in India also need to advance ahead and build more tech-based scalable businesses and inspire others. How must India realise this dream? In an exclusive chat with Independent Journalist Mahima Sharma, serial entrepreneur ITI Rawat, who is also the founder of Thinkhall Training and Consultancy, shares some major, firm and quick steps that the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship in India must take in order to give a boost to women in the Indian MSME sector. Ms Rawat, who is also a Social Entrepreneur, also speaks about how sustainable projects will help rural employment generation.
MS: Need for an Innovative Work Culture; Indian laws that are being taken for granted; highly competitive environments amid an unstable economy and the humongous task to incubate successful entrepreneurs. What's your take on this crossroad and the path ahead?
IR: Innovation is the core of the business. Innovative work culture can be learnt, but ironically the very word “culture” is paradoxical to the word “innovation”. While building a culture we direct the way a business should run, we define the process and expect everyone to work the same way. How can one innovate in such a culture, one would suffocate instead. Inclusive and diverse teams bring in ideas, which builds an innovative work environment. When you have different mind approaches thinking about the solutions to the same problem that is when businesses succeed and that is the core to business innovation. It is well known that diverse and inclusive businesses get higher profits and have a long-standing reputation. We need more businesses with innovative work cultures to drive more profits and not just build inspiration to others but help in making the economy healthier as well.
MS: How can women entrepreneurship be taken to greater heights in a currently shaky Indian Economy? And what edge does it have above others?
IR: Let's get to the root of it. Women are 49% of the population. At the age of 25-30 years, the responsibility of childcare and household chores becomes the primary focus of a woman. Women contribution to the Indian economy is still negligible. As far as entrepreneurship is considered, most of the women-led businesses are creating less than five jobs and below the annual revenue of Rs Ten lakhs. Just by utilising the talent pool of women who are currently not financially independent, if we are able to double the number of women entrepreneurs in India, and if we provide the right resources and training to them, this would bring the unemployment rate drastically down. One-woman entrepreneur inspires hundreds of other women. It actually builds the socio-economic and cultural status of women in society. Needless to say, this is the need of the hour and we have to believe in women to boost our economy. What is needed for this change is a complete ecosystem and belief in it. Women need support and resources to move ahead. It would be an overhaul of making things inclusive from policies to societal mindset change.
MS: Women-led startups comprise only six to eight per cent of the country. Most of them are either not scaling up or are doing a business that makes an annual revenue below ten lakh, creating between 0-2 jobs. In the wake of all this, where do you see the integration of technology, women entrepreneurship and their future: Do a SWOT analysis for the same with respect to a) India b) Global Podium.
IR: Technology is the need of the hour. Especially during the pandemic, we realised how technology was able to support businesses. Our country still lacks enough STEM graduates and those we have the required skill set, may also at times go for the not so tech-dependent businesses in SME sectors. When we start thinking and building businesses that can become a global enterprise, an impact can be created. There are few inspiring individuals and CEOs who have been leading tech businesses but then very few women get funded out of them. It boils down to whether we have enough R&D labs to innovate. Is there enough mentorship to learn what it takes to scale up a business and make it big? Does our education system support the fast-paced changing industry around us? How many institutes and courses are covering the industrial usages of deep tech? The outcome should be well known. A slow-paced growth of entrepreneurs who are looking for answers and knowledge everywhere desperately. When women step up, encouraging them with the right resources, incubation centres and labs can bring forth a different dimension to it. We should support our educational institutes with these resources so that we start young. Women in tech have reshaped the entrepreneurial ecosystem of countries like Israel and Portugal. We are hoping our educated women in India also build more tech-based scalable businesses and inspire others.
MS: What are the five to seven steps that are needed from the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship in India in order to give a boost to the Indian MSME sector? This is in the wake of the fact that the Indian government is all set to review the National Policy for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship to deliver improved productivity in order to match the international standards.
IR: Women entrepreneurs have the skills of multitasking, their innate knowledge of budgeting and building relations, which helps them build an astute sense of entrepreneurship. While the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship has developed several schemes for boosting women entrepreneurship, most of them go un-utilised by women entrepreneurs due to the complexity of the access, lack of knowledge or at times the belief in government schemes. Here would be our key asks from MSDE for the boost of women in MSME sectors. Make financial assistance easier. The loans are generally unapproachable and the bank asks for collaterals and documents, which makes the access to funds a tardy process. In one of the countries, women can access loans based on just a psychometric test where it is assessed that the woman would be willing to repay the loan back or not. Making financial assistance online and automated would be really groundbreaking in this case. Provide an inclusive atmosphere: Women create a safer environment at the same time feel unsafe in male-dominated sectors. Making policies around inclusive workplaces, the safer work environments should be the key to drive sustainable and inclusive growth. Workplaces should be inclusive from the top level to the bottom level. Promote Parental leaves. Prolonging maternity leaves has placed the burden of childcare solely on women. Moreover, married females are hired hesitatingly as they seek 26 weeks long paid maternity leave. Parental leave should allow any first child caregiver (mother or father) to avail of the leave. This policy has given a major boost to women entrepreneurship in New Zealand.
Access to market – Online is a great way to market your products but we need to boost some of the startups which are creating a marketplace so that the overall industry benefits from them. Access to incubators and accelerators – we have recently seen an upsurge of accelerators and incubators but we need government-funded women-only accelerators and incubators that can help small businesses. Access to mentorship and guidance - promoting institutions and organizations which provide mentorship, support and guidance for the overall business growth are needed. Make taxation and company registrations easier - a big learning from developed countries like Singapore is how easy it is to start or register your company there. Many Indian startups have also been able to open their offices there and compare the ease of doing businesses in other countries vs in India. In the overall digitization, we have to make taxation and compliance procedures leaner.
MS: What kind of integration of private and government schemes is needed to fully harness the potential of the villages and small cities in order to create a profiteering ecosystem for entrepreneurs to boost the Indian Economy?
IR: Most of the Indian population is rural, opportunities and development is limited to the urban population limiting the private companies to concentrate their business to where the customers are. We need mutually beneficial integrations to boost the businesses as well as government reach, keeping the interest of consumers in our minds. Integration in the space of telecom, internet penetration, sustainable energy projects, skill development, education, technology and agriculture are must-haves, followed by various others.
MS: The need of the hour is boosting Rural Employment with Green Entrepreneurship Models. What's your take on this and how must India stride ahead?
IR: Absolutely needed, we have been exploiting Earth’s resources without being mindful. Sustainable projects, which help rural employment generation, will boost the economy further. Rural development cannot be based on industrialisation. We have a huge population dependent on agriculture and then there are artisans in small geographies who are holding onto the culture and heritage of India. We cannot let a wave of industrial tide finish this altogether. Sustainability-based projects which give a boost to artisans and farmers should be given special recognition to avail funds, save on taxes and should be encouraged through incubators. Cooperatives formation should be given special attention especially in the field of agriculture, textiles, tribal affairs and more such sectors.
MS: Beyond Unicorns, how can we Democratise Access to Entrepreneurship? Please elaborate in simple words for understanding, especially of the students who are looking up to you as a role model.
IR: There is a world beyond unicorns and soon-icons. We focus a lot on revenue, numbers and capital. What we should be focusing on is impact. Make entrepreneurship responsible. If your business is not creating any social impact, how do you believe it can create a long term standing for your consumers? Ethical businesses are always much closer to the hearts of the customer. Somewhere I see this culture has to be stopped and companies need to rethink their vision and involve a social impact angle to it. This should not be limited to just not for profits and social entrepreneurs but should be made must to all businesses. This can only be driven by the government but as future leaders, we know it is our responsibility to be true to mother Earth and people living their time on it.
MS: India-China strained ties; lost global faith in China and its Foreign Venture Capital Investors (FVCIs): How must Indian start-ups utilise this advantage to its fullest?
IR: India incorporation is getting all the global attention now. While China has seen major economic and political advancement, the way they handled covid 19 situations earlier, has made it a bone of contention for many. Although I believe it is incorrect to make comparisons of China and India. Both have their own advantages and disadvantages of pursuing business methodologies. Both the countries have a huge consumer base, while China is becoming self-sufficient by feeding its own consumer base, India’s incorporation is keen, ambitious and looking out for greener pastures. India is getting its global attention due to the second-largest population, a diverse, cheap labour force, and acceptance of global brands in the country. Although, infrastructure within India is still a challenge for many global companies.Attracting forex to the country by inviting companies to set up base here, or even creating make in India high-quality products that can compete well in the European and American markets would be the right way forward. It is not an easy task, but when did I say entrepreneurship was easy?
MS: POSH laws/committees are still far away from realisation at many work setups. What's your take on this and how must India stride ahead in a better way towards safer workplaces for women?
IR: It’s a major mindset overhaul that is required. Safer workplace is a far-fetched dream. I believe the policies cannot change much but ground-level work is required to change the mindset. We need to fight for equality at the home front first. Support women, respect women and giving them dignified livelihood should be the key message. When the strong-rooted patriarchy will diminish from our society, that is when women will get equal opportunity and safer spaces. POSH laws/committees are the tip of the ice-berg. What about diversity and inclusion, gender-equal pay, domestic violence awareness, mental health awareness? All this impacts our socio-economic culture and together the laws, policies, training and committees around them will build a safer work environment for women.
MS: You set up Woman Entrepreneurs for Transformation (WEFT) - a not-for-profit organization to provide support and a networking platform for women entrepreneurs, in August 2018. What are your future goals and where do you wish to take WEFT in the next five years?
IR: WEFT is driven by a vision of bringing 50% contribution from women in the startup ecosystem. We support financial independence of women through entrepreneurship. We understand that it cannot be driven only by supporting existing women entrepreneurs. While we provide support and assistance in marketing, networking, funding for women entrepreneurs.We have envisioned to create more women entrepreneurs from marginalised community through our Project *SAMANTA*. This would allow women to live their lives of dignity and financial independence. Our key focus for the next 5 years would be building a robust women entrepreneurship development program and supporting any and every woman who aspired to become an entrepreneur.
MS: You are one of the most successful serial entrepreneurs in India. What are the business strategies that one needs to adopt to balance it out from time to time?
IR: All entrepreneurs believe in their idea. But successful businesses are made when you believe in people. These are the people you will serve. Many of them will shun you down, learn from their feedback and improvise. Many will love you, learn from their feedback and retain. Make umpteen mistakes but always treat them as learning stepping-stones. Rise up again stronger.
MS: Last but not least, please share with us any unseen side of ITI RAWAT - The Serial entrepreneur.
IR:I am an extremely disciplined person, I would mostly end up doing what I would think about and plan to achieve. My strong will and determination helps me achieve my goals. I take a lot of time to pause, think, plan, rework and then execute my strategies, staying true to my core. It is like creating different art forms on the same sketch board. And on days when things don’t go right and I'm not feeling up to the level. I try to hold on to my horses, think of my first day at work, the enthusiasm, resilience, optimistic attitude and confidence builds up my spirit again and prepares me to soar high and take on the world.
About Ms ITI RAWAT
Iti Rawat started her not for profit venture in 2018, to support and develop other women-led businesses and called it WEFT Foundation. WEFT under Iti’s guidance has undertaken various initiatives like Unstoppable, Power is Within and Start something New - out of which the best and most recognized one has been Red Dot Initiative, which started amidst the pandemic in 2020. She is also a well versed motivational speaker and has been advocating gender equality and inclusivity at various national and international conferences and forums. She was awarded the "Social Leader of the Year 2019" award by Indian Business Women and was one of the Top 10 speakers of the month at SpeakIn, Asia’s largest network of speakers - next to stalwarts like Dr. Krishnamurthy Subramanium, Syed Akhburuddin, Barkha Dutt and more. Recently, she was featured in one of the top global campaigns which showcase change makers of the society under the banner: I shape my world. A business woman, a social cause hustler, a homemaker and a working mother of two, she believes that she has never compromised on either being a hands-on Mommie or a businesswoman.
About the Interviewer
Mahima Sharma is an Independent Journalist based in Delhi NCR. She has been in the field of TV, Print & Online Journalism since 2005 and previously an additional three years in allied media. In her span of work she has been associated with CNN-News18, ANI - Asian News International (A collaboration with Reuters), Voice of India, Hindustan Times and various other top media brands of their times. In recent times, she has diversified her work as a Digital Media Marketing Consultant & Content Strategist as well. Mahima can be reached at email@example.com
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this interview are the personal opinions of the interviewee. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Indiastat and Indiastat does not hold any responsibility or liability for the same.