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In conversation with Samir Sathe

Is there a need for a differentiated lens for India to help women entrepreneurs grow and succeed?

My experience and our research at the Wadhwani Foundation indicate that women’s participation in owning and running an enterprise has been abysmally low. In India, among the 63 million MSMEs, only 2.8 million have been owned by women. And 98 percent of these enterprises have micro-scale operations. A little over 100,000 enterprises are above the $1-million revenue threshold. Only 5 percent of these enterprises are about the $3-million revenue threshold. There is a need to ensure that the fundamental basis of resource provisions is equitable to reverse some aspects of historical and social disadvantages for women.

Programs designed specifically for women that resolve this condition are a starting point. At Wadhwani Advantage, we have a major focus on women-owned businesses. Our deep functional and sector knowledge, over 50+ automated analytical tools, and curated networks of hundreds of mentors and consultants are available to help women-owned businesses. We have set up top 30 locations in India to focus primarily on enabling women to grow their businesses. But it is not enough. For these interventions to be successful, we need to deeply understand their challenges. For example, patriarchal gender bias and roles are still dominant among several communities. The private investors, VCs and PEs alike also tend to invest much less in women-owned businesses, even though the merit of the ideas and business plans turns out to be the same between men- and women-owned businesses. The public perception about women’s role and the valuation of their businesses are lagging, making wealth creation harder. A significant number of businesses are still controlled by first- or second-generation entrepreneurs, mostly male heirs to their families.

Such systemic challenges of women entrepreneurs need to be understood by people who run women-centric programs. Without the customization that specifically identifies and tracks the barriers and the capabilities needed to resolve the barriers, the program will lack sustained value.

What are the contours for this differentiated lens?

I would recommend three dimensions.

1. Socialist attitudes but a capitalist approach: We need to make sure that women’s participation in innovation and businesses is based on fair and proper access to resources, time and emotional support to compete with businesses owned by men. We must ensure that the fundraising practices are based on merit and women are not treated as a community that needs special Please put correct name at all place.concessions.

2. Community versus stand-alone programs: Research indicates that women develop community goals and well-being practices better. Cohort-based or network-based programs can increase participation, retention and success, keeping meritocracy intact. This needs a deliberate attempt from governments and private sector actors to play their roles diligently.

3. Execution and expert support: Execution excellence is paramount. Programs that account for the progressive role that women play as entrepreneurs should deliver on capabilities and skills that can help them overcome these challenges.

Is there global relevance for a book like ‘Accelerating Her Business’?

With the onslaught of technology and the change in the global political and economic fabric, it only means that we will see more contextual and local changes happening in women’s participation in work and business ownership. There will be a juxtaposition of these trends. India’s approach to exercise a differentiated lens for acceleration programs could be replicated or witnessed somewhat in a similar way in Mexico, Egypt, Brazil, East Africa, and some parts of Southeast Asia.

With access to program design knowledge becoming easier through books like this one, I am hopeful about a radical shift in the speed at which programs can be made impactful for entrepreneurs in the country and across the world.

Samir Sathe is Executive Vice President, Advantage, an SME upskilling focused program, India and Egypt Leader, and Head, Academy Wadhwani Foundation.

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