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Inclusion: Bridging The Gap
Not-for-profits like Project Naveli and Aspire For Her are at the forefront of efforts to empower women through gender equality and inclusion and raise their contribution to India’s GDP
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Priti Kate lost the only earning member of her family, her husband, to Covid in 2021. At the time, she had just about enrolled in an Abacus training centre to learn how to teach. Understanding the position Kate was in, the head of the training institute offered her an opportunity to run an Abacus training centre franchise.
Having never worked before, Priti was unsure of how to move forward. That is when she joined the Aspire For Her community, NotAlone. Here she received learning resources, English language classes, sessions on developing business skills and more. She has now successfully moved from the NotAlone community to being an EntrepreNaari.
The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated gender-based discrimination, across the world, India included. This made UNSDG Goal 5 all the more challenging. The Goal talks about achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls, by 2030.
According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2022, India comes in at number 6 in the South Asian region, with Bangladesh and Nepal outperforming it. But many would also argue that things are looking up in India. For instance, the sex ratio, once heavily skewed against girls, has seen an improvement. Girl students are increasingly getting enrolled in Sciences / Engineering / Management courses. Even if the number of women startups remains abysmally low, the number of women directors in startups is steadily rising.
In addition to government interventions, the role of women's self-help groups, in addition to efforts by organisations like NotAlone, has been exemplary. Take for instance, in rural India, over 8 crore women, associated with some 75 lakh women’s self-help groups, are working for the cause of women’s empowerment.
While systemic efforts do bring about changes, individual interventions and collaborations, too, have the potential to be game-changers.
Priti’s, for instance, is not the only success story for EntrepreNaari, which is a joint initiative by Aspire For Her and Project Naveli. The project aims to help women become financially independent and successful within the professional space.
By the year 2025, Aspire For Her hopes to impact over 1 million women and enable them to add over $5 billion to India’s GDP. Project Naveli is a not-for-profit initiative by Navya Naveli Nanda, that aims to reduce gender inequality and create more social and economic opportunities for women. Jaya Janardanan, former COO, Ujjivan Small Finance Bank and a mentor at Aspire For Her, says, “EntrepreNaari is a community which has provided support to women entrepreneurs and aspirants to transform ideas into businesses and scaling up businesses through funding and other opportunities. Our work with Rural women Agripreneurs has seen innovation and scale in the space of agriculture. It has been heartening to see the resources for EntrepreNaari at Aspire For Her through the unique 5-point mindset change model, not only in urban India but also in Bharat.”
We caught up with Madhura Dasgupta Sinha, Founder & CEO, Aspire For Her Foundation and Navya Naveli Nanda, Founder, Project Naveli to understand the impact EntrepreNaari has had so far and their plans for the future. “I started Aspire For Her in March 2020 because I was disappointed with the gender parity data emanating from India, and I realised India is close to the bottom in terms of women’s economic participation in the global gender gap index. We plan to add 1 million women to the workforce by 2025, and 10 million by 2030. We plan to do this by leveraging the power of communities and networks. At the moment, in Aspire For Her, we have a 225,000 community size with women from 60 countries. Among all the communities we are building, we felt it is important to focus on making entrepreneurship aspirational for women,” says Sinha.
Nanda started her own company during the lockdown and having gone through the process found that there are several challenges in putting together resources. And, as a woman entrepreneur, there are a number of unanswered questions that require guidance. Inspired by her personal experience of starting a company, she decided to join hands with Aspire For Her to create a community where women entrepreneurs feel supported. EntrepreNaari was born in June 2021.
Poornima Shenoy a senior technology leader, a board member of NSEIT and Dixon Technologies is the strategy advisor at Aspire for Her. She highlights the fact that EntrepreNaari provides business and networking opportunities for entrepreneurs from across the country irrespective of whether they are in a metro or in tier-2 cities.
In the last year, they have grown the community to 20,000 members and leveraged the power of mentorship and collaboration. They count a number of unicorn founders among their mentors and have partnered with several institutions and government bodies. HSBC and Zone Startups have been their partners on some of their recent projects. Another project, one that ongoing is Samridh which actually began in the board room of the Bombay Stock Exchange. SAMRIDH AcceleratHER is a personalised and intensive acceleration programme that catalyses women-led technology startups to grow, prepares them for raising funds and facilitates investments. The programme is hosted by Zone Startups India in partnership with EntrepreNaari by Aspire For Her and is supported by the MeitY Startup Hub, Government of India under the SAMRIDH Scheme. The scheme provides matching funding up to a maximum of Rs 40 lakhs per startup as a co-investment along with other investors in the same round.
For Nanda, the most satisfying part of the journey so far has been creating a community that allows women to feel financially independent and empowered. Sinha concurs, and says in the near future they hope to get more government and private sector support.
Clearly, efforts like Nanda’s, often complement collective enterprises working for women’s empowerment. A woman working to empower other women then has a multiplier effect on the economy, society and nation.