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Women Entrepreneurs: Empowering at the Grassroots

27 January 2022

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Jakarta/Ahmedabad, 27 January 2022: Rural women increasingly run their own enterprises, yet their socio-economic contributions and entrepreneurial potential remain largely unrecognized and untapped. For many rural women in India and ASEAN, entrepreneurship is part of a broader livelihood strategy, however, they’re faced with pivotal barriers from access to resources, limited social and legal protection, to difficulties in entering new and lucrative markets to expand their businesses.  These challenges are accentuated at the rural/grassroots level where resources are scarce and stereotypes more pronounced.

The final episode of ERIA-CIIE.CO Roundtable Talk, Building Entrepreneurship Ecosystem: Insight from ASEAN and India was moderated by Ms Trisha Ghosal, Partner – Insights at CIIE.CO and co-hosted by Dr Giulia Ajmone Marsan, ERIA Director for Strategy and Partnership, and attracted more than 160 participants across the Asia-Pacific region.

Four speakers from ASEAN and India, shared their knowledge and perspective on women rural entrepreneurs:

  • Ms Ajaita Shah, Founder and CEO of Frontier Markets, India
  • Ms Chetna Sinha, Founder-Chairperson of the Mann Deshi Bank and Mann Deshi Foundation, India
  • Ms Denica Riadini-Flesch, Founder and CEO of SukkhaCitta, Indonesia
  • Ms Lida Loem, Co-founder and Technical Advisor at SHE Investments, Cambodia

Ms Denica Riadini-Flesch, Founder and CEO of SukkhaCitta, Indonesia, opened the discussion by sharing the story of how SukkhaCitta was built and its mission to empower rural craftswomen to earn a fair living wage through sustainable and ethical clothing. Aside from providing work for rural craftswomen, she emphasized the importance of facilitating business training and education for rural women so they can value their own work and aspire to become an entrepreneur. From her perspective, as legal protection for rural women workers is very low, it’s important to push women entrepreneurs out of the informal sector and provide them the know-how and technology tools to leverage their own business. 

Ms Ajaita Shah, Founder and CEO of Frontier Markets, India, explained how Frontier Markets was established to close the gap between rural areas and big cities in India in terms of opportunities and access to services. By being a social commerce platform, she shared how Frontier Markets is able to provide local access to high quality and gender-inclusive products and services while at the same time investing in rural women entrepreneurs as the connector to rural communities. She emphasized the importance of designing opportunities and solutions that match rural women’s economic and social conditions.

Ms Lida Loem, Co-founder and Technical Advisor at SHE Investments, Cambodia, shared how SHE Investments build ‘Kotra Real’ – a bookkeeping app that helps many rural women micro-entrepreneurs learn financial tools to manage their businesses. As many digital tools are often too complicated, she underlined the importance of making sure that the app is simple enough for rural women to feel confident to use it. Furthermore, she mentioned that learning and understanding the knowledge system of rural women is key to bringing successful impact for rural women entrepreneurs.

Ms Chetna Sinha, Founder-Chairperson of the Mann Deshi Bank and Mann Deshi Foundation, India, shared her longstanding experience in supporting female micro-entrepreneurs across rural India by providing a tailored financial product and entrepreneurial training as well as partnering with social impact funds to grow female-led micro-businesses. She mentioned how despite the challenges that female entrepreneurs in rural India faced, many of them are working to increase savings to leverage their micro-business. Therefore, providing access to capital should go together with support to make rural women micro-business credit-worthy.

During the Q&A session, Ms Loem shared her perspective on partnering with the right public and private organisation(s) to bring business and entrepreneurship education to rural provinces. In addition, Ms Sinha mentioned strategic actions that women micro-entrepreneurs can take to attract capital such as planning the trajectory of their business transactions to gain good credit ratings as well as improving their capacity to market the products.

The roundtable was jointly organised by CIIE.CO, a leading innovation centre and incubator at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad, and ERIA, under the Strategy and Partnership Programme, supported by Australia.

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