Entrepreneurship development is “The buzzword” which is attracting a lot of people in India in general and especially women in particular. With rising unemployment, Indian Youth are particularly motivated to take matters into their own hands to become job-creators. The participation of women in entrepreneurship has been quite significant in India in the recent years and has seen quite a leap in the last decade itself. From small shops to a mega business magnet we find women are reclaiming  space for themselves. They don’t only think of profits in their business venture but also are contributing a lot significantly to society.

 

Social entrepreneurs act as social catalysts who thereby create ripple effects by reforming social systems and creating sustainable development and change. Though they act locally, their reaction in terms of having a multiplier effect can be witnessed globally. Social entrepreneurs can be seen as people who are innovative and always think out of the box. They are resourceful, accountable and stimulate the social improvements by their contributions. Women social entrepreneurs too have been significantly innovative, farsighted, quick and effective decision makers who have been hugely adaptive of new technology integration into their business operations in recent years.

 

The social enterprise ecosystem has evolved considerably in the last decade with support organisations providing direct, indirect, financial, and advisory assistance to social enterprises. But, Despite the developing ecosystem and potential of the sector, there lies major barriers and it is imperative to see those barriers as opportunities to reform,evolve and emerge as a robust ecosystem that can provide a significant boost to our developing economy.

 

WOMEN SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP LANDSCAPE AND THE BARRIERS THAT PERSIST

 

According to a survey by British Council in 2016, 24% of the social enterprises in India are female-led. Social enterprises surely perform significantly better on gender ratios than the average mainstream enterprise in India. Yet if we try to see the whole picture whose fragmented pieces of information-based-landscape look quite impactful and have seen significant advancement, women entrepreneurs face quite a series of difficulties right from the starting till the  enterprise purposes just by the virtue of being a woman. These intersectional difficulties and barriers presenting itself to a woman entrepreneur pertains to her responsibility towards family, society and work ambience. Women in rural localities have to bear even more. They face strong opposition from men and are representative of being mere helpers often without pay or any form of compensation. The socio-cultural barriers in which she has to reside and work are not never conducive. Entrepreneurial undertakings are always challenging and societal concerns are engaged in entrepreneurial conclusion making. Problems differ from one set of women to another set, so should be the solutions.

There are some particular problems that the Indian women are approaching and confronting while they jump into entrepreneurship. Finance is one of those barriers and in fact has been found to be the largest stated barrier identified by social enterprises specially women still struggling to overcome the other gendered barriers of life and society in general. With only 6.9% for-profit women led start-ups receiving equity funding in 2019 amongst 150 start-ups, the lack of finance for women-led social enterprises is even lower.  The barriers of women led social enterprises around finance mostly lie in areas such as identifying access to capital (debt/equity), identifying access to grant funding and identifying cash flow amongst the most significant ones. Social enterprises registered as not-for-profit entities (NGOs and Section 8 companies) receive almost 60% of their funds in the form of grants from foundations and in-kind aid and donations (for example, volunteer time and equipment). The most common type of finance source for for-profit social entities (like private limited companies, partnerships, and sole ventures) continues to be equity or equity-like investments.

Younger social enterprises are becoming increasingly interested in repayable finance as a method to grow their business. According to the survey by British Council, younger social enterprises are also accessing diverse non-traditional sources of finance such as: Facebook’s ‘internet.org’; crowdfunding (such as Kickstarter); social loans from Milaap (an online micro-lending platform); and business school consortiums (organised by management institutions like Indian School of Business in Hyderabad and the Indian Institute of Management in Calcutta).

However there are other barriers too that exist for women entrepreneurs and go hugely unnoticed such as when fulfilling legal formalities needed for running an enterprise becomes an upheaval task on the part of a women entrepreneur because of the prevalence of corrupt practices in government offices and procedural delays for diverse permits, electrical energy, water and shed allotments specially when a significant number of women led social enterprises are working on remote areas and small cities and towns working on improving livelihood of their local community.

A woman is often anticipated by society to behave like a woman and if she defies those gendered norms, her actions are seen as manly.  In such positions where women in our society are still struggling to break out of the social cultural barriers, burden of family responsibilities and just basic lack of freedom to pursue education,  women entrepreneurs find it hard to concentrate on the often stressful and high pressure and a non-conducive working environment posing in front of her while starting an enterprise.

The Entrepreneurial ecosystem will lose out on the tremendous growth potential of women-led social enterprises if we fail to provide the right environment and support and start creating systemic solutions to address these multi-level barriers in the coming years and nurture the ecosystem support for women social entrepreneurs to grow and thrive by aiding them with sufficient resource and development initiatives.

So what we can do as an ecosystem to ensure that we move ahead to the future building , supporting a  growth conducive environment by creating systemic solutions to address multitudes of barriers  is what I will leave to you as a food for thought.