Focus on innovation-based entrepreneurship for women

Omita Unnarkar, Partner of Projuris Legal, New Delhi based Law firm, and State President, Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry believes that the government, industry and civil society must come together to create a conducive ecosystem for women to participate in the economy. She also adds that more focus should be given to innovation-driven entrepreneurship instead of necessity-driven entrepreneurship in the country.

Omita Unnarkar, Partner of Projuris Legal, New Delhi

IBT: A World Bank study ranks India 120th out of 130 countries in terms of labour force participation rate. How can women’s participation in the economy in India be increased?

Omita Unnarkar: India has a population of 130 crores and doesn’t have adequate resources to meet their development needs. Women need a conducive environment to work and flourish. Actually women are the backbone of Indian economy. In India, women are usually seen merely as home makers and are primarily tasked with the responsibility of childrearing. This is the reason why many women quit their jobs after they give birth. Moreover, there is a reluctance in women to pursue careers in certain fields like law due to societal conceptions, which is the most crucial position to implement welfare legislation and mold mindset in particular way; as has been the trend in penal provisions qua women. All these reasons are responsible for India’s dismal performance in the ranking.

A conducive ecosystem will be instrumental in encouraging more women in India to seek employment. This sexist societal perspective needs to change and more women need to be motivated to go out and work. One way to enhance women’s participation in the economy is to incentivise them to work. Another is to draft policies promoting gender parity in recruiting workforce & offering proper maternity benefits and ensuring that they are properly enforced.

Also, families need to be more empathetic and men should also shoulder the responsibilities of managing the household and taking some responsibilities in bringing up their children. So, the government, corporates and individual families need to work in their capacities so that more women can go out there and work. A feeling of gender equality and treating women as equally capable workforce is need of the hour.

IBT: The Sixth Economic Census suggests that only 14% of Indian women own or run businesses. What factors deter women in the country to own/run businesses?  What role can women entrepreneurs play in shaping businesses and how can they break the proverbial ‘glass ceiling’?  

Omita Unnarkar: The first and the foremost reason for this is the lack of capital. One reason for this is that in most cases, it is the men who own the property and this asset cannot be used as a mortgage to apply for a loan. So, the access of women to finance should be enhanced to promote more women entrepreneurs. Secondly, a lot of times when a woman expresses her desire to start a business venture, she’s discouraged by her kith and kin. Women need to be empowered and this societal outlook needs to change.

The government needs to come up with more lucrative and flexible financial policies such as low interest rates and tax benefits and rebates for women entrepreneurs. There needs to be  enhanced legal, political, economical and administrative participation. Third major reason is the stereotypical role oriented social system that we have in India, where a woman is seen to be a mother and wife first and then think for herself and her career. Fourthly, in India, even today, girls and woman are not given an opportunity to participate in financial matters and never given a chance to understand business. Exceptions are there, but the general stereotype needs to change.

It is interesting to note that the financial difficulties created by COVID-19 have made a lot of women step out of their homes and work. It has led to the emergence of a lot of female entrepreneurs in the country. Last year saw a rise of the home bakers, gardeners, compost experts, beauty experts and cloud kitchens conceptualized and curated by women.

IBT: What effects have policies like priority sector lending for female entrepreneurs had on encouraging them to take up the stewardship of businesses?

Omita Unnarkar: If we talk about the recent Master Direction – Priority Sector lending then women are considered to be in the Weaker Section Category. It is not just about drafting policies, but it is more about spreading the awareness regarding these policies. There is no easy access to such policies in terms of a loan application or documentation or say any familiar surroundings to avail such services. For these policies to become encouraging for women entrepreneurs, the policy makers and executioners need to communicate to the right audience.

To facilitate a better clarity among women, they need to be trained in imparting financial literacy and this is where the government can step in. So far as stewardship of business is concerned, I don’t see even the big business houses, except a few, being run by women. So, we need to carve out omen from this “Weaker Section Category” and bring in  policies to help her become self independent.

IBT: How can the contribution of women to Indian entrepreneurs be enhanced? How is WICCI empowering women in business, industry and commerce across sectors? What have been the noteworthy achievements so far after you taking over as President? What are the future plans? 

Omita Unnarkar: Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry is a National Business Chamber for Women and is already working in this direction. WICCI is trying to build woman entrepreneurship and business through greater engagement with government, with institutions, with global trade and networks. Given its spread in 120 countries, it gives a platform for women with different cultural backgrounds to come together and grow their business.

WICCI is founded by Ms. Harbeen Arora who is an international personality and under her vision WICCI supports platforms like Sheconomy (Online portal for Women Entrepreneurs), BioAyurveda, Women Economic Forum (WEF) are functioning for women across the world to connect and create business networking, exchanges and collaborations.

Under Delhi Human Rights Council, our first most important area of focus is de-stigmatizing the concept of mental health. WICCI thinks that a healthy mind is most important for having a healthy life. For this, we roped in experts from Ministry of Ayush, Ministry of Social Justice & AIIMS to spread this message in our panel discussions that we conducted on 20th march 2021 at The Grand Hotel and Residences, New Delhi. WICCI is also working to enhance the financial inclusion and contribution of transgenders in the Indian economy. It is trying to take the vision forward and build an environment for empowering women and giving them an opportunity to grow together and take forward the bond of sisterhood.

IBT: While the government has taken a lot of policy initiatives like Trade Related Entrepreneurship Assistance and Development (TREAD) and the RashtriyaMahilaKosh (RMK) schemes to encourage female entrepreneurship in India, they have not necessarily borne fruit. What are the reasons behind this and how can this situation be rectified?

Omita Unnarkar: Schemes like TREAD and RMK have benefitted the rural and urban women as many NGO’s are provided grants under this scheme for capacity building and self-employment ventures for women. These NGO’s help women by way of providing them vocational and skill training, helping them start their own small business etc. But the budgetary provisions allocated under these schemes are meagre and that is the main reason that these schemes are not been able to make a major change in position of women. Till the time Government makes proper and sufficient budgetary allocations for such schemes, these scheme shall look very supportive scheme on paper but output shall not be as per desired.

IBT: What international best practices can the country learn to promote greater women entrepreneurs?

Omita Unnarkar: The foremost thing that our country can learn from an international platform is to provide a safe working condition and an environment to not only women entrepreneurs, but to all women who want to go out of their house and work. I would also say that it’s also very important that we have gender parity in terms of women, when it comes to entrepreneurship activity. So, more focus should be given to innovation-driven entrepreneurship instead of necessity-driven entrepreneurship. Lastly, activity based learning and vocational training  needs to be a part of India’s curriculum.

Omita Unnarkar is the State President, Delhi Human Rights Council, Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry, (WICCI). She’s a legal corporate expert and is partner in Projuris Legal, a Delhi based Lawfirm. She is a practicing advocate and has vide experience in the field of real estate industry, retail sector, leasing, oil industry, hotel industry and airline sector etc. Views expressed are her own.

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Saraswati Chandra Lakhani
Saraswati Chandra Lakhani
6 months ago

Happy to see

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