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Startup leg up

An entrepreneurship initiative in rural Rajasthan is enabling women to seize the day and the opportunities that come with it

It was a casual conversation that changed Veena Bai’s life. That was when this resident of Sayra village near Udaipur in Rajasthan heard about a meeting where new income opportunities were going to be discussed. Ms Veena, who had dropped out of school after class V, knew she didn’t have the skills for a specific trade. But she wanted to know more.

Ms Veena’s family had only one source of income: the 6,000 a month that her husband earned by working as a mason. To make matters worse, she herself could not go out and work. That was frowned upon in her community.

Ms Veena could not attend the meeting, which was organised by Centre for microFinance (CmF), an associate organisation of the Tata Trusts, but she heard about training courses being offered as part of an initiative to foster rural entrepreneurship in Sirohi and Udaipur districts. That’s how she got to learn tailoring.

“CmF held a 15-day course at a nearby location for 25 women,” she says. Sewing machines were set up in a large hall and the training ran from 10am to 4pm. Ms Veena used to stay back for an hour every day to practise further.

Once the training was over, CmF helped her create a business plan and set up a tailoring unit. “There are no ladies’ tailoring shops in my village, so women started placing orders with me,” Ms Veena says. During a recent wedding season, she earned 9,000 a month. “I have finally found a skill that has made me financially self-reliant.”

Entrepreneurs can come from anywhere; they aren’t the preserve of urban India. Tapping into that truth is the collaborative rural entrepreneurship programme in Rajasthan. It involves the Tata Trusts and CISCO Systems, with CmF as the on-ground implementer. Launched in January 2022, the initiative has lent a hand to nearly 1,400 entrepreneurs over a nine-month period. Among them are 1,057 women.

“This is an attempt to promote women entrepreneurship in a structured manner,” says Malika Srivastava, regional manager (Rajasthan) with the Tata Trusts. “Many women in rural India are already working in the fields or as agricultural labour. Among them are many who want to augment their family income by doing something different. This programme is all about making that choice available to them.”

Enterprise emerging

Tailoring on top

An overwhelming number of women entrepreneurs in the two districts have opted for tailoring (458). Second and third in the list come goat-rearing (210) and poultry (201), followed by marketing enterprises, beauty salons and vegetable cultivation.

The initial goal of the programme was to secure income increases for 1,200 rural entrepreneurs (men and women) in 200-225 villages in the tribal belts of Sirohi and Udaipur. This by creating at least 700 entrepreneurs who would, once set up, earn an additional income of 30,000-40,000 per annum, and 500 entrepreneurs who would make between 25,000 and 30,000 a year as supplementary earnings.

The programme was seen as a means to pull farming families out of poverty, unemployment and backwardness. It worked so well that the numbers goal was crossed comfortably. The Trusts and CmF now want to replicate the success in other parts of the country.

As for the process in the project, each candidate had to go through a rigorous three-step selection to become an entrepreneur. “First, at the village level, we had meetings with self-help groups (SHGs) to understand what the women in their area were interested in,” says Ms Srivastava. “If they wanted to increase their family earnings, we would ask what they had in mind or suggest options such as livestock rearing and dairy farming. Many women were keen on non-farm activities, so we advised them accordingly.”

Step two was resource profiling to understand education levels, whether the targeted people would receive any support from their families and if they had previous training in any trade.

“When someone said she wanted to become a tailor and we found there were five tailors in her vicinity, we would persuade her to try something else,” adds Ms Srivastava. “We couldn’t have more than two tailors per village or one beauty salon per two or three villages.” The trades are well distributed thanks to the screening and counselling efforts.

In the next step, the candidates were provided technical training by subject experts, with those in the non-farm sectors undergoing a two-month apprenticeship with a local businessperson, called an ‘udyog mitra’ (trade friend). After this, each potential entrepreneur — with guidance from CmF and the udyog mitra — had to prepare a business plan, which included financing and marketing aspects.

Beneficiaries were given a nine-point primer and asked to consider the basics: who would their customer be, what would be their market segment, what was the USP of the business, etc.

Badami Bai of Khuna Fali Gharat village in Sirohi district has become a poultry businesswoman

Once the business plan was ready, and deemed viable, CmF helped the women with funds to set up their enterprise, mostly through SHG loans. When this was done, the entrepreneurs received digital literacy and accounting training to run their businesses better.

Komal Lal Chand, a resident of Abu Road block in Sirohi, has profited from the training and apprenticeship she has undergone. The young woman, who had always been interested in henna art, opened her own beauty salon last year after working with an udyog mitra, learning all about hairstyling, makeup and such.

“The business plan preparation and the accounting training gave me the impetus needed to start on my journey as an entrepreneur,” says Ms Chand. “With home-based services, I started earning 6,000-7,000 a month; in the wedding season last November and December, I earned 40,000, enough to buy a scooter.”

Ms Chand has received requests for beauty and styling treatments not just from the neighbouring villages, but from clients in Palanpur and Ahmedabad as well. “I want to open a salon in a big city like Ahmedabad someday,” she says.