In comparison to men, women entrepreneurs from rural areas tend to face more constraints while participating in the process of local economic development. Factors like traditional gender roles, mobility issues, access to financial services, limited managerial skills and low self-esteem can hinder their progress in realising their potential as an entrepreneur. It calls for a need to focus on rural women for engaging them in the larger context of rural development by providing a conducive space for taking up entrepreneurial opportunities. The Start-up Village Entrepreneurship Program (SVEP) works with the community network of women formed under NRLM and focuses on expanding the livelihood portfolio of the rural poor. The special assistance of the program in the form of technical and financial support structure helps entrepreneurs in developing and sustaining their own ventures. Kudumbashree NRO which is implementing the program in nine states, has been actively trying to engage women in the process of entrepreneurial restructuring in these communities. With more than 90% women CRP-EPs (community cadre for promoting entrepreneurship in the village) engaged in SVEP partner states, a conscious attempt is being made to bring women in the forefront of the entrepreneurial space. Anjana Sen from Kekri Block of Ajmer district, is one such woman selected to work as CRP-EP under SVEP who has also started her own ventures to become financially independent and support her family.
Anjana Sen, CRP-EP from Kekri Block
Around seven years back Anjana’s parents married her off in a small village of Ajmer district hoping to give a better fortune for their daughter. Little did they know that her husband’s small saree shop would be shut by the local authorities in favour of a local construction project. It was a big blow to the family but it also brought the best out from Anjana. Sharing her journey, she informed that it was important for her to explore more options and hence started actively participating in SHGs and Gram Sangathans (VOs).
In one of the VO meetings, she met KS-NRO Mentor Jaya, who encouraged her to sit for the CRP-EP selection. Despite having a small baby and going against mother-in-law’s wishes, she got selected as a CRP-EP and attended the training programs. The training pushed her to put her learnings into practice by starting a women’s fancy store herself, which is still running. It helped her understand business dynamics. She took the advantage of her newly gained knowledge in identifying market gaps and seasonality and launched a small parlour business during the marriage season. Tapping other market opportunities, she along with her husband have also been supplying puris to Pani-puri vendors. Today, she is one of the best performing CRP-EPs in the state and strongly believes that micro-enterprises are the best way to empower women and combat poverty. She has opened 85 Micro Enterprises in Kekri Block. Sharing her thoughts she says
“Mahilaon ke chote chote bache hote hain. Toh mahilaon ka chota dhanda hoga toh bachon ka aur apna paisa hoga.
Mahilayein bhi khush rahengi. Yeh mahilaon ke liye sabse acha avsar hai” (Women have small children. So if women start small enterprises they will be able to take care of their children as well.
This is the best opportunity for women)
Anjana with an entrepreneur
Undoubtedly this explains why most of her clients are women. She laughingly shared that her first few clients were her friends and she intentionally started targeting them. This gave her confidence and helped build trust through the word of mouth. It is not an easy task to convince the poor to start an enterprise. When asked about how she does that, she says
“Business plan banati hoon, dikhati hoon aur ache se samjhati hoon. Batati hoon ki mene bhi toh dukan daali hai. Ek baar daal ke toh dekho.
Jab paisa dikhta hai toh log maante hain”. (I make business plans, show it to people and make them understand. I tell them that even I have started an
enterprise and encourage them to try at least once. When people see returns then only they get convinced.)
Most of her clients have a story to which Anjana strongly connects and that is her strength. Her work starts not by talking about micro enterprises but rather analyzing and understanding the realities of her fellow SHG women. She narrated the story of an entrepreneur who had a differently abled child. Because of her situation she could neither go to the fields nor could engage in any other work. Taking into consideration her constraints, Anjana developed a business plan for her and today that woman is earning Rs. 3000-4000 per month. More than a strategy, it is a well-established fact that women mobilize women the best as they connect to each other’s realities.
Anjana at an enterprise supported by her
Her husband has always been a big support and today she is the prime bread earner in the family. The role of CRP-EP has helped her build an identity for herself both within and outside the family. Unlike before, the mother of two now gets all the support she needs from her mother-in-law as well. Anjana shares about the autonomy that comes with financial independence. She concludes
‘Ghar mein kuch bhi samaan laon, kisi se poochna nahin padta. 100 rupay zyaada kyun de diye ya 20 kam kyun nahin kiye,
ab nahin sunna padta’. (I don’t have to ask anyone to buy anything for the house. I don’t have to give any explanation to anyone)