On the road to self-reliance
Those who have taken the risks and been successful, underline the fact that entrepreneurship is a fine career choice for women. And these days there is no dearth of assistance too.
FOR THOSE who choose to become entrepreneurs, there is help along the way. The government and private organisations have entered the scene on a large scale to encourage women to be self-employed and succeed by offering training programmes, consultancy services and guidance. The Biotech Park for Women promoted by the Central and State governments and the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation is laid out in a beautiful manner on a vast expanse of land in Siruseri, and provides opportunities "for professionally qualified women to take up enterprises that are eco-friendly as well as profitable."
The Small Industries Service Institute, a Central Government organisation, has a network of offices across the country. The State SISI office at Guindy, Chennai, has a women entrepreneur cell. Mathew Oomen, who is in charge of it says that the SISI conducts more than 40 entrepreneurial development programmes a year throughout Tamil Nadu. "In Chennai, we have conducted three this year." The month long course tells one about how to select an industry and about the importance of developing motivation, managing finance and coping with the issues of banking as also water supply and electricity connections. Advertisements regarding the programmes are given in the newspapers; colleges and the employment exchange are also intimated. "The course is open to those in the 18-35 age group. Two years ago, 485 women were trained in running beauty parlours and now 115 have started their own parlours while 70 to 80 are employed in units run by others," says Oomen. The beautician course is the only special programme for women - all other programmes are common to men and women.
Since the literacy level is rising, women are no longer content to be housewives and the future for women entrepreneurs lies in unconventional areas such as fashion technology, says V.S. Karunakaran, Managing Director of the SISI, Tamil Nadu. If the entrepreneurial climate has to be improved in the State, the distrust between the various parties involved - the entrepreneurs, banks and bureaucrats - has to be eliminated, he feels.
The Government of Tamil Nadu has also launched an ambitious programme to give a boost to women. "The present Government plans to create five lakh women entrepreneurs in five years' time," says K. Skandan, Commissioner of Industries, Government of Tamil Nadu. Largely meant for the poor, preference will be given in the programme to those who already are members of self-help groups and are exposed to vocational training the concept aims at the economic empowerment of women at the grassroots level. Once the beneficiaries are identified, they are given a stipend of Rs.40 a day and trained in any of the 43 areas identified. The Tamil Nadu Corporation for Development of Women will play a major role in imparting this training. "We have covered the rural groups and are only now coming to Chennai," says Santhosh Babu, Executive Director of the Women's Development Corporation. A batch of 30 women is being given week-long training in the city at any point of time. And women NGOs are involved in this programme.
Banks such as the Canara Bank are committed to entrepreneurial development. "We too undertake training programmes in the rural areas for groups, In fact, we cover all cross sections. There is a ceiling on collateral but we have many schemes," states Sumathi Iyer who was in charge of the EDP cell of the bank for five years. She says the bank is a pioneer in this area having started an EDP cell in Bangalore in 1988 and in Madras in 1991. Apart from training programmes, we also conduct exhibitions for the beneficiaries and till now 95,000 women have benefited from our schemes, she adds.
The Joint Action Council for Women which aims at protecting and promoting the welfare, status and dignity of women and lobbying for their economic development has started work on compiling a directory of women entrepreneurs. "We have obtained data and have started listing them under various heads," says Sakunthala Balaraman, the Hon. Founder Secretary of the voluntary organisation formed in 1982. Women have a capacity for hard work and their financial discipline is also very good, according to Radha Kannan, who was on the Faculty, Entrepreneurship Developmental Programmes, and Counsellor for Women Entrepreneurs in Uttar Pradesh. It is absolutely vital to zoom in on the right project. Most people go looking for one but no project is available readymade. Women should not start on a blank slate but do a certain amount of research, examine certain areas of core competency before they begin an undertaking. Marketing skills should also be improved, she feels.
There is no point in having 200 salwar kameez sets in a row in our shed - you must approach a good store and persuade them to display your work.
Educational institutions have begun training the young in this field as there is immense scope for self-employment. "What made me start an EDP cell is that some of our students do not take up employment after graduation as they come from conservative families which do not allow young women to work outside their homes," says Nirmala Prasad, Principal of the MOP Vaishnav College for Women. "Students get a complex if they do not do well academically but they have skill in other areas such as cooking, handicrafts and interior decoration as well as a keen business sense and this should be utilised profitably. We started identifying these talented girls and started a cell in 1998." Those who have made a success of it repeatedly underline the fact that entrepreneurship is a fine career choice for women. Vasantha Kumari who worked in a public sector undertaking and then resigned her job to start a highly successful industrial electrification enterprise with her husband, an engineer from the Anna University, now runs an NGO - H kraft International - which trains women for entrepreneurship. She is a much sought after speaker at various industrial and academic institutions and is a consultant to many groups. Women are very good at interpersonal relationship and make excellent consultants says this entrepreneur. But this risk taking ability of the women of Tamil Nadu is much less than her counterparts in the neighbouring States. She puts it down to the highly conservative attitude here - "a woman is accompanied by a family member or friend even when she visits the temple!" Moreover big investments are not made in business ventures as there is no money for rotation as it is generally tied up in buying a house. And, of course, there is the constant problem of getting loans as banks demand a collateral."
This is where the Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust is different. With its offices in the premises of the Confederation of Indian Industry, it gives total assistance - money and mentor to underprivileged youth in the 18-35 age group who wish to set up or develop their own business. A substantial percentage of the beneficiaries are young women... Some of them are so dynamic that they have won the Entrepreneur awards instituted by the Trust.
BYST's trustee Lakshmi Venkatesan is happy with the achievements of these winners. "But we have a long way to go," she says. "When you think of an entrepreneur and the image of a woman comes to you instantly as it does today of a man, like the Infosys chief, it is then that we can state that women entrepreneurs have truly arrived."
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