Emerging Rural Women Entrepreneurs: The New Face of Growing India

Going to celebrate its 72nd Independence Day, India has many reasons to become proud of herself. It has an umpteen number of success stories that keep its spirit vital and alive. Of those many stories, one thread has a colorful account of unstoppable, ambitious and focused women who are constantly shaping the face of new India.

The definition of successful Indian women, today, is not confined to the metropolitan cities but has its meaning spread through the small townships and remote rural areas as well.

Chetna Sinha, Ela Bhatt, Thinlas Chorol, Annie George, Lalfakzuali, Rama, Yasmin and Jayshree, Shanti Devi and Indu Devi are a few names who have been successful in creating an up-and-coming business model or have helped several others in creating the one. Some of them belong to rural areas from birth and some left their cities to devote their time, energy and skills to the development of the rural populace.

Their journeys were not smooth, but they tried hard and did brave out the toughest of situations

Chetna Gala Sinha, the founder and chairperson of the Mann Deshi Mahila Sahkari Bank, and the founder and president of the Mann Deshi Foundation, has come a long way. The Mann Deshi Mahila Sahkari Bank is a microfinance bank which lends to women in rural areas. In 1996, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) rejected her application of founding a bank to serve the rural women of our country, as some of the promoting members were non-literate. Crestfallen Sinha after going back to the village, started literacy classes and after some months when she applied afresh, she got what she wanted. Her foundation also runs financial literacy classes for rural women where they are taught about savings, investing, insurance and loans.

In 2007, Sinha’s Mann Deshi Bank established the Udyogini Business School to provide vocational training and financial training to young women to help them become entrepreneurs. The venture was started in collaboration with HSBC.

Ela Bhatt, co-founder of the Self Employed Women Association (SEWA) has been empowering rural women since 1972. SEWA has been playing an important role in organizing women workers for employment. SEWA supports its members in capacity-building and developing their independent economic organisations. For her continuous practice to uplift the social and economic position of rural women, Ela Bhatt has been awarded the civilian honour of Padma Shri, the Padma Bhushan, Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership, the Global Fairness Initiative Award and the prestigious Radcliffe Medal. She was also chosen for the Niwano Peace Prize and was selected for the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development 2011 for her lifetime achievements.

Lalfakzuali, divorced and banished by husband, wove the scattered threads into a beautiful, successful and happy life that can protect her and her son. After the divorce, she went back to her father’s place and started helping in the small family business of making shawls and ‘puans’ (traditional Mizo skirts). After her parents passed away, Lalfakzuali and her sisters took on the business and distributed roles and responsibilities among them. After three years, she bought new looms and business started flourishing more than ever. Today, Lalfakzuali is a successful and happy businesswoman who runs a booming business in Aizawl.

Shanti Devi who hails from a small village in Gaya, Bihar, runs an ice-cream production and sales unit that has an annual revenue of around two million. She has twenty-two workers employed for a major part of the year. The JEEViKA, a World Bank supported the program of the state government that is aimed at empowering women through Self-help Groups (SHGs) has helped Shanti Devi in becoming an entrepreneur and transformed her life through economic sustainability.

Like Shanti Devi, Indu Devi from the northeastern part of Bihar is another example of a strong rural woman. Her family had been growing prickly water lily yields. Fox or gorgon nuts but traditional gender standards tried to stop her from transforming the family farming into an agribusiness. Given that her village produces over five hundred tons of fox nuts each year, Indu Devi, with her determination and access to formal financing and business training, successfully integrated her family farming into a business. Over the years, they’ve expanded into fox nut processing and making makhana, which is widely consumed for its nutritious qualities and role in recipes for vegetable curries, milk desserts, and Hindu religious observances.

At just 32, Indu Devi has mastered processing and marketing her crop, but her journey has been filled with courage, social challenges, and her success has been tough to achieve.

Born in a breathtakingly beautiful village of Laddakh to farmer parents, Thinlas Chorol, has gained popularity when she started working in a male-dominated sector i. e. being a trekking guide. In her early twenties, she has started her career as a freelance guide. To include more women in the tourism field and transforming them into competent guides, Thinlas in 2009, founded the Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company. Her another objective to form a company to encourage ecotourism. She also initiated the idea of homestays to break cultural barriers and expose rural women to different people and cultures. Chorol was awarded the Indian Merchants Chamber Ladies’ Wing’s Jankidevi Bajaj Puraskar in recognition of her outstanding entrepreneurial skills.

As the famous quote says, ‘Rural India is the real India’, the rural market of India is one of the leading factors in the nation’s economic growth. With a great deal of development in infrastructure, logistics & supply, industrial upgrade and moreover, attitude-change in rural women, India is on the right path to becoming the future superpower.

The unbinding energy and determined endeavour of our rural women entrepreneurs have given the pillar-strength to the nation’s development. They have surpassed every hurdle and they are breaking gender constraints and doing every bit to change the face of the nation.

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