Krea University Supporting Women-led Rural Microenterprises through COVID and Beyond

New Delhi: The unravelling of the COVID-19 pandemic in India and the subsequent lockdown has adversely affected the economy, particularly micro and small enterprises. While micro and small businesses led by women are adapting to these shocks, disruptions in supply chains and poor access to finance and markets have had a disproportionate impact on them. At the same time, this pandemic has highlighted the pivotal role of rural microenterprises and women’s collectives in building local resilience and helping combat the crisis by producing essential equipment such as masks, PPE and sanitizers.

In response to these disruptions, LEAD at Krea University in collaboration with the World Bank and the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India recently organised a three part webinar series titled ‘From Resilience to Growth: Supporting Women-led Rural Micro-enterprises through COVID-19 and beyond’. The webinars convened policymakers, experts from industry and academia, and practitioners through panel discussions. In part 1 of this series, experts examined coping strategies adopted by women-led microenterprises to survive in the current context, and also highlighted practical lessons from different states that can be leveraged as success stories to navigate the ‘new normal’. In part 2 of the series, experts from policy, finance, fintech, and incubation shared insights on building the path for recovery for women-led rural microenterprises in the current context.

In the final convening held on July 23, senior policymakers and experts discussed short-term and long-term policy interventions and strategies to enable graduation of women-led enterprises. Speakers included: Ms. Alka Upadhyay, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Rural Development; Dr. V Anantha Nageswaran, Member (Part-Time), Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India (EAC-PM), Distinguished Professor of Economics, Krea University and Advisor to LEAD at Krea University; Ms. Jayshree Vyas, MD, Sewa Bank; Ms. Deepthi Ravula, CEO, WE Hub, Government of Telangana; Ms. Vaishali Nigam Sinha, Chairperson for CII National Committee on Women Empowerment and Indian Women Network (IWN) and Chief Sustainability, CSR and Communication Officer at ReNew Power; Mr. Rolf Behrndt, Practice Manager, IFC-World Bank Group; and Ms. Subhalakshmi Nandi, and Senior Program Officer – Gender Equality, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The panellists and speakers highlighted the need for entrepreneurship development programs that focus on strengthening capabilities, providing handholding support to women entrepreneurs, strengthening access to institutional finance by building credit histories, and improving market linkages for women-led enterprises.

“During the COVID crisis, it has been heartening to see Self Help Group members chart their own path by diversifying to produce essential products, even before government directives were issued. Through NRLM, we hope to organize rural women, instil confidence in accessing their rights, and entitlements and support their pathways to enterprise development.” noted Smt. Alka Upadhyay, IAS, in her opening address.

Speaking about the importance of supporting women-led enterprises to grow, Chair and Moderator, Dr. V Anantha Nageswaran, said, ”There is a need to enable women-led microbusinesses to formalize, by easing administrative processes and providing handholding support in registering their enterprises. This will facilitate better access to capital and markets, and bring rural enterprises into the mainstream economy.”

Rolf Behrndt, Manager, IFC-World Bank Group said, “Women entrepreneurs have demonstrated that their enterprises are a good business proposition. However, there is a need to strengthen entrepreneurial capabilities and their confidence in taking risks and expanding their businesses, through entrepreneurship development programs that look beyond business training.”

The Ministry of Rural Development through its programme Deendayal Antodaya Yojna – National Rural Livelihoods Mission (DAY-NRLM) has been instrumental in promoting and supporting women enterprises in rural areas. The Mission has so far supported over three hundred thousand women entrepreneurs through various farm and non-farm interventions.

In 2018, through the National Rural Economic Transformation Project (NRETP), the Ministry and the World Bank collaborated to build on the learnings from DAY-NRLM and pilot a new generation of economic initiatives including high-growth entrepreneurship models in 13 low-income states of India. The project aims to support about eighty thousand rural enterprises by June 2023. To further propel NRLM’s vision of creating a robust enabling entrepreneurial ecosystem for women in rural India, a technical assistance program, Solutions for Transformative Rural Enterprises and Empowerment (STREE) was set-up. The STREE program is spearheaded by LEAD at Krea University and is supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. These convenings were organised as part of the ongoing technical assistance program. For queries, please contact: [email protected]