In countries throughout the world, women entrepreneurs can be key contributors to economic development. This is especially the case in low and middle income countries where women owned businesses are steadily inclining. Part of our work at the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women is to empower women to develop their local economies by nurturing the entrepreneurial potential of rural based populations towards sustainable income generation.
The Ekta project is one example of this. Ekta, which means ‘togetherness’ in Hindi, is a one year project that started in early 2018 to empower 75 small-scale women producers in remote villages of Maharashtra state, in western India. The name encapsulates the key goal of the project; to bring women together into enterprise groups to work collaboratively to become more competitive and successful entrepreneurs. Through tailored skills training, mentoring, and business development support, in collaboration with local partners, we supported the women to acquire the skills, knowledge, confidence and networks they need to become more empowered entrepreneurs.
One of the women supported by our programme is Neeta.
Neeta belongs to a self-help group where people’s daily wages are pooled to give all money to the group member who is in most need each meeting. At the meetings Neeta would get inspired by other women who were conducting businesses.
Neeta has a class XII education and wanted to put it to good use doing something outside of the home. “I wanted to construct an occupation which would allow me to tailor my roles as homemaker and businesswoman beyond what could be prescribed by a superior in an organization”.
On a visit to her maternal home in Purandar, Neeta was inspired by the agricultural community, and presented the idea of a food processing business to her local savings group as a community run initiative. Soon enough they were in the business of making and selling jam.
Motivated by their collective impact, Neeta began mobilising other women in neighboring villages to create their own local savings group and start a business together. In India, a government scheme, Skills Acquisition and Knowledge Awareness for Livelihood Promotion (Sankalp) has the mandate of national skills development. For her efforts in encouraging local saving groups to join this scheme to help their business endeavours, by 2014, Neeta became the President of Sankalp.
In her role as President, feeling responsible to the women she encouraged to join Sankalp, Neeta worked hard to ensure the food produced could be licensed. But her social development activities led to a loss of focus on her own jam production business.
As part of our newest India project, Ekta, with thanks to support from both the Swarovski Foundation and the Hemraj Goyal Foundation, Neeta explored the basics of mass versus differentiated products. She realised there was value in her endeavour as she was creating a unique product – chemical-free fig jams – a flavor not usually found in the market.
Neeta says: “It’s a different flavor so I’ve started selling it in small packets. It has the added advantage of being cost effective and easy to carry for the traveler. Sales have already begun to gather momentum in the store.”