Around 2,000 women meeting on the city’s outskirts had something in common: poverty, business plans, widowhood. And an unfounded fear of earning big.
When Hina Shah, director of the International Centre for Entrepreneurship and Career Development, or ICECD, asked how many wanted to earn more than Rs25,000 a month, none raised a hand.
“My first priority is to make a decent living,” says Ameenaben. “We are poor people. How can we hope to make so much money?”
That’s exactly what ICECD hopes to make them do.
The centre has been organizing training programmes in entrepreneurship for poor women and youngsters from rural areas since 1986, in India and 62 other developing nations. Over the past three years, it has trained more than 7,000 widows in Gujarat. On Friday, it organized what it calls the first ever meet of “widow entrepreneurs”.
Many of these women earn about Rs2,000 a month, but the more enterprising, such as Nainaben Patel from Gandhinagar who runs a business selling pickles, make up to Rs10,000. Some others have made successful businesses running tiffin centres and beauty parlours, or selling used clothes. ICECD showcased its successes—Premilaben Parmar from Sabarkantha district and Hinaben Carpenter from Ahmedabad, who run beauty parlours, Kishoriben Rana, who has a business in seasonal products, and Nainaben Patel—to instill confidence in the other women.
It also used Prakash, who runs a chalk manufacturing unit, to demonstrate his work. You don’t need brains or education to make chalk and you can do this alongside other day-to-day work,” he said. “And I will buy all the chalk you make for a good price.”
More than half of the women assembled were illiterate, and 10% of them had passed class 12, said ICECD’s Shah. “Today, most of these women know how to sign. This is just the beginning,” she said.
About 40% of the widow entrepreneurs ICECD has trained have started businesses trading in various products, while 38% have manufacturing units.
Private insurer Aviva Life Insurance Co. India Ltd is trying to rope in the women to sell insurance products in villages.
“It looks interesting but I am not educated,” says an unsure Premilaben, who has come for the meet from a village in Sabarkantha. “I don’t know how I will be able to sell insurance in my village.”
Not all’s smooth with the programme—funding, logistics and kit supplies being the biggest worries. The women are provided follow-up support, guidance and kits worth Rs3,000 by the state government. “But the women come from so many different and areas, it’s difficult to distribute the kits,” said Shah.
A bigger problem is the reluctance of the women, held back by the traditional restraints of rural India, to step out on their own.
“When we started the programme, it was difficult to convince widows to go in for training,” Anandiben Patel, minister for women and child development, told the gathering.
“Many of you wanted the Rs500 widow pension to continue rather than earn Rs3,000-5,000 a month on your own. Now we want this programme to reach out to widows across the nation.”