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Those who vouch for the immense potential of women entrepreneurship looking at its landscape will do well to remember the difference in semantics between ‘landscape’ and ‘place’. The original meaning of ‘landscape’ came from 17th century artistic discourse, referring to “a picture representing natural inland scenery" and the term has continued to be associated with visual perceptions of land, regardless of the scope of its perspective, whether small or large. The word landscape alludes to how the land has been shaped by human or natural agencies. ‘Place’ is more personal and often defined by how people are aware of or associated with a piece of space. It thickens with personal memories, local stories, and history.

Today, women entrepreneurs in India do not have a ‘place’ that is well defined and measurable, though the associated landscape of opportunities looks impressive.

The result is that women’s entrepreneurship continues to remain a promise of potential to unlock socio-economic gains, create jobs and put our country on a faster path to development. The importance of female entrepreneurship to drive economic growth and large-scale job creation is widely recognized, with this gender dividend holding the promise of 150-170 million jobs in India by 2030.

It becomes important to articulate why we need to understand ‘women entrepreneurs’ and ‘women entrepreneurship’ better. Women-led businesses that represent 14% of the total enterprise in India are notably responsible for employing 30% of the country’s female workforce. While this number has been growing over the past decade, they remain largely invisible, hiring few, investing less and staying small. The 2022 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs shows that India ranks among the lowest in the world when it comes to women’s entrepreneurship. In addition to the enablers and challenges that affect entrepreneurship in general, women entrepreneurs face gender-specific barriers like lack of asset ownership, limited mobility, unpaid care work and lack of access to entrepreneurial networks. These factors have a significant impact on how women approach entrepreneurship and, hence, need to be captured, analysed and used for decision-making.

Measuring total entrepreneurial activity among women-led businesses and understanding what enables scalable, high-growth business are crucial to realize this potential. Yet, there are very few nationally representative datasets that allow for the tracking and benchmarking of the performance of different types of women-owned enterprises across states. While existing scorecards like the Female Entrepreneurship Index by Global Entrepreneurship and Development Institute, and Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs 2020 facilitate cross-country comparisons, they are unable to provide insights into intra-country differences in institutional mechanisms, business environments and entrepreneurial capabilities. Moreover, survey efforts that capture states of women in the sector provide insights that are relevant only for a specific point in time, and are often reactionary in nature.

Today, while there is a growing and evolving dataset with disaggregated data across men and women for key indicators like healthcare and education, the body of gender statistics in the context of entrepreneurship is weak and evolving. For example, in our national system of accounts, women’s care work and reproductive work don’t enter the mainstream. India has so far done only two time use surveys (20 years apart) and the people answering the questions on women’s time use are often men. They do not have a recognition of the work that women do or the perspective to articulate unpaid work as work.

The opportunity is not merely to measure women’s entrepreneurship but also to offer a definitional understanding of who is a woman entrepreneur in India today, what are her needs and the evolving landscape within which she operates. Finally, measurement can answer the critical questions of how enabling policies can accelerate women’s entrepreneurship

Measurement informs sharper policy and programming. If there is one lesson that is clear in policymaking in India, it is ‘what doesn’t get measured, doesn’t enter the realm of policymaking or programming’. Take the case of the Hindu Succession (Amendment) Act, 2005, enacted to remove gender discriminatory provisions that prevent equal share in property ownership for female heirs. While this landmark Act was passed, we do not have any disaggregated information on what kind of success it has achieved.

In partnership with the Maharashtra government and led by the Maharashtra State Innovation Society, the state’s nodal agency to support and promote startups and innovations, GAME and LEAD at Krea University are implementing a scorecard to measure women’s entrepreneurship. Specifically, the scorecard shall harmonize definitional issues around women entrepreneurship recognizing nuances of urban, rural, micro, small, nano, etc. Further, the scorecard will measure women-led entrepreneurial activity in urban and rural geographies across selected states in India. Finally, the scorecard aims to monitor key determinants that drive growth among women entrepreneurs and track regional entrepreneurial personas, throwing light on what institutional support has improved business level outcomes for women entrepreneurs. Drawing from LEAD’s experience in developing gender-focused scorecards with different stakeholders, mechanisms to ensure accountability and sustainability of measurement are included in the implementation strategy.

Upon successful completion, the scorecard, which will index both enablers and barriers of women entrepreneurship, will be the definitive stepping stone to developing a comprehensive women entrepreneurship policy for the state, which then could open up the space to realize its estimated potential.

(This was a topic that was discussed at ‘Charcha 2022’ organized by The/Nudge Institute, a convening of policy, business and civil society leaders.)

Sanjana Govindan is vice-president of women entrepreneurship at the Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship (GAME)-which was a co-host of Charcha. M.P. Karthick is senior data scientist leading data innovations work in LEAD at KREA University. Mint is the event’s media partner.

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