Aspirations Unshackled… Opportunities Unearthed

The number of employed individuals saw a decrease of 10.9 million from December 2017 to December 2018, according to a report by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy. The break-down of employment statistics tells us that 8.8 million jobs lost in 2018 were by women, of which 6.5 million belonged to rural India.

 Asha Devi, a middle aged woman entrepreneur from Dhannipatti village in Uttar Pradesh, who has never “worked” professionally in her life before, set-up a vermi-composting unit

Asha Devi, who had never “worked” professionally in her life before, set-up a vermi-composting unit in Dhannipatti village in Uttar Pradesh.

Unleashing the entrepreneurial potential of women is central to unearthing employment opportunities and enabling sustainable development. This calls for more innovations, tools and platforms to overturn socio-cultural barriers and internalised constraints such as restrained mobility and risk-aversion – thus empowering women. And yet, more efforts also need to be channeled into addressing other facets of entrepreneurship – the several others being left behind. On one hand could be a young woman of age 22, who wants to build an enterprise of selling handicrafts online — understand the dynamics of online businesses even when she has no smart phone – by herself, not with others’ help. And on the other hand could be a young man of the same age, who wants to set up a centre for online computer courses, envisioning the exploitation of digital growth as empowering, but lacking support to utilise such an enabling tool.

Both are facets of entrepreneurship, of empowerment, and both equally aspirational — but also with completely different definitions. And we need to promote them all. But to enhance empowerment, innovation is required in standardising enterprise support services, and at the same time customising solutions for each entrepreneur persona with their unique needs. Institutions, however, are currently tuned in a linear way of responding to entrepreneurs. Such linearity makes one wonder, where do the entrepreneurs go?

Inspired by the current challenge, Development Alternatives has channeled its efforts into capturing new narratives by unshackling aspirations and the unfulfilled potential of empowerment, enabling self-actualisation of entrepreneurs. We have created a design-driven research process of building entrepreneur ‘personas’ to customise solutions to specific contexts, needs and aspirations. And in order to develop effective and efficient delivery mechanisms that accelerate dissemination of these solutions, forward looking innovations are required. Digital empowerment is a powerful tool for accessing information, setting up enterprises and using e-commerce to upgrade businesses. Development Alternatives has deployed a self-employment app to internalise entrepreneurship in individuals and create a culture of inspiration around it. We are also launching a Digital Platform to provide a support system for entrepreneurship — conceptualising and realising business ideas, and linking aspirants with ready stakeholders and market.

However, considering the magnitude of challenge that confronts us, we cannot effect change alone. Convergence is required in the ecosystem to unlock an environment where entrepreneurial ambitions can flourish. We, as changemakers, not only need to come together to capture growing evidence of entrepreneurs’ abilities and respond to their needs, but also create a multiplication network for drawing attention of policy makers and financial institutions to the potential of local and decentralised enterprises.

We believe the time is now to deconstruct and rediscover the existing structure around local and decentralised entrepreneurship – leading entrepreneurs to become engines for driving job growth and creating resilient local economic systems.

Kanika Verma

The views expressed in the article are those of the author’s and not necessarily those of Development Alternatives.

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