Late last year, I met Anjali Suttar, who runs a masala-making enterprise in a village in Maharashtra. Her business had an annual turnover of INR 40,000 with a modest INR 5000 profit every month which she would invest back into the business and use to pay staff salaries. The enterprise was modest, and felt stuck because she found herself unable to grow the business.
Our efforts at Google in India have been centered around unlocking the potential of the internet for every Indian citizen. In a multifarious country, with varying levels of education, deep linguistic diversity, and infrastructure that changes every hundred kilometres, this has required us to think from diverse perspectives to create products and experiences that are universally relevant.
But overcoming the gender ratio on the internet has been a big challenge, one that we have grappled with since 2014, when the representation of women was a dismal 1 in 10 of all internet users in rural India. This imbalance has a direct impact on the number of women who can harness the potential of the internet to learn and grow.
In 2015, the Internet Saathi program was initiated in collaboration with Tata Trusts with the simple objective of bringing basic digital literacy skills to women in Indian villages and have them become informal teachers for other women in their communities. Since then the program has touched over 30 million women across the country, who are now regarded as thought leaders in the community, and have tangibly improved their children’s educational prospects.
Encouraged by this, this time, last year we started a small pilot for an accelerator program for 10 women entrepreneurs in rural India across the Internet Saathi network. What we learnt from that programme is that women are eager to learn and adapt fast if given an opportunity and they need equity to grow.
The programme centered around solving for basic business issues like customer acquisition, selling and marketing, digital presence, management and self confidence. Within 3 months, we saw a rise in confidence among the participants and the women went back and applied the learning to their businesses. 80% of them started working on their digital presence and one of the participants had a working website within months.
Anjali, who I talked about at the beginning, used her time with the accelerator to learn the basics of financial management. She started working on her online presence, building her own website and also listing her products on other aggregator platforms like Flipkart. She managed to reduce the costs of her raw materials, bargained with her distributors to expand her margins and now has an annual turnover of INR 200,000. She employs 7 people in her enterprise and is also drawing a monthly salary for herself of INR 5,000.
Anjali Suttar, Sanskruti Masale, Maharashtra
We also saw participants who listed jewelry and home decor handicrafts on Amazon and Flipkart and are now delivering orders all over India, such as B.Lourdhamary, a kundan jewellery business owner in Tamil Nadu. Her business now has a turnover of Rs. 80,000 per month, after she listed it online.
Google My Business listing
That said, the work is far from done and we think of this simply as proof of concept for the urgent wider change that’s needed to foster greater gender equality in the labour market and boost economic growth. According to Powering the Economy with Her; a Bain and Google 2020 report, close to 45% of rural entrepreneurs believe that lack of structured knowledge and professional support proves to be a stumbling block for their businesses to be able to stand on their own.
Seeing the profound changes the program was able to deliver through the pilot, we have now joined hands with Sheroes to scale this to 500 rural women entrepreneurs by connecting them with experts, urban women entrepreneurs in the same or adjacent industries and enabling access to the right resources, guidance and mentorship over a 6 month period.
"Supporting women entrepreneurs with training, mentorship and community-led initiatives at all levels of the business ecosystem, is core to what Sheroes does via platform and community. Women led micro-businesses are triggering economic independence and jobs, and we are extremely excited to partner with Google Internet Saathi programme, to launch the Internet Saathi Accelerator. Hosted completely online, the program leverages the power of the internet, to support ambitious rural women micropreneurs. We look forward to scaling support for women entrepreneurs across the country," said Sairee Chahal, Founder and CEO, Sheroes.
By all accounts, the journey is still in its early stages but we are encouraged by its gathering momentum and look forward to creating a meaningful impact in India’s economic and digital landscape in the years to come.