In the Bollywood movie English Vinglish, I remember a scene when everyone in the first session of a crash English course is introducing themselves. Sridevi a.k.a Shashi, mentions that she runs a tiny ladoo-making business from within the confines of her kitchen. ‘Oh, so you’re an entrepreneur,’ the English teacher exclaims. And Shashi’s eyes light up, for all of a sudden she’s now learned a new definition of her identity. One that enhances her own self-esteem in her eyes. In the blink of an eye, she’s gone from someone who thought she didn’t do anything exemplary, to an ‘en-tre-pre-neur’, a word she herself has to practice a few times before she gets it right.
As an Indian woman, there’s probably never been a better time to be an entrepreneur. As far as the glass ceiling of entrepreneurialism is concerned, the ceiling hasn’t just cracked, it’s been broken, even shattered. Repeatedly. In a nation that has traditionally seen a male-dominated entrepreneurial scenario, there is no dearth of women who’ve built and led successful ventures And that’s good news.
Yet, if I look back to my growing up years, it does strike me that female entrepreneurship is no new phenomenon. Rather one that’s been around since the last few decades. And there are several instances of this.
A prime example that comes to mind is the cooperative company structures Lijjat Papad and AMUL built. Allowing women to a taste of financial independence through employing household skills that they had anyway learned by default. A win-win situation for these commercial ventures and for the women. Many of these business models even went on to become case studies at B-schools, for they were pathbreaking attempts at employing latent talent in women that had otherwise been traditionally ignored. And in the process allowing women, who had mostly been financially dependent on menfolk, to earn their own livelihood.
Or, another regular character in my growing up days, the women I called the Tupperware and Avon aunties. The ones who usually were female acquaintances of my mother through her personal network of friends, family and kitty party members. Ones who would come home with glossy catalogues of kitchen ware items and cosmetics, trying to make use of salesmanship trainings they had acquired through becoming representatives of these companies, almost always convincing my mother that the products advertised in the catalogues were far better than their retail counterparts. And each of these women ran her own show as a company affiliate, growing her clientele, and sales volume through her own efforts. Some of them even managed to employ other women under them, creating their own sales hierarchies. And running them profitably.
And then every neighbourhood most likely had a pickle and tiffin aunty. The ones who ran tiny ventures out from home. Making pickles and lunches for those who didn’t have the time to make their own. And becoming indispensable in most cases.
Each one of these women is an entrepreneur. Irrespective of the size of the venture they ran.
And the trend hasn’t stopped, for even today, there are several many women who run successful small-scale businesses, from within their homes. And we’d all probably agree that they are as important as are the women who build unicorns. For they contribute in many ways, to our social economy. And personally, I have an extra element of respect for them. Because even without B-school degrees, venture capital and sometimes even a basic education, they did everything that is included in the definition of an entrepreneur. Take risks. Create value. Solve pain points. And in the process, earn identity and profit.