January 2, 2012
Written by: Anna-Lisa Bowans
As we wrap up 2012, we at Be! Fund are taking a few moments to reflect on all the work that our team and our entrepreneurs have achieved over the year. This year, we invested in 12 new entrepreneurs, including 9 women. Each of these women entrepreneurs came to us with a solid business idea that would solve a problem in her community and the daring to board the entrepreneurial roller coaster to success.
And really, 2012 has been an overwhelming success for our women entrepreneurs. Yellawa has now taken her specialty pickle business to scale and has created three jobs for young women from her Dalit community. She is a role model for local women proving that even the youngest can run their own successful and innovative businesses. Kavitha is an expert at making Jowar rotis (staple bread in North Karnataka). These rotis are in high demand in her area and she is supplying them to many hotels. Kavitha employs four women from the Dalit and Devadasi communities—empowering women from communities so bound by caste that women are rarely allowed to work outside their homes. Each woman earns Rs. 2,500 per month ($50) that they use to support the education and health of their families. Mageshwari harnesses the sun’s power to bring light to homes of her community and is a constant innovator—always developing products to meet the needs and pocketbooks of her customers. Her community faces constant power cuts, but now over 750 children study in tuition centers in 5 KGF villages every night by 60 solar lights made by Mageshwari. Mageshwari’s business has also helped more than 100 homes light up at night with solar energy.
As an early stage entrepreneur, there will certainly be challenges along the path to building a sustainable business. Jayanthi, who creates beautiful candles from recycled church wax, lives in a slum with contaminated water often making her daughters and mother fall sick. Lakshmi, who makes recycled paper bags, has had to take time off from her business to help her family through some legal troubles. Our women entrepreneurs constantly inspire us not because they don’t face challenges because they are able to build successful business in spite of them.
The stories of the positive impact of these businesses go on and on. This year’s women entrepreneurs span the age group from 20 to 35 years old; they received investments ranging from $560- $3,200; they live in urban slums and rural villages. Each business is unique to the woman running it and the community where she lives and the people she serves. But all of our women entrepreneurs have one thing in common—the commitment to establishing and running innovative businesses to solve problems in the communities where they live.
Starting a business is not easy. It’s even harder if someone has invested in your idea because you’ve got a lot to prove. The pressure is on, and the world is watching. Often businesses take longer than anyone would hope to turn a profit, they take up all of your waking hours (and even dream time), you become obsessed, driven, impossible, and certainly not laid back. What if you are a mother too? Is it possible for women to do both, or do they still have to choose?
Be! Fund commits to make 50% of its investments in women. While that may be easy to say, it’s not so easy to achieve. Women are far less likely to self-elect, come forward, have an idea, think they can be entrepreneurs – than men – when it comes to deciding if a husband or a wife should work, well you know the answer. In the chance that women do come forward and decide to work, to set up a new business, they will always be pulled by other pressures, family, society, pressures that expect them to defer their business operations to another level of value.
We travelled to meet and catch up with our women entrepreneurs to try to understand it better. Are our ‘good’ businesses good or bad for kids?
Jaynathi’s candle business uses recycled wax from churches to make candles to light her slum with no electricity – she has created three jobs for women. For her eldest daughter, Nadhini 20, she’s an inspiration. Nadhini says “After seeing mother run her own business and improve the lives of people where we live, I too started a Saree business to help pay for my son’s medical treatments – because I could see we could do both, look after our families and work.”
Dhanalakshmi’s Tiffin Service
Dhanalakshmi is 32 years old and lives in Kumaraswamy in Bangalore which is surrounded by many education institutions and industrial areas where migrant students and labourers flow in from different parts of the state for education and work. Dhanalakshmi knew the problems that students and migrant workers from middle and low income groups living in shared rooms were going through to access good quality, hygienically prepared food at an affordable cost. To bridge this gap, Dhanalakshmi started a tiffin service and a food center a year ago which has been providing affordable, hygienic and healthy home-cooked meals to migrant students and migrant laborers. Dhanalakshmi has been constantly flooded with requests to cater to more customers from students as well as other bachelors and construction labors since her food is tasty, healthy and hygienic at the same time it is affordable i.e. Rs.25-30 less than the small hotels.
Dhanalakshmi has been planning to scale up but has not been able to save enough for expansion due to low margins which is a result of having to do everything by hand such as cutting vegetables and making chapatis. She was turned down by banks due to lack of collateral / security. Dhanalakshmi heard about Be! on TV and decided to apply. Dhanalakshmi passed three rounds of interviews and will be expanding her business starting September 2012.
Dhanalakshmi’s business is expected to create an impact Women Employment: The business creates two jobs for women from the same community with a good salary and excellent working conditions. Heath: The tiffin service directly improves the nutrition intake and food quality for 30 migrant students from low income communities. The food centre will cater hygienic food to more than 30 daily wage workers and at an affordable price. Education: The business provides healthy, hygienic, homemade foods to college students at affordable price so they can complete their education without being in debt, or at a health risk.
Yellawwa is 20 years old and lives in a village called Budhiyal in Badami Town, North Karnataka. Badami Taluk is included in the list of “Most Backward” taluk of Bagalkot districts and is home to many people from the Dalit community known as “Madigas” which is one of the most marginalized and discriminated groups in India. Yellawwa belongs to the Madiga community. This community has been traditionally occupied in making leather but has now lost their primary source of livelihood due to uncertain rules on making leather. Absence of alternative sources of income, forces young men and women to migrate to other states for work. Girls from this community have poor access to education and are often at risk of entering child labor, bonded labor, trafficking.
Yellawwa knows how to make chutneys and pickles, she has completed a training in “Food Processing and Packaging Technology” sponsored by The National Science & Technology Entrepreneurship Development Board, New Delhi. After the training, Yellawwa decided to start her own business to change the way things were in her community. She knew that starting a business will help her and other women in her community to become economically independent.
Yellawwa approached a local Grameen bank and micro-finance organization for a loan but was not able to get through because she is very young, and does not have any collateral or security. Yellawwa heard about the Be! Fund through a movie screening and decided to apply for an investment to scale up her current business. She has passed three rounds of interviews and is expected to expand in September 2012.
The major impact of Yellawwa’s business is that she will be creating jobs for three more women from her community - she knows as a woman she can do it, and she wants to be a role model for other women in her community.
Be! Fund is India's first risk capital fund for young people who live in poverty.
Our big Be! Movies just aired on national television in India. Each story is about a young entrepeneur who lives in poverty and one day decides to solve a problem by building a business. Every movie is a Bollywood epic, 22 minutes long and at the end we ask, "Do you have a business idea that solves a problem where you live? If so, please call the Be! Fund." Our movies aired on STAR and we received over 68,000 calls from young people who live in poverty and have business ideas to solve local social problems. There are still 200 young people going through the selection process, but the first round is in: please find their hero stories in the attached report, we hope you like reading their stories.
Be! Fund is India’s first risk-capital fund for young people, ages 18-29, living in poverty to pioneer businesses that solve problems they face in their lives. From water to waste, energy to shelter, we believe that young people have enterprise solutions to the problems they face; they have just never been given the chance to solve them.
We believe that young women in particular have the potential to create jobs for other women and transform their communities. That’s why more than half our investments are in women’s businesses.
And that’s why we have partnered with NGOs that work specifically with women to arrange Be! Movie screenings and encourage women to become entrepreneurs. We are also running radio plays featuring stories of women entrepreneurs on several radio stations during their “women’s programming hour,” asking them to submit their ideas to the Be! Fund for investment.
Yet we also recognize that poor young women face many challenges in starting businesses. From limited education opportunities, to household and childcare responsibilities, to unsupported families and lack of confidence, the odds are stacked against them.
Matilda Pereira, Be! Fund Bangalore Manager, says “It is very difficult to find women entrepreneurs below the age of twenty-nine. Often young women will call with business ideas, but their parents or husbands will not allow them to attend the first round interview. If the woman is unmarried, their families say ‘she won’t be able to continue the business once she gets married.’ If she’s married, they say, ‘she won’t be able to continue the business once she has children.’”
Matilda adds, “But we have more success with women who are in their thirties. For example, Archana [Be! Fund entrepreneur] has been married for seven years so she has more power in her family, which would not have been the case if she were newly married.”
Archana is one woman entrepreneur we are funding. She is starting a business of recycling areca leaves into tableware that will replace harmful plastic and she plans to eventually employ six low-income women.
Sharada is another Be! entrepreneur. She is starting a sanitary napkin making unit that will provide low-cost napkins that will solve health problems and allow thousands of women to work and go to school. She will hire two other young women to help her.
It is women like Archana and Sharada, who are beating the odds, to create jobs and solve problems in their communities.
We are going to tell Archana’s story and Sharada’s story on TV and in books that go into schools to inspire the next generation of women entrepreneurs—so that young girls, sitting in classrooms in Bihar, who have never been asked, “What business will you start when you grow up?” will finally have real hero entrepreneurs they can look up to.
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