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SOCIAL INNOVATION: EMPOWERING WOMEN AROUND THE WORLD AND HOW



As Georgia O’Keeffe once said, “To create one’s own world takes courage.” Against the backdrop of a male-dominant society, this aphorism takes on a greater significance for Indian women looking for means to earn a livelihood. Across India, the gulf between men’s and women’s average rates of labor force participation is startling.

  • According to the World Bank, 79% of men as compared to only 27% of women are a part of the workforce in India.

  • This places India 120th among 131 nations for women workforce participation.

  • Out of 323 total executive directorship positions (generally considered to be prerequisite to becoming CEO) on the Bombay Stock Exchange 100, just eight (2.5%) are held by women.

  • In entrepreneurship, women start businesses at the same rate as men in only 10 countries.

A recent study by the British Council sheds some light on the matter. It found that, in India, “concerns about women’s safety are strong and often genuine while flexibility, availability of childcare and adequate pay are important given social norms that require women to reconcile work with household duties.”

Although tensions between a woman’s role in the home and work life are not endemic to India, the problem is especially damaging in a country where child-rearing as the domain of women has been deeply embedded in many minds. There is considerable social and culture pressure for Indian women to remain at home.

Businesswoman Anu Aga adds, “there is a tendency to give greater importance to a man's job than a woman's job in India. So, companies are not willing to make special allowances to integrate women after they take a break for becoming mothers."

For women in low-income families, the situation is particularly grave, as their inability to find employment both exacerbates and is exacerbated by their financial conditions. Many do not have the educational background or requisite skills to pursue employment in other areas and are therefore limited to household work.

Financial standing also has considerable implications in the social context. This is because self-reliance provides women with more decision-making authority within their families and communities.

Stunted by both, cultural norms - in a society that frequently sees women as simply homemakers, cleaners, mothers, daughters, and wives - as well as a lack of financial independence, women in low-income communities are ill-disposed to break the cycle of their poverty.

Fortunately, there is reason for optimism. Great strides are being made in the realm of women’s empowerment, with social enterprises leading that charge!

The social enterprise strategy combines a social mission with its commercial activities, a trait that sets it apart from traditional non-profits. The self-sustaining nature of this hybrid organizational structure has made it an increasingly attractive model.

AfterTaste, Chindi, and Iwasasari are three social enterprises in India (among the many) working towards women’s empowerment. These organizations share a common goal to enable disadvantaged Indian women by providing them opportunities to earn an income as artisans, and assisting the development of skills necessary for financial independence. In doing so, these organizations are also shattering social barriers for women with little education and formal training.

Each of these social enterprises leverage a unique element to empower women:

SPACE: Chindi creates a safe space for women to channel the skills they already possess (sewing, knitting, embroidering) to earn an income. A positive work environment is a crucial factor in encouraging participation in the labour force.

ART: “Art is such a strong medium,” says AfterTaste founder Shalini Datta. During a fellowship at Teach for India, she recognized the power of arts to inspire and engage. Having created the products from scratch by themselves, women are the agents of their own lives.

FASHION: Upcycling reflects much of the spirit of social enterprise, as the practice’s focus on sustainability is at the heart of its business model. This idea of sustainability also resonates symbolically for Iwasasari’s mission to help women earn a recurring income.

In the last few years, the budding social enterprise industry has greatly contributed to efforts in women’s empowerment. While the industry is still fairly young, it should also be viewed as holding tremendous potential for transforming the lives of women all over the world.

In India, approximately 33% of social enterprises are focused on women’s issues. The emerging sector is not only a source of employment for many women, but is also, in itself, a mechanism of empowerment. 75% women reported increased self-worth after starting a social enterprise, and 64% cited heightened confidence.

When asked how we can encourage more women to work in the space, those in the industry agreed that it was about creating awareness and supporting education. For Ogunte CIC founder, Servane Mouazan, it is important to “encourage women to think about the journey ahead and the potential for women to climb up leadership roles and be in paid executive roles. A large space given to mentoring and ‘sponsorship’ within organisations also helps.”


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