In 2016, we launched a pilot program to mentor women entrepreneurs in Tier 2 and 3 cities in India with the objective of empowering young women and encouraging them to consider entrepreneurship as a viable career option. We titled this program Project All India Roadshow for Women’s Economic Empowerment through Entrepreneurship, or Project AIRSWEEE as most of us call it.
Our initial mandate was simple and straightforward. We invited qualified mentors from the US and India to hold workshops in 10 cities and then offered remote mentoring to the selected subset of the 575 mentees. However, this allowed us to study nuanced societal norms and their significant impact, a careful assessment of which can provide serious prescriptions for many societal challenges.
Here Are Some Of The Key Takeaways
Multi-dimensional ripple effect
The effect of economic empowerment has a multi-dimensional ripple effect. We noticed the strong correlation between economic independence and improvement in self-esteem, psychological well-being, familial and societal respect for our participants.
This was a curious increased domestic violence. When we quizzed some of our participants who admitted to being abused before Project AIRSWEEE on why their experiences were different, they noted that the true impact was the development of greater self-belief that came with knowing that the ability to create value lay within them. This was profound.
Pay it forward, multiplier effect
It is well established now that investing in women is an investment in communities. We noticed this first hand, as many of our mentees voluntarily chose to take the knowledge they received from our mentors and share it with lesser fortunate women.
We found our mentees became strong spokespersons who participated as speakers in universities, industry event and business forums to amplify the message of women entrepreneurship. Some of our mentees taught rural women through the partnerships we forged with other platforms like Internet Saathi, a digital literacy program for rural women in remote villages in India.
Our mentees have become mentors themselves and the multiplication has just begun!
The secret sauce
The underlying secret to this prolific impact is the simple, age-old phenomenon of creating a community. This is the support system that was missing in their professional lives as a woman entrepreneur and herein lies the discovery.
While boys and men have traditionally had access to formal and informal professional groups, business-women and especially women entrepreneurs have not had as robust access.
It is this very support system that is so invaluable. We trade best practices, find resources, share joys, concerns, fears of failure and find kindred souls responding with affirmative support when we need it most. By leveraging technology, we stay informed and stay engaged and reinforce the intentionality of commitment to equal treatment of women.
Secretary Clinton’s famous comment about “it takes a village…” just as easily applies to women entrepreneurs such that new entrants can be inspired by the “community” of women entrepreneurs that will cheer them on.