Airtel Payments Bank, Frontier Markets and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth have announced the launch of ‘She Leads Bharat: Udyam’, an initiative to elevate 1,00,000 women-owned small businesses with resources, tools and opportunities to grow and diversify their incomes. 

She Leads Bharat: Udyam is a first-of-its-kind initiative that brings together the private sector, social enterprise, and philanthropy in the banking, financial services, and insurance sector to demonstrate a digital-first model designed to unlock ways for women-owned small businesses to increase their incomes.

This initiative will be funded by the Mastercard Impact Fund, while Mastercard will bring the catalytic capital and global expertise of its Center for Inclusive Growth to unlock tools, resources, and networks for the women-owned small businesses.

Also read: Job openings for women returning to workforce up 18%: Survey

In this first phase, the initiative will enable 1,00,000 women-owned small businesses in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh to learn and earn via Frontier Markets’ proprietary, flexible Meri-Saheli platform. 10,000 of these women small business owners will be further enabled to grow their business by becoming Airtel Payments Bank Business Correspondents (BCs) and unlock additional revenue streams. 

This is aligned with the bank’s vision of ‘Empowering India with Accessible and Inclusive Banking.’

“Taking our commitment forward to empower women in rural India to embark on their entrepreneurial endeavours, we are collaborating with Frontier Markets and Mastercard on She Leads Bharat: Udyam,” said Anubrata Biswas, MD&CEO, Airtel Payments Bank.

“We take pride to welcome them on board as business correspondents, joining hands with our existing network of 50,000 women BCs who play a vital role in taking banking and financial services to underserved rural pockets of the country. We look forward to our journey in building a financially inclusive economy.”

Ari Sarker, President Asia Pacific, Mastercard, said, “More women entrepreneurs are coming into India’s workforce and adding energy to the economy. When these business owners can access credit and digital tools, they can keep expanding and become more resilient. That’s good for their families, employees and communities. That’s what inclusive growth is all about”.

Also read: Indian PM says women self-help groups will be given drones; new scheme soon 

Ajaita Shah, Founder & CEO, Frontier Markets, said that Frontier Markets has built a technology platform investing in the power of women as driving forces for commerce in rural India. “This partnership strengthens and enables social enterprises like us to thrive and implement our goals at scale”, she added.

The partners envision ‘She Leads Bharat: Udyam’ helping to expand access to financial services, delivering a new blueprint for serving rural markets and extending women-owned small businesses with support tailored to their needs.

Women-owned small businesses face challenges that can often prevent them from achieving their full potential. 

In India, women-owned micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) constitute 20 per cent of all MSMEs yet receive only 5 percent of the total financing provided by public-sector banks. 

Also read: It’s a myth that MFIs empower women

They are often less digitised and receive less training to build their businesses.

However, when properly supported, women entrepreneurs are more likely to hire women, more likely to repay credit and more likely to share increased income with their families and communities, serving as core drivers of inclusive economic growth.