Sangita is a little anxious. She has already missed the morning train back home to Rewari, Haryana. As she waits at the Old Delhi railway station to catch the next train, the 38-year-old is hoping that scouring for the best material and zippers at Sadar Bazaar, Delhi’s wholesale cloth and accessories market, has not delayed production in her small sewing unit. She again checks the five big bundles placed at her feet and knows her purchases will be able to motivate the workers in her all-woman enterprise to make up for any lost time.

It is not only her 15-member unit that awaits her. Many students from marginalised communities at the centre running the women entrepreneurship development programme (WEDP) are eagerly waiting to learn the skills that helped make Sangita the first woman entrepreneur to make schoolbags in Rewari.

“I had to overcome many economic and social barriers as a single woman to achieve my goal to become economically independent. WEDP honed my skills and helped me boost my production by almost three times,” said Sangita.

Join the dots

Skilling of women is crucial to make them self-reliant and independent, according to Girls Count, a national coalition of over 400 civil organisations across India. Their ‘HerShare’ campaign, run in partnership with UNFPA, is pushing for the inclusion of asset ownership and financial independence of girls as an integral part of the government’s Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao programme.

The 2012 National Sample Survey Organisation revealed that 30 lakh women were unemployed in India. However, if female workforce participation rate was improved by 10 percentage points, India could boost its GDP by $2.9 trillion by 2025, according to a recent study by the Mckinsey Global Institute. This would be equivalent to bringing 68 million more women into the non-farm labour force.

The WEDP is a bid to increase this workforce participation by improving access to skill development and employment opportunities. Initiated by the American India Foundation (AIF), a not-for-profit, in partnership with Goldman Sachs and implemented by local partners, WEDP aims to develop 120 women entrepreneurs from underprivileged backgrounds in Rewari (Haryana), Noida (National Capital Region) and Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh).

“It provides and facilitates access to seed capital and credit linkages to financial institutions. It also ensures they have systems in place to pay back the loan... we want to create a women-centric entrepreneurship ecosystem,” said Hanumant Rawat, AIF.

Since her mentoring and support from SNS Foundation, the local partner in Rewari, orders for Sangita’s product increased dramatically. From three bags a month in 2015, she now makes 1,500 and has employed seven girls from the programme.

In Noida, WEDP has tied up with the National Institute of Entrepreneurship and Small Business Development and the Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow (Noida campus) to bridge gaps in basic mathematics, English, legal, financial and other essentials of business ownership, said Raushan Jahan of AIF Noida.

Bhartiya Micro Credit (BMC), the local implementing partner, has set up a showroom to enable the participants to showcase their products.

The writer is a Delhi-based journalist