Women entrepreneurship is central to rolling out the vision of low carbon future as spelt out by the Paris Agreement. The inherent skills and qualities like multitasking, empathy and creativity that make women entrepreneurs more intuitive than their male counterparts also place them at the forefront of our fight against climate change. Not only because the attributes mentioned about have the potential to set up an enterprise for success but also because women are the ones most impacted by climate change. Any conversation or climate action without their involvement, at any level, would be incomplete.
I believe that the journey of our country’s economic growth and climate action is intertwined. India can have sustained double-digit growth only when women’s participation in the country’s economic activity rises substantially. Only 8 million women out of the total 58 million entrepreneurs in the country, just about 14%, are women. It doesn’t speak well for a country that is steadily climbing the ladder of global leadership.
Climate entrepreneurship does not grow in compartments
What would be a better way to encourage women to enter the mainstream economic activity than through climate entrepreneurship! This way, women not only become equal stakeholders in the mitigation and adaptation of climate change but also contribute to employment generation. However green entrepreneurship mindset never grows in silos and needs to be nourished with the enabling environment, at the policy level as well as in all other forms of hand-holding with a focused approach. Climate entrepreneurship needs training support, tools and programs, knowledge base, financial, technical and technological support, the list is long.
Need for a focused approach
The government in India, through policy interventions, wherever imminent, has tried to support the MSME sector. A decisive step in the direction was taken when it was made mandatory for all central PSUs to make 25 per cent of their annual procurement only from the registered MSMEs. The clause also mandated that out of that 25 per cent, 3 per cent of the procurement has to be from women entrepreneurs. The latter though may have got buried in the dust of time. Even a month or two ago the central government opened up its purse strings to support the MSMEs to counter the economic impact of the pandemic. A similarly focused approach towards hand-holding women climate entrepreneurs would be an encouraging move.
Visibility in funding platforms
Launching racks like the UN Global Climate Action Award, the UNEP- Renew Power partnership, WWF India-DLabs collaboration and ClimateLaunchpad are some of the funding sources women climate entrepreneurs can tap for funds. UNDP and ReNew Power together aim to help climate startups expand and develop their business, and polish leadership skills, all aimed at making the venture more attractive to potential investors.
It is good to see the emergence of new-age venture capitalists that are focused on funding only women-led businesses or even green private venture funds pledging capital to the growth of start-ups for climate change.
Creating green enterprises
A focused policy approach and government interventions are gradually ironing out the social biases and lack of family support that cultivated self-doubts among women and prevented them from taking an entrepreneurial part. Whether the share of agriculture declined first and manufacturing surged, or the vice versa, is a chicken and egg conundrum, but the reality is that women entrepreneurship has grown with manufacturing in rural India. Activities like pickle-making, basket weaving, handicrafts, stitching are no longer a source of only supplemental income. The startup ecosystem in rural India has not only started shaping up, women are gradually becoming a key contributor to it. As of August 2020, around 1 lakh enterprises were supported by the startup Village Entrepreneurship Programme which the government announced in 2016 to develop an ecosystem for entrepreneurship in rural India, out of those 1 lakh enterprises, 75% are owned and managed by women.
It is an opportune time for the governments and non-govt organizations to encourage women to set up green enterprises. SELCO Foundation for example is doing exemplary work in raising awareness on the use of solar as a source of energy, and working with banks and micro-lending agencies and helping green entrepreneurship grow.
It is the women who are driving the clean energy transformation in rural India. There is a battery of women entrepreneurs who are selling solar-based equipments like a stove, roti maker, lamps, sewing machines, and other solar appliances. By turning to solar-run pumps for irrigation, there is also an opportunity to turn agriculture regenerative.
A report on women entrepreneurship in urban India conducted by Global Alliance for Mass Entrepreneurship said that textile, food, personal services and education together combine 65 per cent of enterprises that are women-led and account for 58 per cent of female employment in urban India. Healthcare and tourism are the other sectors where women entrepreneurship is flourishing.
There is always an opportunity to convert these sectors into green by adopting clean technology or green energy solutions. The closest example comes to my mind is that of the Global Himalayan Expedition, one of the winners of the 2020 UN Global Climate Action Award. The enterprise, though not run by a woman entrepreneur, used tourism and solar technology to light up lives in the remote hills.
Change starts with awareness
There is a new crop of cleantech entrepreneurs in India who have start-ups in energy storage, smart metering, clean cooking, innovative EV solutions, battery technologies, energy monitoring systems, hydro turbine technologies etc. The common factor among them that stands out starkly is that almost all of them are run by men. The reason we don’t generally see many women climate entrepreneurs is also because we don’t see many women engineers. Not just in India, STEM fields are dominated by men globally and only slightly more than a quarter of the total ie. 28.8 per cent are women. The figure in India is strikingly lower at 14 per cent.
No doubt that the government’s focused approach on the education of girls has slowed down the school dropout rate of girls across India. But there’s also a need to expedite the change in social mindset that reinforces the stereotypes that there are only certain careers good for women, and STEM is certainly not one among them. Gitanjali Rao, the 15-year old Indo-American girl who received the first ever TIME ‘Kid of the Year’ award is a young scientist. During one of her media interactions she wished for a change in the conventional approach of the society that only an older, white man can be qualified to be a scientist. In India we need much more than that. We not only need more of STEM education in schools, we also need to de-compartmentalise STEM in India
The temperament for STEM begins in schools, and that is where we can tap the young minds, be it boys or girls, and inculcate the love for science in them. The earlier we enroot the mindset that STEM is not for boys alone, the better it would be for the growth of scientific temperament among girls or women in India.
Women in generation X and Y may not have seen voluble activism for climate action. Generation Z, some of whom may already have joined the workforce, are the ones facing the heat of climate change, which will only fire up in the days to come. It is up to this generation, and the next ones to line up a battery of women climate entrepreneurs. I see a window of change that has opened up. All we need is strong will power to build a momentous change. The rest will be history.