In South Asia, poor rural women have begun to set up lucrative new businesses

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Across South Asia, our agriculture and rural development projects are helping transform the lives of poor rural women. From daily wage laborers they are now becoming entrepreneurs who generate jobs for others.  Over the last decade, these projects have supported an estimated 5 million micro and small entrepreneurs, most of whom are women.
Asha, from Udaipur District in Rajasthan, used to sell vegetables in a nearby town.   Over time, this traditional village woman observed that flowers were in demand near the town’s main temple for use as ritual offerings. With encouragement from Manjula, a micro enterprise consultant under the Bank’s Rajasthan Rural Livelihoods Project (RRLP), Asha began cultivating marigolds on part of her family farm where millets had always been grown.  Manjula helped Asha draw up a basic business plan for a floriculture enterprise, taught her how to estimate potential expenses and earnings, and the way to maintain accounts. Asha now sells flowers at more than three times the price of her traditional millet crop, and her annual income has increased by 35%.  She has devoted a larger area of her farm to floriculture, and started a nursery to grow flower saplings to sell to other aspiring marigold farmers.  Asha is now looking to expand her sapling nursery by renting more land, for which she is seeking a bank loan.

Outside Kathmandu in Nepal, Ambika Ranamgar used to work for building contractors, cutting marble and laying tiles in houses under construction. Then she struck out on her own. With encouragement and support from a community mobilizer under the Nepal Poverty Alleviation Fund (NPAF), Ambika took a loan of Rs. 80,000 ($740) to buy her own equipment, including a marble-cutting machine and a generator to power the machines during the city’s frequent power cuts. She then scouted for work visiting local hardware stores, and gradually began to get more clients. Ambika’s income has now more than doubled from her daily wage of Rs. 600 to reach between Rs. 1,000 to 1,500 rupees per day. She is now focused on getting more business and managing her supplies and workers.  At the time we visited her, Ambika had employed five workers, including her husband, and was busy laying the flooring for two houses.

 Nepal - Anamika Ramgar

In the textile cluster of Tirupur in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, Aandal labored for a daily wage. After her husband passed away unexpectedly, she was forced to leave her work and move back to her village. With support from staff and community workers of the Tamil Empowerment and Poverty Reduction Project. Andal applied for a loan of Rs. 230,000 ($3,484).  She used the money to buy seven second-hand sewing machines, hired workers, and built a new shed to house them. Project staff helped Andal register her business, get approvals, and fill out a loan application. They also linked her to a buyer and provided continuous assistance through a technical consultant. Andal now employs 11 workers and has an annual turnover of more than Rs. 10,00,000 ($15,150).

Tamil Nadu- Aandal
These women’s stories show how technical assistance, access to credit, and ongoing mentoring can turn poor women workers into dynamic entrepreneurs who create jobs for others.  With the next generation of South Asia’s projects and public programs increasingly focusing on enterprise development, these examples hold two core lessons.
First, interventions need to clearly define enterprise growth, differentiating between subsistence self-employment and the types of “growth-enterprises” that these examples illustrate. A few characteristics are common to such growth enterprises: the founder leverages work experience and domain specific knowledge to address a market demand or gap; they require higher financial investment than typical self-employment options; they sell to larger mainstream markets; and they employ non-family workers. 
Second, helping women gain work experience in “growth sectors” is an important precursor to raising women’s entrepreneurship rates. Too many publicly supported interventions in the region restrict training and support services to women in gendered self-employment occupations such as tailoring and “beauty treatment”. Instead, interventions need to focus on helping women access fast-growing sectors such as highly skilled construction jobs and high value agriculture. As these examples show, helping women entrepreneurs is not only transformational for them and their families, but also boosts job creation and spurs economic growth in their countries as well.


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