In the last few years, as we profile women from India doing amazing, inspiring work across different fields such arts, media, business and working for social causes, one of my personal favourites is the interviews that we have done with women entrepreneurs.
Not because women working in other areas are any less competent, but as an entrepreneur myself, I am thrilled to see women in India chasing big dreams and making them come true. These stories have a direct resonance for me, and I thought they would for many of you too.
In this post therefore, I am going to share stories of some of the most inspiring women entrepreneurs I have come across – not all of them are widely known beyond India, although some have achieved a lot of visible success too.
1. Deborah Thiagarajan, Dakshin Chitra: Deborah is not a conventional entrepreneur, in the sense that Dakshin Chitra, the cultural centre she started up, is not a for-profit venture. Yet, she is an entrepreneur who started something very new in the Indian context: a centre to revive and sustain some of the rich, but dying dying art, craft and architecture of South India. Dakshin Chitra today houses a fantastic collection of traditional houses from across the South, many of which were going to be torn down for lack of maintenance, and were painstakingly transported and reconstructed here. Thousands of tourists as well as local people visit the centre today, to view the architecture and participate in the many craft activities available.
I loved her take on preserving culture as a part of our lives: “If you only want factory made items, you’ve already taken a step away. If we can be modern in the sense of being hygienic, and yet retain our local way of life, culture can stay as part of life. It is possible to do it.”
2. Ishita Khanna, Spiti Ecosphere: Spiti is located in the Trans-Himalayan belt in India, in a harsh, mountain-desert area. It is a beautiful area, yet life is harsh for local people, and livelihood opportunities are few. Ishita's Spiti Ecosphere team has been working to bring sustainable tourism to the region – creating livelihoods for local people through homestays, culture trails and the sale of local people, without degrading the fragile environment.
3. Richa Kar, Zivame: Buying in lingerie in India, even in big cities, used to be an embarassing affair. Small stores with few choices, and the counters largely manned by men – your first priority used to be to pick the brand you always did, and get out quickly. The launch of Zivame a few years ago changed all of that. Today, the online lingerie market in India is booming, and Zivame, as one of the earliest entrants takes a lot of credit for that. Given how nascent e-commerce was in India even just a few years ago, I am sure it cannot have been easy for Richa to jump in. She took a chance, followed her instinct for the boom that would happen, and it looks as though she will be proved right. She says, “That thousands of women in India have now found a respectable way of making their intimate choices is a gratifying feeling.”
4. Sridevi Raghavan, Amelio Childcare: It is only in the last two decades that sizeable numbers of educated urban Indian women are stepping out to work. With that comes the challenge of childcare, especially as nuclear families become the norm and grandparents are no longer the default caregivers. Yet, with rental/space costs in India shooting through the roof, daycare tends to be expensive even for dual income households. Sridevi entered the market with a new format – an ‘on-site' model where the daycare would be located at pre-existing locations such as offices and residential complexes. This made sense for the business, as they could look at an immediate consumer base of those who worked/lived in the location, and also for users who found it easy to pick up and drop kids, as well as check on them during the day.
These stories inspired me especially because they are all stories of venturing into the unknown – looking at needs that existed but had not been fulfilled and often, with a big social pay-off as well.
Which women entrepreneurs from your country inspire you?
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