‘Kerala can be a Role Model for Women Entrepreneurship’
Former Union Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan IAS (Retd.) stressed the need for having a new definition for entrepreneurship to suit India's social conditions. She was addressing women entrepreneurs in Kochi after inaugurating ‘Women in Business’ summit jointly organised by TiE Kerala and Women Entrepreneurs Network (WEN), a forum of women entrepreneurs in Kerala.
“The definition for entrepreneurship we borrowed from Silicon Valley with the standard paradigm focusing on attracting capital, growth rate, scaling up etc. has only limited relevance in our society. Only a few will be able to achieve that. We need new definition for entrepreneurship to suit our social system,” she said.
Aruna, adding further, said: “The large paradigm we ought to be looking at should be about small but sustainable enterprises that can be led by women.”
Commenting on various issues faced by women due to gender-based discrimination, Aruna said she felt the society has become smarter over the years in masking gender discrimination.
Women in Business, the State conference held to motivate and strengthen women entrepreneurs and professionals, became a game-changer, redefining the concepts and road maps to successful entrepreneurship models for women.
M S A Kumar, President, TiE Kerala and Chief Catalyst, Catalyst360 presided over the inaugural function in which George Thomas, Executive Vice President, ESAF Small Finance Bank; Sheela Kochouseph, Chairperson, Women Entrepreneurs Network (WEN) Kerala Chapter and MD, V-Star Creations and Maria Abraham, Director & Executive Editor, Dhanam Group also attended.
Reflecting on the event, Sheela Kochouseph said: “I am sure that the event gave women entrepreneurs and professionals a platform to interact and develop a strong feeling of connection, and inspire one another. They also got tips to innovate, launch and grow their business and learn from each other,” she said.
Earlier, in the inaugural address, Aruna Sundararajan termed Kerala’s Kudumbashree project as one of the most remarkable initiatives towards women empowerment in the world. The session on Success Stories of Kudumbashree Entrepreneurs literally turned out to be a validation of what the former bureaucrat had mentioned. Beena Paul of Kudumbashree Constructions narrated the struggle the all-women construction group had to undergo in its path to success. “Though formed in Ernakulam in 2013, the team, despite being trained, had to wait a year to receive a construction assignment. We would visit the Collectorate every morning to see if there was any work and come back disappointed. It was almost like we were working there. Most members left the group and only two of us from the initial 40 are associated with the initiative now,” said Beena, who was part of the initial team of 40 women trained in masonry for 90 days as a pilot project in Ernakulam in 2013.
In 2014, the team got its first break with a construction project of 100 houses for tribals in the district. “We built 10 houses in four months and a total of 87 for the project,” she said. The terrain was challenging. There was no water, electricity or approach road to the construction site, but we completed the construction by sheer force of will, she added. The Group is now involved in the construction of houses under schemes such as Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana and LIFE Mission, besides the ongoing State Government project of constructing houses for flood-affected families.
Shalini Pillay, Office Managing Partner, KPMG India delivered the keynote address on ‘characteristics of high performance individuals’. She pointed out that the ratio of women coming forward with ventures has not changed very much. “Nothing grows in the comfort zone. You have to embrace change and do something differently. We also need to stay relevant and constantly upskill,” she said.
Anjali Menon, film director and screenwriter, spoke on ‘inborn and management skills of women, elimination of gender bias and need for inclusivity’. Hemalatha Annamalai, President, TiE Coimbatore & CEO, Ampere Vehicles delivered a talk on ‘how to skill, scale and speed our business’. Her powerful lecture touched upon a number of topics ranging from clarity in articulating business ideas, power of endorsement and time management.
Leading the session on ‘funding option for women in business’, Padma Chandrasekaran, Angel Investor, Chennai Angels bluntly set aside the emotional side of women entrepreneurship stating that issues are almost the same for all entrepreneurs and what matters in the market is viability of the project. “Emotions apart, as an investor, I would be definitely looking at the drive of the entrepreneur, his or her capability to execute the project and of course, whether it will make money or not?” she said. Stressing the need for rational thinking, she also raised questions about according year-long maternity leave for women employees, drawing some sharp reactions from the audience. In a counter argument, Mridul Eapen, Member of the State Planning Board, said birthing was a social function and women employees must have such entitlements. However, Padma Chandrasekharan reiterated her points and said the Government should look at compensating the entrepreneurs to overcome the difficulties the latter face due to societal obligation. She also suggested tax rebates as one option.
In the panel discussion on ‘The Young and the Restless’, Nikita Burman, Founder & Partner, BlueBeans; Anu Joseph, Co-founder, Casaro Creamery and Nivedha R M, CEO & Founder, Trashcon Labs spoke. Padma Shri Usha Uthup, Anjali Uthup Kurian and Ayesha Elizabeth John charmed the audience with conversations on success stories in music and three music performances. Ramesh Menon, Lead Mentor, Save the Loom, did a presentation on ‘Gods own weavers – A story of resilience’. The event also showcased short videos on women who are engaged in out-of-the-box businesses.
Destination Kerala business magazine was the Magazine Partner of the event.