The first step towards entrepreneurship, innovation and change is access to right information and knowledge. Digital technology can act as the game changer for women entrepreneurs, particularly in rural areas. It can make a greater impact in the lives of women who run different kinds of micro small and medium businesses in rural and semi-urban areas. Technology can help them overcome many hurdles with timely access to right and relevant information, market, mentoring, capital and customers. The penetration of mobile phones in rural areas could be leveraged wisely to bring these women closer to the stakeholders in their business ecosystems. Let us look at how digital skills can empower rural women in their entrepreneurial ventures in different industries.
- Access to Information: Google Search and Google Voice Search bring a world of information to the rural women. These women do not necessarily have to be highly literate to use Google Voice Search. With basic training in using smartphones, they can learn how to capitalise on their home-made goods, livestock, and sources of business. Smartphones and internet also provide them with the necessary platforms to educate themselves on being micro entrepreneurs with ways to set-up a business to knowledge of market prices and other information at their finger tips.
Skills needed: Ability to use mobile phones, use simple mobile apps, tablets
- Access to Capital: Digital technologies are also linked with financial inclusion. Initiatives like Pradhan Mantri MUDRA Yojana (PMMY), StandUp India Scheme, Mahila Udyam Nidhi Scheme by Punjab National Bank, Bharatiya Mahila Bank Business Loan, Stree Shakti Package for Women Entrepreneurs, etc. are helping women entrepreneurs to realise their dreams. Women in rural and semi-urban can directly update themselves with information about such schemes through their smartphones without middlemen. They can then apply for the suitable schemes for their business ventures, thus finding the right means of funding their business.
Skills needed: Basic financial literacy, keyboard skills
- Access to Markets: With the advent of technology, the need to migrate to cities to expand one’s business can be reduced. Women entrepreneurs in rural and semi-urban areas can work from their homes and make use of WhatsApp, Facebook, calls and text messages to spread their businesses. They can sell their products through e-commerce portals that encourage rural and local businesses. They can tie-up with e-commerce sites to sell their products online. Organizations like Amazon are providing a boost to local and rural artisans and entrepreneurs. Rural women can exhibit and sell their indigenous products worldwide through these platforms.
Skills needed: Using social media like Instagram, Facebook, and taking photographs of good quality
- Customer service and engagement: It was near to impossible for these women to engage with their customer base prior to the digital age and build long term relationships. Women in villages and towns can now connect with local customers as well as the ones in cities. With the help of smartphones, they can take orders through WhatsApp, calls, texts, etc. Paytm and other money transfer applications can help them with the transactions. Individual or bulk orders can be sent to distant places through services like Express Parcel by India Post. Networking with consumers on a personal basis can help them grow their businesses. This can be done through social media platforms as well. Positive feedback, likes and shares of their products can take their business to new heights.
Skills needed: Using Whatsapp and other messaging apps
- Business in a networked world: Many organizations have come forward to train women in digital skills . For instance, Internet Saathi, a global initiative from Google, has trained women across numerous villages, With the belief that digitally-equipped women can change their own lives and their communities,. These women then search for knitting designs, recipes, and laws for women in India through internet. Digital skills can help them with transactions online through smartphones. They can even carry out bank transactions through the bank apps without wasting their time in long queues.
Skills needed: Navigating simple e-commerce sites, online transactions.
With the digital world available in many regional languages, knowledge of English is no more a barrier for using internet . A smartphone, low-cost data, and training in digital skills are everything rural women would need today to turn into an entrepreneur. It is time we digitally empower our rural women and help them transform their skills into successful businesses. Internet has changed the way we perceive literacy. Rural women can empower themselves with technology, even if they do not know how to read and write beyond basic literacy. Several governmental and non-governmental initiatives are being undertaken to help empower these women digitally.
(Edited Picture source: Free pic.com)
Guest Author: Rajesh A R, Livelihoods Enablement Enthusiast and Contributor to the evolving 3E (Education, Employment, Entrepreneurship) system in India.