The COVID-19 pandemic opened doors to an entirely new business proposition for Satara-based Savita Dishe, who sold brooms at a weekly haat. When the markets shut due to the lockdown, Dishe obviously went out of business. As the lockdown eased a couple of months later, Satara witnessed a high rate of reverse migration. People working in cities such as Mumbai and Pune got back to their villages, and this gave Dishe her new business idea, which was to start a snack business.
Since the pandemic restricted movement, Dishe resorted to technology. She started a WhatsApp group and told people not only in her village but also in adjoining villages that she made the best Mumbai-style vada-pav in the vicinity. She soon had a beeline of patrons. She took orders online and also started billing and receiving payments online. She also sourced her ingredients online. A month later, when she got her license from Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) for her kitchen, Dishe became the first woman in her family to run a business of a certain scale.
Shamina Singh, President, Mastercard Centre For Inclusive Growth, says that COVID-19 has seen a spurt of women entrepreneurs in rural India like Savita Dishe, who have not just turned into savvy entrepreneurs but have also embraced digital solutions. "Pre-COVID, it was difficult to operate these businesses and scale. Post COVID digitalisation has accelerated. Women in rural India are calling for enabling tools to start their business," she says.
In 2018, Mastercard partnered with Mann Deshi Foundation to set up a Rural Women Chamber of Commerce, aimed to increase services for women-led businesses and strengthen sales networks among women entrepreneurs. It helps them solve issues such as access to best-in-class business practices, limited linkages to markets, constrained access to finance and minimal support to scale.
The chamber has set up chapters in Pune, Chiplun and Satara in Maharashtra which has touched the lives of 10,000 women entrepreneurs. The Mastercard and Mann Deshi Foundation are now setting up a new chapter in Kolhapur and expect to benefit 34,000 women by 2021.
Chetna Sinha, Founder and Chair, Mann Deshi Foundation, echoes Singh's view of women entrepreneurs taking to digital methods of doing business in a big way. "Women are coming to digital platforms not just for financial transaction but also to market their products. For marketing their products digitally, they have to make it attractive too. The chamber of commerce's digital platform helps them to be digitally savvy and teaches them to create their own digital source of money."
Sinha cites the example of a member of the chamber of commerce in Satara, Roopali, who transformed her school uniform business into a mask-manufacturing outfit during the COVID months. "She used the cloth she had bought to make uniforms into masks and her first customer was the Maharashtra police. She trained her staff virtually, bought raw material through virtual platforms and even created visibility for her products digitally. Roopali has, till date, sold a million masks."
More women than men have lost their jobs during the pandemic. Around 17 per cent men lost their jobs, as opposed to 23 per cent women. Singh of Mastercard agrees that women were disproportionately impacted by COVID last year, but she also says that they have been disproportionately innovative during the lockdown. "We made investments in technology upgrades for micro-finance platforms 3-4 years ago. When COVID hit, those partnerships actually yielded benefits. It allowed the likes of Mann Deshi to digitalise and start transacting digitally." Mastercard, says Singh, has made a commitment of Rs 250 crore to help reboot Indian SMEs and enable businesses recover amid the COVID-19 outbreak.