‘Women require space and support from the local rural ecosystem to become Entrepreneurs!’

Sunanda Pawar is known as a social activist, promoter of agricultural activities and founder of one of the most popular rural cultural carnivals in Pune called ‘Bhimthadi Jatra’. As the 17th edition of this Jatra is about to take place, Sunanda Pawar spoke to Neha Ghatpande, Senior Program Officer, CEED at Gokhale Institute about her experiences as an enabler of women entrepreneurship in rural areas of Maharashtra. 

What do you think are the biggest challenges for women from rural areas to take up entrepreneurship?

One of the biggest challenges that we have observed is that they face family pressure. If they want to go out and earn money on their own, their intentions are questioned. Then there is a lack of education and healthcare available for women. They also lack spaces in the village where they can share their ideas and people involved in the local governance are hearing them out.  I think entrepreneurship should be communicated as self-reliance, a medium to become financially independent and also as opportunities of earning an income that will not only support women but also their families. 

Do you think that finding the initial seed money for such family based or nano businesses is also a big challenge? 

Yes, it is. We can easily say that banks are reluctant to hand out loans to such nano organisations because there is no guarantee of profit or recovery. There is also the question of lack of sustainability and the ecosystem at the village level that will help such women entrepreneurs. But if connections between the entrepreneurs and the banks are established then, banks are willing to hand out loans. For example, in Karjat Jamkhed Taluka, banks at the village level have handed out loans worth Rs 9.5 crores to small agri  and home based businesses led by women. They have satisfactory recovery rates because a local governance system has helped establish the connections between banks and the businesses. 

Do you think such models of finance can be replicated elsewhere in Maharashtra or India? 

Yes, it can be but it requires support from the local community and government. It requires a political will and an ecosystem to nurture these smaller businesses. For example, self help groups and the microfinance model, became a movement across Maharashtra but now it is struggling to sustain due to various reasons. Hence, in my experience, it is important to create and provide a space for women to share their business ideas. They should be doing business in the field that they are interested in. Identifying and supporting the area of interest and enabling market linkages is also very important. We have done that through Bhimthadi Jatra. We have given them a space, and connected them to the customer. It is up to them to sustain and take it forward. 

What is one of the most important success stories that have come out of Bhimthadi Jatra

One of the biggest examples of a successful entrepreneurship that has been enabled by Bhimthadi Jatra is that of SantKrupa Mahila Gruh Udyog. They were a small group of women producing home made food products in a village in Satara district. They became part of Bhimthadi Jatra, and received a fantastic response because their products were of high quality. They took off from that success, maintained customer relationships and started growing. In the span of the last decade or so, they have had a turnover of Rs 7 to 8 crore. They source pulses, chillies from small farmers across Satara and Pune district and employ 400 women across these two districts to produce their products. This model has worked very well and now they have outlets in malls in Pune and Bangalore. They have focused on authenticity, good quality of raw material and great packaging. This is one of the best examples that can be replicated even elsewhere.  

(Bhimthadi means a region that is on the banks of river Bhima which flows through several areas of Pune district and beyond. Jatra means a carnival, typically that takes place in a village. The name Bhimthadi Jatra is symbolic of the space and platform they have created to promote rural entrepreneurship through the carnival.)

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