Celebrating Female Entrepreneurship with International Women's Day 2020
Earlier this month was International Women’s Day. A time to celebrate and recognise the achievements and success stories of enterprises focused on working with women towards greater gender equality.
Two inspiring examples of SEED’s many award-winning enterprises working with women are Masupa Enterprises in Uganda, run by Margaret Kyamulabi, Executive Director, and Frontier Markets in India, founded by Ajaita Shah, CEO.
Margaret's past work with the Uganda Red Cross and Ajaita’s experience in India’s microfinance sector exposed them to the realities and struggles of rural women and rural communities. And that was what led both to start their journey as female-focused enterprises that work with and invest in women to drive social, environmental and economic change.
The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s latest report finds that women startups are more motivated by making a difference in the world than money. So, if we want to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), then we need more female entrepreneurs.
“Without women’s leadership and full participation, we will never achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development or defeat climate change.” - António Guterres, UN Secretary General
Creating more opportunities for women to enter the workforce and to take up leadership positions benefits everyone from businesses to countries’ economies. For example, women in India contribute only 18% to its GDP, which is far below the global average of 37%. The country could add about $770 billion (an 18% increase in GDP) in 2025 by advancing women’s equality, according to a report by McKinsey. In Uganda, addressing gender inequality in education and in formal sector employment could gain the country as much as two percentage points of GDP growth per year, according to a report by the World Bank.
One way to drive female empowerment is through eco-inclusive entrepreneurship. Involving women as owners, producers, suppliers, innovators and decision-makers generates employment opportunities to others and improves families living standards.
For International Women’s Day, we talked to Margaret Kyamulabi, Executive Director of Masupa Enterprises and Ajaita Shah, Founder & CEO of Frontier Markets about their enterprises, their motivation, their role in their communities and why they choose to work with women.
Margaret Kyamulabi, Executive Director of Masupa Enterprises - Uganda
SEED: What is Masupa & how does the business make money?
Margaret: We produce and sell briquettes and cookstoves. The briquettes are cheaper than charcoal which has negative environmental and health impacts as they are made from organic waste such as agricultural residues. We also facilitate community training to raise the community’s awareness about the briquette industry and to teach those who are interested in making briquettes, so they can take it up as a business.
SEED: How did you get into this, and what continues to motivate you?
Margaret: I grew up in a village in central Uganda, in an area that was the most affected by the civil wars we had. Most people relied on agriculture, and as population growth increased, people no longer relied on seasons, and that affected the agriculture setup. After graduating, I became a volunteer with the Uganda Red Cross. This allowed me to move around Uganda and access communities in disaster areas. Through this, I was able to witness the impact of the changing climate on my community, so I wanted to work in an organisation that was helping people adapt to the impacts of climate change.
I am motivated by women, youth and climate change. The environment in some regions has changed a lot, many trees have been cut down, and it is very expensive to cook a meal. Low- and middle-income households cannot afford to buy charcoal, but now they can buy briquettes that are recycled from waste.
SEED: How, would you say, does your enterprise affect the local community?
Margaret: We empower female farmers in rural communities by training them on waste collection and making briquettes. We raise the community’s awareness of the negative environmental and health impacts of traditional cooking fuels. For every 1 kg of briquettes, we save 3-7 kg of wood. 80% of the people we have trained are women. We established a market for waste products to engage youth, women and waste collectors in collecting, sorting and drying waste to sell to Masupa.
SEED: What would you like for women you work with to have in the future?
Margaret: I would like them to become self-reliant, to be able to run businesses, to become entrepreneurs themselves, to own their family affairs and to be able to sustain themselves.
Ajaita Shah, Founder & CEO of Frontier Markets - India
SEED: What is Frontier Markets & how does the business make money?
Ajaita: We are a product and service platform for last-mile rural households. Our model combines women entrepreneurs, physical delivery infrastructure and technology (an e-commerce app). We started out by distributing solar lighting products. We now sell smartphones, internet data packages, and we facilitate financial services. The mission is to become an access platform that offers all kinds of products and services to rural households, to create a better life for them. As 70% of our customers are women, they are the key to making that happen.
We recruit women from local villages as our Solar Sahelis (sales agents). Today we have a network of 3500 women entrepreneurs and an average of 1.3 million Indian Rupees worth of sales. With a retention rate of 90%. Because when you help women earn an income, gain skills and build a reputation of impact in their villages, they see this opportunity as a long-term value-driven change.
SEED: How are you able to partner with local governments and NGOs?
Ajaita: We know that our value is in building access, creating a distribution model, empowering women, getting them jobs and working with customers. We work with local NGOs because being local, they are much better equipped on policy and research and social empowerment. We screen NGO partners that care about these issues, and then we work collectively to share insights about rural customers and households.
We are now partnering with each state’s rural livelihood mission which includes over 300 million women – this is the largest initiative that the Indian government invested in 25 years ago when it came to women empowerment to scale our solution. Local governments see the value of our approach in driving markets and economic empowerment. It’s an incredible opportunity to see how, with the right kind of partnership, we can start leveraging our infrastructure more effectively to be able to scale our solutions.
SEED: How do you feel the outlook is for women in your country?
Ajaita: Women are going to be instrumental in shaping the next ten years of this world, and we need to start recognising it in a much more pragmatic way, not a challenging way.
Female entrepreneurship is needed on a huge scale to achieve gender equality and sustainable development, and these women represent inspiring role models for young females to follow.
Find out about SEED’s other female-led and focused enterprises here.