Krishna Dahya, an Indicorps fellow from California who has been working towards encouraging entrepreneurship among women in the City’s largest slum talks about failures, challenges and plans aheadKrishna Dahya firstname.lastname@example.org
I stepped into Rasoolpura equipped with my handy-dandy tool belt composed of all the equipment necessary to build a successful entrepreneur. I had the frameworks, the formulae, some experience, an idea of what it meant to be an ‘entrepreneur’, and how these traits, behaviours and characteristics could be built in others. What had not really crossed my mind were the tools that I was missing: I had no understanding of the residents that made up this community, had never lived in India, no knowledge of Telugu, a Hindi vocabulary that consisted of the most common words from Bollywood films and whatever transferred over from my limited grasp of Gujarati. “Developing entrepreneurship potential”, the objective of my focus in Rasoolpura, was going to be much more difficult than I had imagined.
It has been almost 11 months now since I arrived in Rasoolpura as an Indicorps (Indicorps is an non-profit organisation that encourages Indians around the world to actively participate in India’s progress through a grassroots service fellowship programme) Fellow partnered with the NGO Bhumi. I came to Bhumi to focus on entrepreneurship development in Rasoolpura. Ultimately, we want to create a micro-entrepreneurship hub (MEH), a platform for potential and existing entrepreneurs to access skill development trainings, mentorship support, market linkages, financial resources and information. The MEH should be self-sustaining in that the members are the ones who are managing and growing it.
The first step was to develop an entrepreneurship curriculum with which we could attract community members and make them entrepreneurs. Upon developing the curriculum we spent several months trying to interest women to take our workshops, with little success. Nayeem Bhai, one of the community leadership fellows at Bhumi, would assist with identifying women who might be interested in starting businesses. Each time we did not get further than a few meetings before everyone dropped out. The women wanted us to think of a business idea, and then give them piece-work that they could do at home and we would pay them for.
While I still hold that the best business ideas will come from the people in the community, I did not think about where the creativity to come up with these ideas comes from. Creativity is required for idea generation — and creativity requires stimuli- reading new material, visiting new places, meeting different people, watching the news etc. I was working with a largely Muslim population, the women I was encouraging to think of new business ideas rarely spoke to different people outside their family and their neighbours, were illiterate, and not allowed to venture too far out of their homes. Where were they going to get the stimuli to generate new ideas? These women were not ready for the curriculum I had created, I was trying to sow seeds in soil that was too hard and undernourished to accept them. The seeds I had created were too big and required a very fertile soil, we decided to create new seeds that could pave the way for more
fertile soil. The team at Bhumi started a jute and cloth product manufacturing enterprise to bridge this gap. Slowly through observing how business runs, interacting with customers, and most of all, building confidence, these women may be ready to start their own enterprises.
The frustration that came along with so many failed meetings and the inability to pilot out this curriculum I had put so much of myself into was huge. I was constantly battling between the ideals I had set for how things should be implemented, and what it was the women of the community wanted. My failures, (and this year I have collected quite a portfolio of them) have taught me more than my successes. Each time I learn something that allows me to be more effective in reaching my goal. All the preconceived ideas, the theories of business and micro-enterprise were thrown into the dust bin, the most important and effective means for success was to observe, to listen, and to ask the right questions.
With the new realisation on the power of observation, we decided to look at the current entrepreneurial environment of Rasoolpura. With the support of my mentor, Professor Radhika Meenakshi, a team of us surveyed about 50 micro-entrepreneurs in Rasoolpura, ranging from chai bandis to café’s. The statistics we found were revealing — about 60 per cent do not have bank accounts and do not make enough profit to cover their home expenses, and only 30 per cent of the ventures were run by women. How is it that micro-entrepre-neurship is a means to poverty alleviation when most of the businesses could not cover home expenses and therefore they had little chance of growing their ventures? It was no wonder that most of these micro-business owners would much rather have a steady job than a business, and it was no wonder so few people in the community were interested in becoming entrepreneurs. We identified several key challenges that they faced — infrastructure, financing, market linkages, skills, information, and competition.
Fortunately, there are many organisations focused on addressing these challenges. The issue is that very few of the residents of Rasoolpura know about them. In order to foster an entrepreneurship environment we first needed people to feel motivated and inspired to be entrepreneurs, and in order to do this, community members need to see that there is a chance of success, that there are people who have already succeeded, and that there are organisations that want to support entrepreneurs.
With this conclusion in mind we are having a micro-entrepreneurship mela. The mela will bring together potential and existing micro-entrepreneurs and organisations working in the space of micro-entrepreneurship development. We hope that with motivational speakers, success stories of micro-entrepreneurs from similar backgrounds, and exposure to the plethora of services available, we can inspire more of the community. We also hope that connections can be established among organisations present so that a more comprehensive solution to micro-entrepreneurship development is achieved. We hope that this is the start of a yearly event that can inspire new entrepreneurs.
The writer is an Indicorps Fellow from California who has spent the past year in Rasoolpura working with the NGO Bhumi.
Entrepreneurship mela to be held
The mela will be held on July 15 at the Rasoolpura Government High School grounds in Begumpet. The mela will consist of micro-entrepreneurs displaying and selling their products and services as well as organisations displaying the entrepreneurial activities they are involved in. If you are an organisation, micro-entrepreneur, or individual interested in attending, knowing more or participating please contact Krishna at email@example.com.