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In Conversation with Kaarigars from Gujarat

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

The jury is still out on factors behind a preference for self employment and entrepreneurship. For the rural poor, entrepreneurship is devoid of the glamour of valuations and venture capitalists, and more of a mechanism: a choice to do what they love while contributing to their family’s income. In this month’s article, we dive deep into our conversation with 2 rural women entrepreneurs who have created jobs for hundreds of women artisans. We also revisit studies on rural women entrepreneurs in Gujarat and Tamil Nadu to corroborate the qualitative and anecdotal evidence from our in-depth interviews with Pabiben and Rajiben. Here are our lessons: 1. Education may not be a bar for entrepreneurship. ‘If we talk about my education, you might find it funny; I have only studied up to the fourth grade, not more,’ says Pabiben. Despite education being free of cost, she was unable to study as her family was unable to afford the fare of going to school. ‘So we left school. Later, I joined my mother at work. We did lippan (mud-mirror art) work, fill and fetch water for households, work on farms, and embroidery as well.’ Rajiben too mentioned studying only up to the second grade. ‘When I was young, we weren’t allowed to go to school. Yet somehow I managed to pass second standard and learnt some Gujarati. Over time I also learned Hindi, mostly just by watching movies and news on the television,’ she said. While lack of education has traditionally been thought of as a barrier, it may not be a prerequisite for entrepreneurship. In fact, studies (Acharya, M., 2007; Samani, Veena S., 2008) have shown that women with higher levels of education prefer service jobs over entrepreneurship. Those having lower education may not be able to find suitable jobs, and the need for income generation leads them to undertake entrepreneurship. 2. Support of Family Members is instrumental. Rao, 2002 studied the problems of women entrepreneurs in Chennai. Among the socio-personal problems, 70% faced lack of family and community support. Family support can be in the form of shared domestic responsibilities among family members, reduced dependence on male members for access to credit, or even motivation and encouragement to pursue and continue on their entrepreneurial journey, even in the midst of hardships. ‘When I was younger, it was my mother who supported and encouraged me, and now it is my husband,’ says Pabiben. Her husband used to work at a kirana store, but now supports her, in her business full time. ‘I don’t even know how to write and read a message — my daughter helps me with using Whatsapp.’ This is not atypical, as we see that women often rely on family members to learn how to use their smartphone, or for applications other than making and receiving phone calls. ‘My daughter sometimes gets irritated because of how much I trouble her to help me,’ she laughs, ‘but she always helps me.’ 3. Grit, motivation, and creativity are strengths of the entrepreneurs. Jaiswal, in 2004 attempted to identify the motivation behind women entrepreneurs’ work choices. The study found that economic independence, utilisation of existing skills and exercising creativity were the top 3 motivating factors. ‘The best part about my job is that I get to create livelihood not only for myself but also for the artisans who work with me, and all this by recycling plastic which would have otherwise been harmful for the environment. Sometimes it can enter the feed of our livestock, causing them to fall sick,’ says Rajiben. Pabiben gives an example of her creativity during the pandemic by explaining how she and the artisans connected with her created a new product offering to cope with the pandemic, as they were unable to go to sell their products through exhibitions. ‘We could not travel for exhibitions and did not have any customers visiting us either. It was then that we created a new product- the Local Gift Box. The best part is that we found work during the pandemic.’ She also gave away such gift boxes to influencers like Gita Rabari and Kinjal Dave, who are popular Gujarati folk singers, and who in turn posted pictures of these gift boxes on Facebook. ‘I have been making a list of people who can help us market our Local Gift Box’, Pabiben confesses. Moving forward in our work, we look at how entrepreneurs are different from livelihood seekers by studying the artisans who work with Rajiben and Pabiben. To support them and the artisans they work with, you could consider gifting their creations to your loved ones. You can find their work here.

References: 1. Acharya, M., (2007), Advanced Researches in Home Science: research Paper presented at State level Seminar On Home Science, Shri J .M. Patel Arts & Smt. M.N. Patel, Commerce Mahila College, North Gujarat University, Unjha 2. Samani, Veena S., (2008), “A Study of Women Entrepreneurs Engaged in Food Processing”, thesis PhD, Saurashtra University 3. Rao, P., (2002), Entrepreneurship and Economics Development, Kaniska Publishers, New Delhi. 4. Jaiswal, N., (2004), What Motivated Women to Opt for Entrepreneurial Career : A Study , Research Paper Presented at National seminar on Women Entrepreneurship — A Need for Training and Curriculum Development held by Development of Home Science Extension and Communication, Faculty of Home Science , M. S. University, Vadodara.

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