The devastating effects of this pandemic have blanketed all businesses and industries, but it’s had a disproportionate impact on women-led enterprises. India currently has about 13.5 to 15.7 million women-owned enterprises—largely single-person businesses—which factors to less than 20% of all enterprises. This is in addition to the already low female labour force participation rates, with the proportion of unpaid women workers in India (66%) being much higher than that of their male counterparts (12%).
Add COVID-19 to the mix, and the overall picture only gets worse. But as Sheryl Sandberg once said: “Knowing that things could be worse should not stop us from trying to make them better.” And this conviction has to run deep within India’s women entrepreneurial circles, because at last count, 50% of them have said they’ve changed their business models to resist the short-term impact of the pandemic.
A joint report by Bain & Company, Google and AWE Foundation surveyed and conducted detailed interviews with about 350 women solopreneurs and small business owners in urban India to understand how their businesses have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and how they’re planning to cope with it.
About 73% of the respondents claimed that they have been negatively impacted by the crisis, and almost 20% witnessed the revenue of their businesses nearly wiped out. The report finds that the main challenges that almost 45% of the respondents cited was the lack of customer orders leading to muted demand. And about 30% of the women entrepreneurs also spoke about challenges propping up in their personal lives—with the pandemic placing more pressure on them to carry out their domestic responsibilities. 28% of respondents also cited disruptions to supply and 22% pointed towards lack of financial resources for their condition.
However, hard work, conviction and a refusal to back down has already started turning the tides in the favour of these women entrepreneurs. 54% of the respondents have already changed their business model and another 24% plan to do the same by the end of the year. The changes in business models that they’re referring to include releasing new products or services, digital sales and delivery channels, as well as reorienting supply chains, sales and marketing. About 46% of these women entrepreneurs have made efforts on retraining programmes and the endorsement of new skills: both for themselves and their employees. Some women-owned businesses, especially those providing services, or those that are smaller and less capital-intensive have been able to adapt faster to the demands brought by the changing environment, when compared to larger and more capital-intensive businesses.
According to the report, 90% of the respondents believe they will be able to survive the crisis, out of which two-thirds are striving to make real changes to their business models and cost structures to outweigh the damages caused. In fact, 80% of the women entrepreneurs have said they expect the demand to bounce back to pre-lockdown levels by March 2021, and out of these, half expect it to happen by December 2020 itself.
To this end, here are some trailblazing women entrepreneurs to look out for in 2021, and their inspiring journeys so far:
Falguni Nayar, CEO, Nykaa
A banker-turned-businesswoman, Falguni Nayar founded Nykaa, one of the country’s most famous beauty and wellness e-commerce platforms, in 2012. While it was meant to be a multi-brand online beauty retailer, she has long since extended its presence through a mobile app and brick-and-mortar stores. Referred to as the ‘Sephora’ of India, Nykaa is an all-rounded platform which provides access to the smallest and most local to internationally acclaimed makeup brands. Despite the pandemic, Nykaa has been operational and faring well even through the lockdown months. Speaking to The Economic Times, Nayar explained how they managed to stay afloat, even in these difficult times.
“We have been operational right from phase-1 of the lockdown because we sell essentials on our website. The government defines essentials to include shampoos, skincare, like moisturisers, and we have a lot of personal care, skincare and haircare products, which are considered everyday essentials. We converted our website to sell these products and through that process, we began phase-1, where we recorded some turnover, which was 10%-15% of our business as usual,” she told the newspaper.
Sairee Chahal, Founder, Sheroes.in
As founder of Sheroes, a platform which not only offers useful tips on health and hygiene to women but also encourages them to hold conversations on taboo topics like sexual harassment, Sairee Chahal’s approach has been community-meets-deep technology. Chahal’s drive for entrepreneurship, which she has also showcased through ventures like Newslink and Fleximoms, started early, back when she was obtaining her M.Phil degree from JNU, and later, a PGDBM from IMT Ghaziabad.
Sabina Chopra, Founder, Yatra.com
COVID-19 has placed a huge and long-lasting dent in the travel industry. Despite all the challenges, Yatra.com, at the behest of its founder Sabina Chopra is determined to stay on top of things. In fact, the platform adapted to the changing times and introduced helpful measures like associating with its hotel partners and chains to offer stays to essential service workers and healthcare professionals at discounted fares, so they can get both rest and rejuvenation while continuing their fight against the pandemic. The company also launched the ‘Yatra Service Assured’ Packages which aim to provide safe and secure amenities during travel: hotels with 24×7 emergency helpline numbers, travel insurance, sanitised vehicles, flexibility in bookings, hygienic meals and more.
Richa Kar, Co-founder & CEO, Zivame
Buying lingerie is still a rather horrifying experience even today. We need to ensure the coast is clear, and hope and pray that a male cashier isn’t pasking it for us. However, web platform Zivame swooped in and took this whole experience online. And they even have a great exchange policy in cases of misfits. Kar studied the Indian lingerie market deeply, and made inroads at a time when people were still uncomfortable to address it out loud. Despite the pandemic and apprehensions regarding exchange and constant back-and-forth delivery, Zivame is way ahead of the curve with its superior digital tool called FITCODE, which using algorithms, professes to determine the customer’s size as accurately as possible.
Also read: These 5 Women-Led Fashion Brands Showcase India’s Textile Heritage and Empower Local Artisans
Shubhra Chadda, Co-founder, Chumbak
With over 120 retail stores across the country and now having gone online, Chumbak products are everywhere. Shubhra Chadda, co-founder of the unique startup, took her love for avid travelling to understand that all travellers had one common pattern: they loved taking home interesting and quirky souvenirs. And looking at Chumbak’s quirky collection, one can see where the inspiration comes from. Like most e-commerce platforms, Chumbak held on through the pandemic with a post-lockdown promise.
Going by the grit and determination of these women entrepreneurs, among many, to keep their head above the water and business flowing—at a time when the world itself threatened to shut down—one can safely say that when it comes to thinking outside the box, adapting to new challenges and incorporating ways to make things better—women are safely leading the way.
(Edited by Neha Baid)
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