An ancient art inspires gender equality in India

As the British Council and Diageo launched phase two of our Young Women Social Entrepreneurship programme in India, which aims to unleash an army of over 4,000 women empowered with the skills to start social enterprises and simultaneously break down gender inequality, we invited Ellie Ward and Matthew Herring, two reporters at Pioneers Post, to report on one of the programme’s Master Trainers while they were in India for the 2015 Sankalp Global Forum.

We present an extract of Ellie’s article below which appears in full along with Matthew’s video in “Global Perspectives on Social Enterprise,” a collection of articles exploring social enterprise around the world which the Pioneers Post is developing in partnership with the British Council. 

Read the full article here

Watch the video here   

Take a sharp left from one of Delhi’s chaotic highways, walk through a maze of winding side streets and you’ll find a community of puppeteers rallying together to turn a family tradition into a sustainable enterprise.

For the Kathputli Colony in Shadipur, New Delhi, the art of puppetry has been a tradition upheld by families for hundreds of years. Now, by working with British Council Master Trainer and founder of the Happy Hands Foundation, Medhavi Gandhi, the women of this community are developing their business skills and building networks with universities, schools and corporates, who pay for them to perform plays about women’s rights and gender violence.

Medhavi launched Happy Hands in 2009 aged 22, when she and her friend invested the equivalent of around £50 each in raw materials and reached out to artisans creating traditional jewellery and other products.

Shadipur Colony is completely disconnected from Delhi’s main water and electricity systems. The average age of women getting married there is 17. “Our idea is to work with the community here to create an enterprise that is led by women, managed by women and involves women performers.

“It’s ironic that although the plays they perform here are mostly based on women’s rights and gender violence, many of their own women can’t express themselves.''

“We have to be careful not to create division though. We often find that a husband may allow his wife to be part of the business, but his mother may not be comfortable with her daughter-in-law doing that.”

Medhavi also says that education has been a barrier for her team. “A lot of the women we work with are not comfortable with computers. For a long time they relied on us to conduct communication on their behalf. We’ve tried to encourage telephone communication with partners, as opposed to emails, to try and solve this.”

 

Tackling inequality with entrepreneurship

Gender inequality in India is undoubtedly an entrenched social issue. According to the organisation Educate Girls, there are over three million girls not enrolled in school.

The Young Women Social Entrepreneurship programme was launched by the British Council and Diageo in 2013.

By working with partners in the social sector, including the Happy Hands Foundation, the programme provides women across India with the skill set and confidence needed to launch their own enterprises that generate both income and social or environmental impact.

Armed with entrepreneurial acumen, the Master Trainers, who are the women who have completed the Indian Institute of Management training programme, are then given the task of educating even more women with the skills they have gained. Meenakshi Gandotra completed the Master Trainer programme last year.

She explains: “It comprises a unique training model that starts by teaching you how to identify a social enterprise. It then goes on to cover how you create a business plan and manage a business, and provides an overview of the global social enterprise landscape.

“The training is very intensive and includes both theoretical and practical elements. In India, there are significantly less service-based social enterprises in comparison to the UK. Here, the sector is predominantly made up of enterprises that sell products, so the programme helps give women the confidence to price their products accurately and make sure they are not underselling themselves.”

With phase one of the initiative now completed, April saw the launch of the second phase. Once this cycle is completed in 2016, the British Council and Diageo will have partnered with 32 organisations working across India, trained 60 Master Trainers and empowered 4,000 women with the skills to set up a social business.

The Head of Society at the British Council’s India office Dr G Gujral, explains that the vision for women empowerment through social enterprise does not simply stop after phase two of the current initiative. The next steps include sourcing more seed funding and building a bigger network of mentors.

A sector in transition 

There is a very mixed social enterprise ecosystem in India, which has been built on the firm foundations of its strong social and NGO sector. Dr Gujral says: “We have non-profits, for-profits, private companies that do a lot of social good, NGOs and more traditional charities, but there is a lot of uncertainty around how the social enterprise ecosystem is organised.

“There is no legal format for social enterprise in India. Most of the organisations are registered as NGOs as that is the easiest and most recognisable way for them to exist. The British Council can use their expertise to support with capacity building.”

With international funding drying up at a rate far exceeding that of progress being made against social injustices, sustainable solutions are desperately needed. The momentum around social entrepreneurship is evident among those working in NGOs, traditional charities and has also infiltrated the walls of Narendra Modi’s government, which took office last year.

At the 2015 Sankalp Global Forum in Delhi, India’s Minister for Science, Technology and Earth Sciences Dr Harsh Vardhan said that the government would put its “heart and soul” into supporting the sector.

Despite the various debates over precise definitions and legal frameworks, ultimately the concept of social enterprise is simple. It’s about creating solutions to social and environmental issues that make business sense – which are exactly the types of solutions India’s rapidly growing economy is in desperate need of.