Social incubator boosts rural women’s employability through climate action

How is Villgro backing women-led enterprises that provide solutions in renewable energy, sustainable mobility and waste upcycling?

Over the last 22 years, Villgro has worked with over 350 social-startups (for-profit entities whose solutions solve a critical social/environmental problem) to help them commercialise and thereby create large-scale social and environmental impact. Thirty percent of these companies have been led by women. 

What is your plan for the next five years?

For the next five years, we are focusing our attention towards seven critical problems in India. The problem statements are rooted in improving farmer livelihoods, sustainable agriculture, the creation of green jobs, creating value from waste, improving women’s health, affordable and accessible diagnostics, and increasing the participation of women in the workforce. 

We have two key focus areas to increase the participation of women in the workforce. The first is by making 50 women-led solutions in climate action successful, and the second, by creating livelihood opportunities for 10,000 women in rural areas.

We are working towards this through two main programmes:

Powering Livelihoods, which is in partnership with the Council on Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) aims to boost India’s rural economy by scaling up the penetration of clean energy-powered appliances for livelihoods. Out of the 12,000 livelihood opportunities that were enabled, more than 80 percent were for women.

TVARAN is a market access programme by Villgro and an initiative by Cisco Corporate Social Responsibility to support the growth and expansion of women-led social enterprises in climate action.It will accelerate the market presence of women-led innovations in renewable energy, water and waste management, and climate-smart agriculture, amongst others. Financial support of Rs 1 crore (up to Rs 20 lakh per startup) will be offered to these women.

What are the strategies in place that will help Villgro create 10,000 micro-entrepreneurship opportunities in the next five years for women in the climate action space?

We will continue to focus on large-scale adoption of DRE-based livelihood generating technologies, such as solar-powered food processing units, solar-powered silk spinning/reeling machines, solar-powered cold storage options, etc. We will enable commercialisation of these technologies amongst women customers in four main ways, which include trade activation events, end-user financing, women demo champions, digitization of product installation.

How many women entrepreneurs have you supported so far?

 In the last three years alone, Villgro has worked with 66 social-startups out of which 22 have been led by women. Over 500 direct jobs and 8000 indirect jobs have been created for women,  and 78,300 women have directly benefited from the solutions of these startups. Our 2023-2028 strategy has plans to amp this up significantly.
Overall, the impact created by the 66 startups has been far-reaching and multi-dimensional. It led to reduction of 3.4 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions, upcycling/recycling 912 tonnes of waste, saving 9.6K KWh of energy, conserving 709 million tonnes of water, ensuring 43.8K acres of land is under sustainable agriculture, providing access to screening/diagnostics for 50,732 people from low income communities and creating 1,644 direct green jobs and over 9,700 indirect jobs. 

What is Villgro’s revenue model?

 Villgro is a non-profit organization, registered as a Section 8 Company. We receive philanthropic funding from CSR divisions of companies, the Government of India, as well as international organizations. We use this philanthropic funding to support the growth of enterprises whose solutions are solving environmental and social problems. 
We raise philanthropic funding every year in order to support our mission of creating impact at scale.

What  is your investment strategy?

 Villgro invests in social enterprises through grants, equity, and low-cost debt. This is deployed exclusively into enterprises whose products/solutions are solving a critical problem in the sectors of health, agriculture and climate action. 

Over the last 22 years, you have incubated over 350 social-startups. Can you share details about the current size, growth, and profitability of these startups at large? 

Since 2001, Villgro has supported 352 social enterprises that have raised over Rs 4.28 billion in investments, created 6,469 jobs and impacted over 20.8 million lives.

The disparity between women and men in the startup community is decreasing but remains substantial. What advancements have been made in recent years and what issues require attention in this area?

There certainly has been some growth in the number of women entrepreneurs in recent years in India. Many women-led startups are gaining prominence due to the significant business success they are achieving such as Nykaa and Mamaearth. This is consistent with evidence that suggests that when women are in leadership positions, businesses are seeing an increase in profits of up to 20 percent. Better talent acquisition and retention, innovation, and business reputation have also been reported. 

However, the support for women entrepreneurs in the social-startup community is still largely limited to grants, awards and recognition. The two areas that require more resources and attention are in enabling market opportunities and access to the right kind of finance. And this is what Villgro is committing to do for 50 women entrepreneurs in the next five years.

Is the percentage of women entrepreneurs just a small fraction of the overall ecosystem?
As per the sixth Economic Census released by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation  and according to a report by NASSCOM, women-led startups comprise approximately 13 percent of the total startups in India. Data shows that this percentage has been on the increase in recent times, however, this is still insufficient. Research conducted by Google in collaboration with Bain & Co. estimates that by 2030, women’s entrepreneurship in India will hold the potential to create around 150–170 million job opportunities. It only makes sense to ensure that India is creating an enabling environment for a larger number of women entrepreneurs to flourish, and from what we have seen in the most recent Union Budget, the Government of India is taking affirmative action towards this.

How do you see 2023 turning out for women entrepreneurs? 
The Union Budget has created significant inclusions to support strengthening of financial independence in women and enable greater access to resources. 

Besides, the global climate crisis and the sustainable development goals (SDGs) to achieve gender equality has seen much larger overlap in recent times in the way developmental funds are now designed with a gendered perspective for sustainability. 

This provides a conducive ground for women to start their entrepreneurial journey, and thrive in the startup space with better market, finance and networking opportunities.

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