The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting every aspect of people's lives in an unprecedented manner. It has impacted all sectors globally without any exception. However, its effect on the marginalised sections of the society has been more pronounced.
Last week, Atmanirbhar Bharat 3.0 was unveiled by the Government of India to boost employment. One of the focus areas of this new policy is to bring normalcy in the lives of rural people and generate maximum opportunities to make them Atmanirbhar or self-reliant.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the marginalized sections, especially women and children, has been particularly intense in India. In addition, the current economic meltdown is leading to massive psycho-social impact among these sections. It is time to aggressively address these gaps and uplift the vulnerable population of the country in a more sustainable way by making them self-reliant.
Economic development is relative to the depth of entrepreneurship in a country. For inclusive growth, entrepreneurship development amongst the marginalised communities is a must. It has been observed that entrepreneurship development plays a pivotal role in spurring self-employment opportunities and promoting industrial growth. Effective implementation of development programmes for the marginalised section is the need of the hour.
As per a study conducted by PRATHAM for NITI Aayog, there is a growing aspiration among people (around 70 percent) living in rural or semi-urban areas to become self-employed entrepreneurs.
The latest path to serve the nation and contribute to rebuilding it individually is to be more self-reliant. However, the new self-reliant India will not only involve entrepreneurs selling ‘Made in India’ products but will also require people, on a large scale to ensure successful execution.
Therefore, entrepreneurship must be encouraged in areas with tougher living conditions so that marginalised sections of the Indian society could utilize new opportunities being created for MSMEs.
Micro-entrepreneurship is being increasingly recognized as one of the prominent means for poverty alleviation and income generation in India, especially in rural areas.
A resolute mindset coupled with the spirit of innovation in times of crisis is imperative for entrepreneurs, especially micro-enterprises, who are usually constrained for resources and can be easily uprooted. Thus, it is important to impart skill-based training to make them knowledge-driven and help them establish businesses so that this leads, in turn, leads to the creation of more employment opportunities locally.
With support from state and local administration, marginalised groups can also be encouraged to innovate and adapt to the changes around us, such as the pandemic.
Factors that create an entrepreneur are influenced by various aspects, including gender, age and socioeconomic conditions. However, the parameters of assessing risk and reward are noticeably different for male and female entrepreneurs.
Women entrepreneurs generally face additional risks of social taboo and avoidance while pursuing their business ideas. According to AWE report released in October 2020, entrepreneurship is also a metric of female participation, or microbusiness owners – “solopreneurs”.
Empirical evidence and statistics say that women make better entrepreneurs and are successful in imparting effective leadership to teams and companies. It is thus important to ensure that women step forth, acknowledge their skills, receive training and flourish as entrepreneurs.
Various training programs to encourage and promote micro-entrepreneurship at the grassroots level, especially among rural women should be instituted and encouraged by both public and private entities.
The marginalised section of the Indian society also includes members of the SC/ST community who often have limited access to skills and education, and require encouragement to bring forth their latent potential. Training, education and counseling can create an ideal environment for achievement-oriented and enterprising people.
To create avenues for this aspirational section, National SC/ST Hub, Ministry of MSME, Govt. of India has mounted capacity building programmes to hone soft skills and also entrepreneurial capabilities so that new and existing entrepreneurs, especially from the SC/ST community, set up their enterprises and make them sustainable.
The pandemic has pressed the fast-forward button, thereby accelerating a sudden technology adaptation. It has also exposed the digital vulnerabilities of various communities and networks, such as artisans, in this precarious time.
Artisans and micro-entrepreneurs need to be given online training programmes to leverage the tools of the digital era to sell their products. Apart from inputs in the domains of modernizing designs, market access and credit linkages, micro-entrepreneurs today need to be conversant about presenting their products through physical as well as virtual platforms.
Empowered and driven by technological advancements and the spirit of resilience, India now needs to fast pace its entrepreneurial drive with inclusivity and diversity.
—Dr Raman Gujral is a faculty member & director of the Department of Projects-Corporate at the Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India (EDII). Views expressed are personal.