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How Gender Equality Amongst Founders Can Solve Ecological Problems And Economical Ones Too

Practical and effective mitigation of climate change requires the active engagement of women start-up founders, which goes beyond lip service

How Gender Equality Amongst Founders Can Solve Ecological Problems And Economical Ones Too
POSTED ON September 15, 2023 1:14 PM

India's 2023 Budget accentuates green technology and sustainability, aligning with Prime Minister Narendra Modi's commitment at COP26 to achieve the country’s Net Zero target by 2070. This vision is further bolstered by the 'Lifestyle for Environment' (LiFE) movement. 

With a substantial funding of Rs. 35,000 crores for energy transition, Rs. 19,700 crores for the National Green Hydrogen Mission and Rs. 10,222 crores allocated to the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), India has underlined that green technologies promote both, economic prosperity and environmental preservation.

The nation’s strong commitment to sustainability, coupled with the rapid growth of its start-up ecosystem—around 80 new start-ups added each day—yields favourable outcomes like job creation, business growth, and national advancement. 

A key element here is women's significant role as leaders, decision-makers, and catalysts for meaningful transformation. They can astutely capitalise on their invaluable insights, extensive expertise, and proactive agency to foster enhanced mitigation and adaptation strategies. 

For instance, a 100 per cent women-owned social enterprise, ClimateSense, is helping communities protect and increase India’s forest cover by implementing end-to-end afforestation projects, sequestering carbon, and transforming climate change victims into climate stewards. 

Similarly, Shivali Sugand at GreenGrahi is saving food waste from ending up in landfills and transforming it into high-quality animal protein and oil that helps feed animals and, eventually, humans. 

Moreover, a 2021 study titled ‘Women Entrepreneurs and the usage of social media for business sustainability in the time of Covid-19’ conducted with 396 women entrepreneurs concluded that 54 per cent of female founders changed business models and adapted to the pandemic. 

Some introduced products, while others enhanced their presence and streamlined supply chains. 46 per cent of them realised the need to acquire new skills to sustain and thrive in their businesses, and so they did. 

See Green, Think Pink

Unfortunately, even though women are more affected by climate change than men, green technology is currently male-dominated. The inaccessibility to the market seems to be the primary challenge for women start-up founders in this field. 

When it comes to creating climate solutions, the female perspective is sorely lacking. At COP 26, for example, women comprised 37 per cent of national delegations; the number of women leading national delegations rose only 3 per cent (to 13 per cent) in the ten years to 2021. 

Laws and norms limiting women and girls from owning land, accessing credit, or financial resources restrict their movement to climate-resilient sectors and building savings for climate or income emergencies. Additionally, lack of access to information, training, and decision-making sidelines women and their untapped knowledge from climate investment. 

Practical and effective mitigation of climate change requires the active engagement of women. 

Key programs such as TVARAN, an initiative by Villgro & Cisco, support the growth of women-led enterprises seeking to solve climate-centric issues. The high-engagement initiative was born out of the belief to increase focused access to market and/or market expansion through capacity building, business planning, mentorship, peer learning, and networking.

Investing in female entrepreneurs not only results in higher societal returns due to their focus on family investments but also contributes to women-led businesses hiring 2.5 times more women than their male-led counterparts, creating more job opportunities for women. One such women-led EV Fleet, MOWO, takes the spotlight with an all-female crew navigating the streets of Hyderabad on 2/3 wheeler EVs, making the rides 100 per cent safe for their customers. This all-female enterprise has completed over 50,000 trips to date.

While financing and market access pose significant challenges for women founders seeking growth, the government has initiated various solutions. Though not exclusively for women, the Mudra Scheme directed 68 per cent of its loans, totalling Rs. 6.36 lakh crores, towards women entrepreneurs from FY15 to FY21. 

NITI Aayog, in collaboration with SIDBI, introduced a Women Entrepreneurship Program for existing and aspiring women entrepreneurs. SBI's Stree Shakti scheme offers tailored support, lowering interest rates by 0.5 per cent for loans above Rs. 2 lakhs, with no security needed for loans up to Rs. 5 lakhs. 

HerStart, a government initiative, provides a Rs 20,000 yearly allowance to bolster women-led ventures. Furthermore, Women’s Affairs Ministers from the Commonwealth have endorsed a strategic roadmap addressing women's roles in climate finance, economic opportunities, decision-making, and protection from gender-based violence. In their triennial meeting, they have set the stage to empower 2.5 billion Commonwealth citizens, magnifying gender equality and empowerment, especially in climate action.

Speaking about the accelerator and the commitment to supporting women entrepreneurs, Harish Krishnan, managing director and chief policy officer of Cisco India and SAARC once remarked, “We have long recognised the significance of empowering women entrepreneurs as drivers of innovation and meaningful change, essential for forging a sustainable future for all. The intricate relationship between gender and its impact on climate is a multifaceted challenge, often necessitating specialised solutions that may not readily be available through conventional programs. The ability to accomplish this task while gaining insights from each start-up founder has proven to be a highly enriching experience for all involved.”

Gender Equity Gets A Fiscal Push

McKinsey projects that achieving gender equality in global labour markets could add $28 trillion (26 per cent of global GDP) by 2025, bridging the climate finance gap and underscoring how women's increased workforce participation can effectively fund sustainable development. When developing and implementing new climate policies, we must ensure that men and women benefit from budgetary allocations to climate action equally.

This enables everyone to employ their skills and leadership to respond to the crisis. With less than a quarter (between 20 and 24 per cent) of renewable energy jobs currently held by women, efforts to bolster women's participation in the green economy and climate-resilient domains must remain a collective endeavour. 

-    Kalyani Krishna, Manager, Diversity and Inclusion at Villgro 

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