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A movement to make rural women job providers

By R. Gopalakrishnan

CHENNAI, FEB.13. The Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BYST), promoted by leading lights of Indian industry and functioning in alliance with the Youth Business International (YBI) of the United Kingdom in the cause of entrepreneurship among disadvantaged youth, has launched a new initiative to bring rural women of the State into the mainstream of business.

The BYST and the Tamil Nadu Corporation for Development of Women and Children (TNCDWC) are organising a conference in the city on March 20, commemorating Women's Day, to explore ways of enabling women who have shown their mettle in the Self-Help Groups (SHGs) movement, to grow further and acquire organisational capabilities.

"Tamil Nadu has seen a big push forward under the SHG scheme in recent years. The BYST, whose unique approach lies in mentoring of aspiring entrepreneurs (making available the guidance of industrialists and professionals free of cost for the first few years), is keen on ensuring that the creativity and initiative of rural women are tapped and they are enabled to grow and create employment", says Lakshmi V. Venkatesan, founding trustee and executive-vice-president. There is no way out of abject poverty except entrepreneurship in a country where the youth (less than 25 years) constitute 54 per cent (540 million) of the population, she says.

Talking to The Hindu , Ms. Lakshmi said the BYST believed that instead of telling women what they should do in terms of entrepreneurship, women should be invited to present their ideas for follow-up. It was with this perspective that a Business Idea Contest For Women (Vettrikku Vazhi Suya Thozil — Entrepreneurship: the Way to Success) was launched by the BYST in partnership with Kancheepuram Collectorate on January 24. Encouraging women to come up with creative and viable business ideas which could be converted into dynamic micro-enterprises would give a boost to the entrepreneurial culture in the district. Prizes would be awarded at the conference for the best of ideas emerging from the contest.

"In Maharashtra, the BYST found that rural women came up with ideas of low-cost technology for cashew processing and running of mobile libraries. Ideas such as these, when supported by the mentoring system — akin to the guru-shishya tradition — and financial assistance from the trust would enable us to create successful entrepreneurs." The trust, founded in 1992, had by March 31, 2003, spawned businesses by youth — both men and women — with a turnover exceeding Rs. 200 crores. Thirty-six of the entrepreneurs became millionaires.

Asked what lessons the Youth Business movement learnt from the five-decade-old, government-supported SSI (small-scale industry) movement in the country (of which her father, former President R. Venkataraman, was one of the prime movers), Ms. Lakshmi said the negatives of the traditional programme included a built-in incentive to stay put as a tiny or small entrepreneur and human resource from an education system which emphasised learning by rote. "What we at BYST seek is not soft loans but risk capital that supports innovation and entrepreneurship. Financial/fiscal support to entrepreneurs should be for a limited period, on a descending scale."

Another major failure, she said, was lack of coordination between agencies of the government involved in promotion of entrepreneurship, financial institutions, non-governmental organisations and international institutions. One of the objectives of next months's conference was to overcome this limitation.

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