A shopping mall as a classroom

Accion’s Dialogue on Business (DOB) entrepreneurship training program in India brings female microentrepreneurs together for International Women's Day

The group in front of the entrance of Alpha One.

>> The following is a post from guest blogger, Rajul Bharti, an Analyst for Accion’s Dialogue on Business training program based in Gujarat, India.

With the Month of Microfinance upon us, I wanted to share a story about the power that financial education can have on its students.

Last month, the staff of Accion’s Dialogue on Business (DOB) entrepreneurship training program wanted to find a way to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8 with our students. We started our thinking along traditional lines of celebration, like a ceremony to congratulate our entrepreneurial students, maybe accompanied by a traditional dance and a snack, but our initial brainstorming didn’t prepare us for the inspirational events that unfolded…

We ended up asking the women themselves how they wanted to celebrate. After all, this was a day to celebrate their independence, so it seemed only fitting! These women—all microentrepreneurs trained by DOB in stitching, tailoring, and embroidery work — typically work from home and earn somewhere between 500 and 1500 rupees a month (US$10–30) just through their embroidery and tailoring projects.

To our surprise, the women chose to do an exposure visit – a field trip for the women to experience something new to them – an idea that we had only briefly considered. One of the most active women in the group strongly supported the idea, but she needed someone to care for her young baby in order to participate. When all the other women offered to take care of the baby in turns, that settled it — an exposure visit it was!

When the discussion began about where the group would go on their exposure visit, one of the women asked about the big glass buildings in the city. We soon realized that the woman was referring to the many shopping malls that dot the landscape of Ahmadabad City. Many of the others had also noticed the malls before but had always thought they were exclusively for rich people and that they would not be allowed to enter.  We decided that this would be a perfect place to visit: we wanted to show the women that these malls are inclusive urban spaces created for everyone—and that they were welcome just as much as anyone else was.

We picked Alpha One, a mall with a special wing called Ranino Hajiro that houses a handicraft and traditional ethnic market. We wanted the women to see how some of the products that they help create now are refined and later sold at an outlet like this one. This would allow the women to see just how far their skills and growing enterprise could potentially take them.

For the second stop on our visit, we wanted to show the women how they could get from where they are today to a place like Ranino Hajiro. The Sewa Federation runs a design and marketing unit that trains women on different skills and also invites female entrepreneurs to sell products at their marketing outlets. Visiting their center would connect our women with new opportunities to receive training at higher levels than DOB provides and give them an introduction to new ways to support to their small but growing businesses.

On the day of our visit, all the women arrived at the meeting spot early and dressed in their best clothes. After some initial hesitation, the women moved freely between the stores at Alpha One. They interacted with the store clerks, looked at the Swarovski jewels and had fun riding up and down the elevators. At the Sewa Federation, they met the staff, saw the products that women like them had made and got new ideas for design and promotion.

The women also enjoyed being served by waiters in the food court—for some, it was the first time that a man had ever served them food.

Ramilaben captured the energy of the day best: “In the last forty years of my life, this is the first time that I have been around the city for myself—for leisure. This is the best day in a long, long time, spending time on my own, beyond the four walls and responsibilities of my home.”

Over the course of just one day, the 35 women in this Dialogue on Business class learned the ways their businesses might expand and gained the connections to make that happen.  I can’t think of a better way to have celebrated International Women’s Day 2013 — and to share it with you all during the Month of Microfinance!

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