Studying the Success of Women-Led Enterprises

September 9, 2010
School of Business, Coimbatore

What happens when budding entrepreneurs meet real-life entrepreneurs? “They feel inspired,” answered MBA students taking the elective class, Management Beyond Profit. As part of the class, the students documented success stories of twelve women-led enterprises.

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Based in the nearby blocks of Perur and Madukkarai in Coimbatore, the enterprises included general stores, canteens and fair price shops, selling jewelry, jams and pickles, traditional sweets, panipuri (a savoury snack), flower garlands, fish, readymade garments and textiles and home-made masalas (spice powder mixes).

All women had begun their businesses with micro-credit help facilitated through the Shanti Ashram in Coimbatore. “Our students mainly focused on economic achievements and viability of the enterprises,” shared Prof. Shobana Madhavan, who offered the elective to second-year students. “They also made recommendations for the growth of these enterprises.”

The student teams found that the initiative had helped change the destiny of the women. It had helped them identify their true potential, thereby making them economically independent. It had definitely made a positive difference in their lives.

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“The women had gained a voice and tremendous self-confidence,” the students reported. “Until they ran a business and went beyond being ordinary housewives, their sense of self-worth was low. The women gained respect in their communities.”

The students also noted that many of the women now showed definite leadership qualities. The enterprises had strengthened the bonds within the household and within the community.

“The biggest weakness, though, that we found in all the enterprises was poor recordkeeping,” shared Prof. Shobana. “Most women did not keep written records of their expenses and sales. Thus, the income they claimed to earn from the enterprise was only a rough estimate.”

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The students and their professor found that many of the women did not include their own labor costs into the final pricing. The high inflation rate (2009-2010) estimated at 20% for food commodities was also not factored into the final pricing of the products.

“Many of the enterprises, especially those dealing with food, may be running at a loss, unbeknownst to the members,” stated the students.

Students recommended a need for training the women in costing and keeping financial records. “The women have to compete in a cut-throat market and need to be more financially savvy,” they emphasized.

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“We can’t deny the fact that despite several risk factors involved, the economic achievements of most of the enterprises was noteworthy,” finally underlined Prof. Shobana. “While the income from the enterprises may be relatively modest, ranging from Rs. 1000 to Rs. 5000, the impact of the income on the women has been tremendous.”

“The women feel that they have become independent and economically stable.”

And how did the women feel about the ASB-led study?

“We have already started working on the student recommendations. The interactions with the students have made us more aware of the opportunities to improve our entrepreneurial ventures.”

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