Frontier Markets joins the ACT collective with a Skilling x Women grant

Rural India has experienced a significant surge in phone and internet access in recent years. But despite this progress, communities in these areas still face significant challenges in accessing the benefits of e-commerce – with only around 12% of rural internet users being able to address their needs online. On the other hand, rural women continue to encounter barriers to accessing livelihood opportunities that provide the flexibility they need and are unable to exercise the agency to drive household spending. This impacts the rural markets as a whole because women channel their earnings towards community building activities like children’s education etc. that help build overall economic resilience.

Frontier Markets (FM) offers a solution that addresses these challenges by harnessing the economic and social potential of rural women. FM’s innovative solution enables them to leverage their community relationships to aid their livelihoods, by using a tech-first platform, the Meri Saheli App, that connects products and services with rural communities. Through partnerships with local NGOs and government entities, FM recruits women from Self Help Groups (SHGs) and equips them with their e-commerce platform as well as comprehensive training to market, sell and service necessary products and services. These women not only address real needs within their communities but also become catalysts for local economic growth. 

Till date, Frontier Markets has built a network of 20,000 digital rural women entrepreneurs called “Saral Jeevan Sahelis,” who are using their platform to share relevant insights that help companies design and deliver solutions for rural households at the last mile. For instance, over 1 million families have accessed impactful climate friendly solutions at their doorstep through FM. Sahelis have become trusted influencers and champions of change voicing community needs, emerging as leaders in their villages as well as contributors to their families’ income; earning over $30MN of income and garnering the ability to invest in their children’s future.

FM’s recent ‘She-Leads Bharat’ initiative further seeks to formalise partnerships with the Indian government and NGOs across seven states, with the goal of adopting this model nationally. Over the next five years, FM aims to equip 1 million women to impact 100 million households in 25,000 villages, giving rural women the agency to drive economic decisions, voice their demands, and shape national policy.

The impact of FM’s work extends beyond economic empowerment, benefiting rural consumers by providing access to quality solutions at affordable prices. We are excited to support Frontier Markets with a Skilling x Women grant, which aims to accelerate FM’s scale by expanding its network of women entrepreneurs to 50,000. This grant will enable FM to strengthen its leadership team and execute its growth strategy across multiple states!

ACT welcomes Karya to the collective with our first Education x Women grant

As per the UNDP’s Multidimensional Poverty Index, 15% of India’s population, i.e ~200 million people, live in poverty. This is, by far, the largest number of underprivileged people in any country. However, with the massive growth of AI across businesses, there is a huge demand for data to train AI/ML models for which tech companies spend billions of dollars each year. Karya is leveraging the opportunity that this need for regionalised data presents, by providing simplified data work to rural Indians through its microtasking platform – the Karya App. Their solution essentially democratises digital data work that has the potential to generate up to $1500 in supplementary incomes for data collectors from underserved communities within a year and accelerate their social mobility.

We’re excited to support Karya on their vision to bring 100M individuals out of poverty by building ethical ways of data collection that fairly compensates its workers, primarily from rural India. The Karya app is an innovative platform that assigns individuals simplified AI/ML data training microtasks and helps them generate income through Karya Earn. Additionally, they provide upskilling opportunities via Karya Learn and career guidance through Karya Grow. Since its inception in 2021 at Microsoft Research, Karya has impacted over 32,000 individuals (60% of whom are women), across 25+ states/UTs, who have received wages totaling INR 4.5 crore for completion of 35M+ digital tasks.

While offering its workers as much as 20 times the prevailing minimum wage in the country, Karya ensures production of better quality Indian-language data that tech companies can use for their AI/ML data work.

To further augment supplementary incomes, Karya is gearing towards generating higher demand for its data work. Through its focus on an ‘earn then learn model’, Karya is supporting its workers to generate enough supplementary income to be able to focus on upskilling and career counselling. Given Karya’s strong focus on enabling career opportunities and learning avenues, ACT is proud to support Karya through an Education X Women grant to:
Focus on building a sales team for higher demand generation among international and national tech-focused organisations
Publish insights on the impact of upskilling and well-being for workers earning supplementary income, with an emphasis on gender-specific nuances
We’re thrilled to be part of Karya’s journey in revolutionising the landscape of tech-driven livelihood opportunities for rural communities.

WISER 2023 finds that startups can lead the way on accelerating women’s workforce participation in India

Startups in India have the potential to create 2 million new jobs for women by 2030, suggests the Women in India’s Startup Ecosystem Report ( WISER ), adding that the ecosystem is uniquely positioned to attract female talent. The report finds that women made up 35 percent of the startup workforce in 2022 (the corresponding figure for the corporate sector was 19 percent) and indicates that, with careful introspection within the startup community which enables timely and targeted action, that number can rise to 50 percent by 2030.

WISER shows that startups offer women a highly conducive growth environment, by way of faster career progression and higher autonomy, which enables female employees to meet their career goals at different stages. Women-led startups in particular are observed to perform even better on gender equality, with startups that have at least one female founder seen to have 2.5x women in senior roles as compared to male-founded startups.

The report notes that startups are currently faring better than traditional enterprises, with 32 percent women in managerial positions vis a vis 21 percent in corporates. This gap widens further at the CXO level where corporates have only 5 percent of women in leadership positions against 18 percent in startups. However, while the overall figures are promising, significant work lies ahead – 10 years into their careers, 8 out of 10 men in startups occupy Director-level positions or higher, compared to only 5 in 10 women.

It is poignant to note that contrary to popular perception, women’s motivations to join startups are no different from men, with both preferring accelerated learning & advancement, fast pace of work and innovation as key drivers.

Led by ACT For Women in collaboration with The Udaiti Foundation, the Women in India’s Startup Ecosystem Report (WISER) is India’s first and largest collaborative report on women in startups. With participation from 200+ startups, including the likes of Urban Company, Meesho and Zomato, the 2023 edition focuses on understanding the drivers for gender diversity across employment levels and spotlighting best practices that have helped improve women’s participation. The study, which had McKinsey & Company as the Knowledge Partner and LEAD at Krea University as the Research Partner, adopted a mixed methodology approach with participation from 111 founders, 117 CHROs, and almost 800 startup employees.

Read the full report here.

Enabling India’s startup ecosystem to become WISER on women’s workforce participation

ACT for Women emerged from a pressing need to accelerate women’s workforce participation and make substantial progress towards achieving gender equity at the workplace in our lifetimes. Over decades, despite the gradual increase in literacy rates, women continue to remain significantly under-represented in the workforce. In response, ACT for Women has embarked on a mission to understand the challenges better through a collaborative study called WISER – Women in India’s Startup Ecosystem Report.

The intention has been to focus on employers as a lever of change (with an initial lens on startups) and gather customised, actionable insights. Known for their agility and bias for action, the startup ecosystem has already been a successful disruptor in multiple spaces and we firmly believe that it has the potential to contribute significantly towards helping India improve its female labour force participation as well.

WISER is the first and largest of its kind research study that is designed exclusively for Indian startups and aims to help them advance gender diversity and inclusivity at the workplace. It will look at understanding the drivers for gender diversity within the startup ecosystem by collaboratively assessing demand-side barriers to women’s representation across employment levels and spotlighting best practices that have helped improve women’s participation. A collaboration between ACT For Women and The Udaiti Foundation, with LEAD at Krea University, McKinsey & Co, and NASSCOM 10,000 startups as key partners, it aims to establish a baseline for women’s participation in the startup ecosystem while identifying enablers that reflect in better hiring, retention and advancement of women professionals. It will examine startups across various sectors and life-stages, allowing for a more nuanced understanding of the factors that can enhance women’s participation across all levels. Over the last 4.5 months, the WISER team has conducted in-depth surveys and interviews with founders and CHROs from over 130 organisations as well as with 500+ startup employees – the report is slated for public release in July-August 2023.

A key highlight of WISER is its commitment to providing tailored and actionable insights to participating organisations. Through careful analysis of the collected data, the report will offer specific recommendations to each participating startup which align with each organisation’s unique context and requirements. These insights will empower organisations to make informed decisions and implement effective measures to foster gender diversity and inclusivity. While the focus is on supporting participating organisations, we will also strengthen the big picture focus of this exercise by deriving separate insights for VCs/investors who are invested in gender diversity at the workplace and are looking for ways to enable their portfolios to do better in terms of women’s representation. Finally, the hope is also to show industry-level best practices as case studies to allow the larger ecosystem to learn from the tips and tricks that resource constrained startups across stages are already successfully implementing.

To us, WISER is just the start of the conversation on women’s workforce participation and we look forward to working with the startup ecosystem to take action and create lasting impACT!

ACT Capital Foundation For Social Impact is a not-for-profit company incorporated and registered under Section 8 of the Companies Act, 2013. All donations made to ACT Capital Foundation are eligible for income tax deduction under Section 80G of the Income Tax Act.

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