16/05/2022

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Learning from Lijjat: Why market linkages are vital for women-led small businesses

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Many small businesses led by women in India face a crippling challenge — lack of sufficient market linkages that can help them scale up. With limited access to key resources and access to buyers, their businesses are not able to reach the potential that can help them move up the value chain.

Kanupriya Verma, CEO of artisanal homeware brand Ikai Asai, says the answer lies in collaboration and education. “Supply chains are becoming more complex by the day for every business in the urban and global context. Currently, we do not have an equitable framework of equal access to finance, mentorship and networking channels, adequate market knowledge, along with social and cultural openness. This is the absolute need of the hour to foster women’s entrepreneurship and growth,” she says.

Women artisans and business owners in rural India have the right intent, skills and drive to become successful business owners. “What has been missing is adequate awareness and knowledge about urban and global markets, professional training and financial independence. If provided with equal access to finance, customer understanding and their lifestyles, rural enterprising women can come up with and run businesses relevant in today’s context,” she adds.

kanupriya

Kanupriya Verma, CEO, Ikai Asai.

What is also important is that micro enterprises learn how to brand and market their product more effectively. Chetna Gala Sinha, Founder & Director, Mann Deshi Foundation, says that at times, they struggle with this aspect and the packaging doesn’t look attractive enough for a potential buyer. “The look of the product has to be very clear on what is being sold. Besides this, advertising it via word of mouth, exhibitions and digital media is equally important,” she says.

Sinha admits that certain challenges remain in the context of market linkages, such as that of logistics. “It is a big deterrent for micro enterprises. And it is not just about logistics cost. Aggregating all products is difficult as micro enterprises are so scattered. We are in discussions with postal services — which have a very good network and infrastructure — to see if we can come up with solutions,” she adds.

Industry experts are also of the view that networking can help women build ecosystem collaborations that aid efficient market linkages. “A strong network leads to better access and that leads to linkages to different markets. The basic construct of rural or urban comes down to networking. It promotes and encourages building relationships,” says Siddha Jain, Chief Business Officer, Bombay Shaving Company.

Siddha

Siddha Jain, Chief Business Officer, Bombay Shaving Company.

Echoing similar views, Ikai Asai’s Verma talks about the significance of “connect” and how it can give women-led business an edge. “Genuinely connecting with people who either complement or add to their potential and skills can help propel growth. People are diverse and if you know how to connect the dots, something far bigger than us can be created which, in the short term, will help with stronger market linkage and, in the longer run, will result in lasting businesses with solid foundations,” she adds.

Adaptations within the business model, awareness about trends in the market and being synced with buyer interests will lead such businesses to the right investors as well.

Kalpana Jain, Partner, Deloitte India, points to Lijjat Papad as a case study of a grassroots entity that cracked this code and grew by leaps and bounds. “Ecosystem collaboration is really about visibility. So, the best bet is to reach out to agencies, institutions like SIDBI or entrepreneurial associations, large aggregators and marketplaces that have organic and sustainable practices. Market linkage, in essence, amounts to being able to cost effectively get your products to the consumer. Such practices will help in enabling such access,” she adds.

(The one-stop destination for MSME, ET RISE provides news, views and analysis around GST, Exports, Funding, Policy and small business management.)

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