Women need to be initiated into the idea of entrepreneurship at the university/graduation level. Women in India also are less likely to be able to capitalise on the opportunities offered by the local environment
Illustration: Sameer Pawar
Having worked extensively at the intersection of climate tech entrepreneurship and gender, a question that mushrooms up in conversations is that climate itself is a complex problem; why increase complexity by introducing gender focus as an ‘add on’. This question warrants a discussion as funding for impact is limited.
Two key factors to consider are: 1) Women are disproportionally impacted by the climate crisis and 2) women face inherent biases to be implementers in climate action in a meaningful way. It flows from this that we should be focusing on gender in climate. However, one can argue that women can be passive recipients of the action as solving the imminent crisis should take precedence over sub-goals of equity. The lesser-known facts that advocate strongly for women to be active participants are that technology companies led by women are more capital-efficient, achieve 35 percent higher ROI (return on investment), and, when venture-backed, achieve 12 percent higher revenue than startups run by men, according to the Kauffman Foundation.
The case for higher innovative technologies’ commercialisation in climate was highlighted by the International Energy Agency report as the key to reaching a net-zero emission target. Technologies at the prototype or demonstration stage are projected to contribute to 35 percent of emission reduction by 2070 with a further 40 percent to come from technologies at early stages of adoption. We need climate startups in large numbers. And we need women equally leading these startups as investing in women makes business sense. A CPI Global Landscape for Finance report noted very low percentages of climate investment being gender tagged. We need to move beyond the gender-blind approach to tackle climate change.
With the pandemic exacerbating the urgency of climate action and at the same time significantly increasing the gender gap, these are clearly co-development goals that need to be fulfilled for a resilient sustainable recovery.
As women are more dependent on natural resources, particularly in rural and forest areas, and more vulnerable, they are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis. The most talked-about example is where women need to walk further and further for access to water due to pollution or drying up of water bodies. Similarly, women being the primary users of fuel for cooking in households are closely impacted by the type of fuel used. Women traditionally are the ones to manage waste in the households and are the majority in the informal economy in waste management. These are just a few examples of inequity. This being the case, women closely understand the problems on the ground and are more likely to develop the right solutions. For example, startups led largely by women focusing on sustainable menstruation with products ranging from menstrual cups to biodegradable and even reusable sanitary napkins are proliferating the market. There are some great women-led startups in energy access along with microenterprises in clean cooking stoves and solar lamps. These solve problems on the ground, especially those faced by women resulting in environmental and social co-benefits.
Diversity always leads to higher ROIs in business as it ensures that different perspectives are heard and gives insights into different market segments. Let us take the example of Cydee Technologies, a women-led startup providing solar street lighting. Their main value proposition is affordable, efficient street lighting solutions to make streets safe for all women and they target areas that are devoid of street lighting. With diverse perspectives, diverse impact goals can be achieved with one solution. Businesses like upcycled jewellery, stationery and clothes made from waste, sustainable baby products, refillable home care products are increasingly women-led, targeting the high potential women’s market segments.
Women face socio-cultural biases in society to be in the workforce and more so to be in leadership positions. According to the World Economic Forum’s gender gap report, India ranks 140 out of 156 countries in terms of women’s economic participation. Women-owned businesses are also more vulnerable and less likely to withstand shocks like an economic downturn. This was demonstrated during Covid-19, where 98 percent of women-led MSMEs in India were among the first to shut down. I see two main hurdles to having more successful women led businesses in the ecosystem: 1) Not enough pipelines of women aspiring to be entrepreneurs or not progressing beyond the ideation stage and 2) Lack of funding.
Women need to be initiated into the idea of entrepreneurship at the university/graduation level. Women in India also are less likely to be able to capitalise on the opportunities offered by the local environment (Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs or MIWE). Building up business literacy, confidence, knowledge about opportunities in climate, and a business network would lead to more women confidently aspiring to be entrepreneurs, leading to an ecosystem shift towards higher equity.
Women face hurdles in raising capital for their businesses. This is due to inherent biases against women in business in India alongside a lack of asset ownership to be used as collateral. This leads to lower access to easy capital in the form of loans in the early stages. Even among venture capitalists, greater awareness of gender-responsive investments is the need of the hour
Twenty-four million jobs worldwide could be created by the green economy by 2030 and three million jobs in India could come only from the renewable sector (International Labour Organization). Women-owned enterprises are more likely to be more diverse and employ more women. Quoting the example of Cydee again, seeing a dearth of women technicians on the sites, they are skill-building and moving towards a women-only staff. We see this with most women-owned enterprises. A large number of green jobs are going to be created through startups. The more women leading, the more diverse would be the employability opportunities.
We have relegated women to the background long enough, let us not lose this opportunity to build a highly resilient green economy which is diverse and inclusive.