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How 700 Women In India Restarted Their Businesses Post-COVID 19

By FedEx | First published: February 11, 2021    Updated: March 21, 2022

The global pandemic hit many of India’s female business owners hard. Luckily, many SMEs are bouncing back, re-launching their businesses with new recovery plans.

The pandemic has had a major impact on individuals, families, communities and businesses globally – and it’s been widely reported that women have been disproportionately affected. But when COVID-19 hit and lockdowns were at their peak, some businesses were more vulnerable than others. If you’re female and in a low-income group, chances are you may have struggled to keep your business afloat.

This was certainly the case in India, as many small, community businesses run by women needed support and guidance to survive in a tough and unprecedented economic landscape.

India is home to 1.3 billion people; around 110 million of these are working for SMEs. And there’s been a rise in female SMEs in recent years, thanks to government support. But with only around 14% of MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) majorly owned by women, they still have a long way to go. Many of the businesses cover the range from modest, lone owner-operators selling street-food, fruit, handmade jewelry or incense to larger enterprises aimed at serving women – from beauty services to tailoring, dressmaking and tutoring.

For these small, self-starting SMEs, reliance on regular cash flow, access to steady custom and the ability to offer uninterrupted services is crucial. There’s a delicate balance between operating successfully and struggling to stay afloat – and it can be threatened by even the most minor setbacks.

Huge disruptions to global supply chains and a national lockdown? A recipe for disaster.

At FedEx, we recognize that it’s a social and economic priority to commit to providing women and minority entrepreneurs with the tools they need to succeed in times of uncertainty. In 2021, we teamed up with community NGO facilitator United Way Mumbai to ensure that women from lower income groups in India received essential support. To help safeguard vulnerable female-led SMEs, we issued “Saksham” (meaning ‘able’ or ‘capable’ in Hindi) kits, supplied with relevant products to galvanize small businesses impacted by COVID-19. Together, we’re working to identify beneficiaries who have recently been operating a small business and need tools and support to re-start their enterprises and bounce back.

The program started out lending support to 400 women, and this has since risen to 700. These businesses include home beauty services, tailoring, homemade products such as pickles, dyes, incense sticks and other skills and services. As these women re-establish themselves, raw material suppliers across some of the most impacted communities in India will also benefit from this program. This collaborative approach will have a positive impact on the livelihood of the recipients and their families, helping them to recover from the pandemic.

“I am feeling empowered to resume my business. The Saksham kit will help me increase my customer reach.”

One of our beneficiaries, Madhuri Vishwakarma, provides home beauty services, and was facing financial difficulties after having to stop home visits during the lockdown. She’s now been able to begin her business anew.

Samina Parbez Shaikh, another beneficiary, is the only earning member of her family. She was confronted with overwhelming business challenges arising from lockdown restrictions. Samina’s now on the up: “I am feeling empowered to resume my business. The Saksham kit will help me increase my customer reach.”

Those impacted by the pandemic across Asia and beyond are too numerous to count. But with tight ties to community support and the right guidance, the region’s SMEs are proving nimble in adapting to a new normal. As Asia’s business communities continue to navigate recovery, we must continue to prioritize female-owned business support so that the SME gender gap isn’t widened. With this in mind, we plan to help a further 140 women as part of this program in the months to come.

Looking for guidance for your female-owned business? Check out 3 steps to overcoming the ‘she-cession’ here!

SMEs can also visit our dedicated COVID-19 support hub for guidance on business recovery throughout the region. And finally - don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn for tips, advice and best practices on how you can create new possibilities for your business in the new normal.
“I am feeling empowered to resume my business. The Saksham kit will help me increase my customer reach.”


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