Women's Entrepreneur Network: How I turned into a Believer
I am not a feminist – I feel women need not be conformed to these terms influenced by certain social movements and ideologies. I firmly believe that women should have access to money, power, and fame based on their ability alone.
They should also be judged on the fair parameters of hard work, intelligence quotient (IQ) and leadership traits. So, when I was invited to DWEN – Dell Women’s Entrepreneurship Network - all women’s conference organised by Dell, I was pleasantly surprised, humbled and skeptical – all at the same time. The event was to be held in Capetown in South Africa – an exotic destination that has always fascinated me. That perhaps sealed my decision too before my mind could sway further.
It was my first time at DWEN – and I wondered what I’d take away from it apart from a gorgeous vacation? Few minutes into this grand exchange of thoughts and ideas - highlighted by some of the most powerful women from different walks of life, and all my doubts were laid to rest.
The DWEN platform is unique – as it is based on the premise that women run businesses differently and therefore can share similar experiences, learn from each other and collaborate wherever possible. The 2-day summit was inspiring – not just through the stories of successful ladies that have built global businesses, not just through the fantastic performances or the local stories of entrepreneurship, not even through the innovative products designed to change our lives.
It was inspiring because each person who attended contributed something personal to me, some way they could help, some nugget of wisdom, or an even the occasional shoulder to vent!
I had the good opportunity to meet Vimala Ariyan of The South African Institute of Learning, who runs training centers in South Africa. Vimala was astonished to know that we had spread over to 55+ resorts in a very short span of the company's inception.
When I told her that for India it was a slow growth, she responded by saying that it was phenomenal. Now together, we are exploring possibilities of setting up a government training center in India for imparting skill based training to people in India.
The highlight of the event was clearly a very invigorating and inspiring session with Cherie Blair, wife of the former British Prime Minister and committed campaigner for women’s rights. Followed that, Allison Kahn, the Mentoring Programme Director, Cherie Blair Foundation For Women, was able to connect me to the foundation and I am happy to report that I am a mentor on their panel now. Meeting minister Lindiwe Zulu, Minister of Small Business, was particularly interesting, as I understood that South Africa and India share in their troubles for small enterprises due to a similar history.
After speaking with her it seems that the Indian government is taking similar initiatives to foster entrepreneurship.
The Dolphin Tank (a milder, more collaborative version of the famous The Shark Tank Show on TV) was engaging with many women presenting their business ideas to a jury, that helped mould them (rather than tear them down, i.e: the show). It was interesting to watch so many women present so many unique pitches. Then there was the one-on-one session with Cherie Blair, the starter question on Brexit set the stage for a fantastic conversation.
To my surprise, women opened and also closed the Summit with the traditional African dance, usually performed by only men. And it was quite enjoyable. The sessions were informative, but the one that stayed with me were the Breakout ones, especially the Emerging Innovation one. Sarah Collins, who was one of the speakers, had a story of impact and women empowerment, especially in the rural parts of Africa that I could relate to. A farm girl from South Africa, Collins invented the Wonderbag.
It's a bag with benefits. A non-electric portable slow cooker, it continues to boil and simmer the food brought to boil by conventional methods for up to 8 hours. The staple South African cuisine is largely curry and stew, which often meant that women and young girls spent 5 to 7 hours going into the woods to gather wood to be able to keep the stews ready.
This expedition, apart from taking up a large part of their day's time, had several other hazards – the smoke caused health problems, it took the young girls away from education opportunities and rapes had become a common and often, a given, by product of such trips.
The simple innovation by Collins changed all of that. With lakhs of bags now in South Africa, Europe, Middle East and North America, she has created a social and environmental impact and literally, changed women, girls and their lives. With better education, safety, better health and time for work and family, the bag has empowered lakhs of women across these countries. With Unilever's backing now, her's is the only business in Africa to get funding from the USA. This was an impactful story that I could relate to.
That's a bag, and we (V Resorts) are a travel solutions company, but our aim and destination are the same. Like Collins, my effort is to create new destinations for tourism across India, leading to transforming and empowering the local communities. By giving them jobs, aiding reverse migration, decentraling resources, lessening carbon footprints, giving women in the rural areas jobs that they feel safe about, following a sustainable model of tourism, reviving arts and crafts and creating a big impact with a small germ of an idea.
And then there was Jane Wurwand of the brand Dermologica Jane. The force in the Skincare industry, Jane has recently tied up with the United Nations to find scalable solutions to world's pressing problems, including empowering women. Even after achieving so much, her enthusiasm for her business and the causes was infectious. We adored her! What courage, what grit to achieve what she did!
I realized then that DWEN was more than just a platform for networking. That in fact it had a network effect. It isn’t what DWEN can do for you that you take away, it’s the affect that you can have on DWEN and the entrepreneurs that attend. As an Attendee, I’m so thrilled to be part of the group, to help where I can and to make any difference, no matter how small to this group of passionate committed women striving to change the way we live.