NITI Aayog's Senior Advisor Anna Roy On Building Ecosystem For Women Entrepreneurship On the occasion of International Women's Day, Roy, who is also the mission director of WEP, talks about the need, importance and scope of women entrepreneurship in India

By S Shanthi

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The Women Entrepreneurship Platform (WEP) is a unified access portal which brings together women from different parts of India to build a nurturing ecosystem that enables them to realize their entrepreneurial aspirations. WEP achieves this by facilitating relevant information and services through key partnerships.

To understand more about it, we spoke to Roy.

Tell us briefly about your professional journey so far and your role at NITI Aayog.

I'm trained as an economist, and I'm from the 1992 Indian economic service. Before joining NITI Aayog, I was posted in the ministry of finance largely and for a very brief stint in the ministry of civil aviation. My past work has been around reforms, more specifically infrastructure reforms, and also around public-private partnerships. So I've done policy work as well as a lot of project work and infrastructure financing. In NITI Aayog I head the vertical on data and frontier technology. In this role, I have led teams which have come out with seminal papers on strategy documents, and emerging technologies like the national strategy on AI and the national strategy on the blockchain. I also do a lot of emerging technology project-related work. There is a lot of work that we have done in responsible AI, digital banking, financial inclusion, digital payments, etc.

Two initiatives that I would like to mention, which I have kind of steered in Amity is the first one is the national data analytic portal, which is a platform addressing the last mile access to public government data. So it is a user-centric platform that helps in access to data, which otherwise is very difficult to access, discovery is very poor, and also uses the data seamlessly. The second initiative, which we are discussing today is the Women Entrepreneurship platform,

WEP was launched in 2017. What was the purpose or idea behind launching it?

WEP is an aggregator platform and a single-stop shop to bring all the existing initiatives relating to women entrepreneurship to one place. Through this WEP, we are trying to overcome the information asymmetry in the system where people are not aware of many of the initiatives and thus are unable to benefit from them. So both the last two initiatives are leveraging technology to overcome access and information barriers. To that respect, both these initiatives are the same, but catering to different segments.

What inspired you to work for the cause of women entrepreneurship?

Actually, my life journey has also been such that gender really has not played much of a role in my experiences, the professional as well as personnel. I never really faced any kind of bias. So in 2017, the Global Entrepreneurship Summit was held in India. We at NITI Aayog were representing the government of India and we work with the State Department of the US government. At the end of that summit, the then CEO of NITI Aayog Mr. Amitabh Kant, commenting on the lack of information he witnessed about government schemes amongst the various entrepreneurs, announced a woman entrepreneurship cell and he also announced in the press conference that I will be heading it so that is how I got into the space. After this announcement. I took it a bit seriously and initiated a lot of stakeholder consultations and I realized we really do not need another cell since there are enough cells around both government and other organizations, many initiatives, were there. So what we really needed is to bring visibility to all of it and provide the information seamlessly to the targeted beneficiaries. So instead of a woman entrepreneurship cell, we launched the woman entrepreneurship platform, and that is how my journey in this space began. And it has grown pillar to pillar and yesterday actually, we had the first meeting of the steering committee of WEP on a new governance structure for this initiative, which was constituted last year. And it now has a number of very, very important partners who are helping the cause really to move forward.

What are the key focus areas for WEP today?

So the key focus area remains on enabling women to access knowledge. If you can give the right knowledge in the right form, to the right audience seamlessly, I feel you would have achieved a large part of empowerment for women. Really don't this is not everything. There are behavioral issues. But access to knowledge is very important. And that is our focus. The second focus is not to duplicate. What we do is work with partners. So there we amplify the work with them, and there are synergies. So, it is a stakeholder-led initiative where the ecosystem stakeholders come together and work as a team, without any formal agreement or structure. So that is the strength of WEP. Many entities, both government and non-government have come together for a common cause of promoting women entrepreneurship. And we're reaching out to the last mile to the bottom of the pyramid of women entrepreneurial ecosystem in a manner that is collaborative, which is not duplicating and leveraging technology at the same time.

How is India placed as compared to developed nations in terms of the number of women entrepreneurs?

I generally steer clear from data points where I'm not sure about the source or the methodology. But women's representation, whether in entrepreneurship or in other fields, in India, is not very different from other countries, even developed countries. So, women's representation remains an issue across various countries. And that is what is the mission of WEP and that is what I'm trying to address. India is very unique. We have FPOs and grassroots level leadership, so how do you define leadership or a woman entrepreneur? It needs to be done in a very contextual manner. So I see that we have a lot of entrepreneurship. It is a matter of recognizing it. Recognizing the spread of women enterprises beyond the metros or non-metros in Tier II Tier III cities, semi-urban and rural areas. That is something we have taken upon ourselves. And we want to define women's leadership roles in this context. And take it to the rest of the world.

Lastly, What keeps you motivated?

What motivates me is when I go to bed at night I should get this feeling that it wasn't a day wasted. And when I say a day wasted, it could be any new idea that came to me, a new person I could bring within my realms of thinking or to my team or other projects that I am doing, or a new milestone in my professional or personal capacity. So for me, I should ensure that I did something new today. So that really gets me going.

S Shanthi

Senior Assistant Editor

Shanthi specializes in writing sector-specific trends, interviews and startup profiles. She has worked as a feature writer for over a decade in several print and digital media companies. 


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