Claflin University will partner with the University of Calcutta to promote female entrepreneurship in West Bengal, India. The University of Calcutta was awarded a $250,000 grant to create training programs for women to educate them in the fundamentals of business: how to get bank loans, how to form collaborative units and how to market their products.
In India, the division of labor is still largely determined by traditional gender roles, with women disproportionately underrepresented in the workforce. Household duties and child care typically fall to women, while men are expected to work to provide for their families. In recent years, female participation in the workforce has actually fallen, particularly in rural India, despite gains in education. In addition, the pay gap between men and women is high: a woman earns 56 cents to a man’s dollar.
Many women in India either supplement their income or make their living by working as “home–based” workers, producing garments, textiles, furniture and other such products. Home–based workers typically work as subcontractors of factories or other entities. Given the informal nature of such work, it is difficult to quantify how many female home-based workers there are in India, but most estimates put their numbers in the millions.
The Claflin and University of Calcutta partnership is aimed at that demographic: urban women who have a monetizable skill but lack the know–how or resources to turn their production into a business in its own right.
Dr. Mitali Wong, a professor of English at Claflin and one of four professors who originally developed the grant proposal, said that the program will target women with high school degrees who already have a business or business plan. The University of Calcutta will establish training centers in three cities in West Bengal, working with local NGOs.
At each training center, women will have the chance to participate in four-week courses. Over the course of the three-year grant, Wong said it is expected that 270 women will have completed the courses and will be able to form their own businesses or form cooperatives to enhance their bargaining power.
Cooperatives in India have had success in an array of fields: from savings and loans to artisanal and agricultural production. They also eliminate the need for individual workers to pass their wares along to middlemen, who will sell the product for them, or to subcontract out their services. Wong noted that such arrangements tend to benefit the middleman or contractor, adding, “The person who actually makes the products gets pennies.”
Another of the grant’s strategic focuses will be to encourage women to develop eco-friendly practices. “We know that environmental issues are becoming more and more obvious and critical all over the world,” said Dr. Harpal Grewal, former dean and professor at the Claflin School of Business. “India in particular is having very serious problems with pollution and other environmental issues.” Grewal, along with Wong and two professors from the University of Calcutta, developed the grant proposal.
Claflin President Henry N. Tisdale said that the partnership aligns with Claflin’s international outlook. “It is very exciting, and I think it supports not only the mission of Claflin University but it also supports our national goals as well,” he said.
Staff writer Catherine Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.