Dr. Kalpana Sankar: Empowering women entrepreneurs in India

Winner of the Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa Global Award for Women's Empowerment in the Individual Champions category.

Date: Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Launched in 2018 by the Supreme Council for Women of Bahrain in partnership with UN Women, the Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa Global Award for Women's Empowerment aims to celebrate and recognize the achievements of champions of women's equality and women’s empowerment globally.

Dr. Kalpana Sankar, winner of the the Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa Global Award for Women's Empowerment in the Individual Champions category. Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Kalpana.

In 2019, Dr. Kalpana Sankar, Managing Trustee at Hand in Hand organization in India, won the Princess Sabeeka Bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa Global Award for Women's Empowerment in the Individual Champions category.

Through her initiative, Dr. Sankar supported the training of almost 30 thousand people, predominantly women, on a series of programmes to encourage women to use mobile phones for financial transactions across 13 districts of Madhya Pradesh in just 2 years.

“This is one of the most prestigious awards any social entrepreneur working towards women’s empowerment can aspire for. It offers a real opportunity for women to create an empowered and equal society. I thank HRH Princess Sabeeka, the Kingdom of Bahrain and UN Women for this felicitation,” said Dr. Kalpana.

In India, women’s roles are often linked to their traditionally defined gender roles, responsibilities, and social structure. Advancing gender equality requires strengthening different dimensions of women’s autonomy like improving their knowledge, confidence, and skills about economic and financial issues.

Dr. Kalpana’s initiative focused on providing training on financial and digital literacy by training not only women, but also a number of men to make it a gender-neutral skill in the community. Apart from digital and financial literacy, women were provided access to savings and credit, which enabled them to access various livelihood options based on their geographic area. In addition, women were provided with skills training that allowed them to access banking services to support the creation of their own small businesses – empowering them as entrepreneurs. Dr. Sankar’s programme also facilitated access to markets and supported women to grow their businesses based on their abilities.

The success of this initiative was matched by its capacity to be easily replicated in other contexts. Dr. Kalpana and her team were able to start similar projects with a focus on digital literacy and women’s empowerment in Afghanistan, Brazil, Cambodia, Myanmar, South Africa and Sri Lanka.

As part of this programme, Hand in Hand is partnering with the private sector to develop mobile applications to create market linkages for over 50 thousand women entrepreneurs. These initiatives are being supplemented with skills training, enterprise development training and marketing support, overall increasing the income for women entrepreneurs. In addition, the Hand in Hand team is fostering partnerships with premium management institutions in India to provide formal business coaching for these women entrepreneurs to scale up their businesses.

Breaking the glass ceiling and being a woman entrepreneur is not easy, but it is not impossible. Confidence, dedication, perseverance and commitment are key ingredients for success. Dr. Kalpana calls on all women and girls to continue to pursue their dreams especially if they are working towards alleviating poverty and uplifting marginalized communities. She urges women to focus on research, documentation, measuring pre and post impact and record all their work diligently.