Aruna Sundararajan On How Tech Empowers Women
Technology is an empowering tool, if used right. Secretary in the Ministry of IT and Electronics, Aruna Sundararajan talked about women using technology to find livelihood, empower themselves and connect and grow. In an interaction with Facebook India Public Policy Director, Ankhi Das she mentioned key policy changes that her ministry is trying to bring in to facilitate Indian women entrepreneurs. She talked about Women-friend incubators, mentorship programs and women-oriented venture capitals as the three most significant policy changes she is working on.
Incubators– The Secretary said that when she visited some of the incubators she realised how unaccommodating they are of women. She concluded the best solution to this would be if more women-centric incubators are launched so more female entrepreneurs could join the startup ecosystem.
Mentorship programs– Even if women contribute 14% of all the start-ups in the country, there is a huge disparity in the startup world. So the Ministry of Electronics and IT intends to build mentorship programs for women who are at the ideating stage and want to build their own startup.
Women-centric VCs– Venture Capitalists can be key when scaling up a business. So when women have passed the stage of creating and building their startup, to scale up, they require funds to invest in various departments like tech, core team etc. In today’s scenario, women find it much more difficult to raise money than men because of the set gendered parameters which favour male entrepreneurs.
Reflecting on how tech transforms lives of women she recalled an example from her early days as a career office in Kerala. Where for the women down south, it became a tool to have private conversations with their husbands working in the Middle-East a few years ago as the IT Ministry launched a crusade to promote digital literacy in Kerala, said Aruna Sundararajan, Secretary to Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology of the Government of India.
“One of the intriguing things was that around 50% of the families had their members working in the Middle-East, especially backward Muslim families. So a lot of interest was generated in the women of this community as they wanted to communicate with their husbands in private. And for that, they had to have access to technology,” she said at the She Means Business event in collaboration with Facebook and SheThePeople.TV.
She talked about her time when she graduated in civil services from the training centre in Mussoorie. She said, “When I was there, I saw that the women who reached that stage, they had no takers for marriage while for the men in training, there would be a queue of fathers-in-law trying to get their daughters married to these men in civil services. While you could be a top-dog in your job, but if you were a woman, it would be a task for you to get a good house to marry in. The social mindset was such that people did not want their daughters-in-law at such high-profile jobs.”
When asked about the three ways her ministry is helping women in entrepreneurship, she responded that she is trying to get the ministry to build incubators that are more women-friendly because she sees that many of the existing incubators are not. She is also trying to get mentorship to reach women at their starting journey so that more women become a part of the country’s booming start-up ecosystem and thirdly, more women-oriented venture capitalists are being drawn in to facilitate scaling-up of the businesses started by women entrepreneurs.