Balancing business and personal life: Teaching management to women entrepreneurs

A Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Initiative classroom in progress at ISB Hyderabad

For 42-year-old Hiresha Verma, starting a business was not just about passion but also necessity. A post-graduate in human resources, Hiresha had been a housewife before a personal tragedy forced her to rethink her future. With no lucrative jobs coming her way, Hiresha started working in a personality training institute in Dehradun in 2006. After gathering enough experience, she opened her own BPO centre there in 2008, which she shifted to Noida in 2011. Although her business has shown considerable growth over the past three years, she was still facing problems related to mustering up enough of a workforce.

On the other hand, 39-year-old homemaker and mother Bela Shah always had a passion for starting an entrepreneurial venture. Married at a very young age, this commerce graduate from Mumbai had been tutoring students, followed by some professional tarot card reading for a while. However, her zeal to do something more made her take up a course in design. In 2007, she launched ‘Arsya Jewellery’ along with a friend. Her enterprise deals with designing, selling and exporting imitation jewellery.

Bela Shah

Although an increasing demand of imitation jewellery in the market meant that her startup had good growth potential, Bela was still not fully happy with the way she was running it. For both Hiresha and Bela, studying a management programme under the Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women Initiative at Birla Institute of Management and Technology (BIMTECH), Greater Noida seemed to be the solution to their business-related problems.

The Goldman Sachs initiative aims to provide business and management education to 10,000 women entrepreneurs across the world, especially in developing countries. The programme admits women who have been a running a business that has shown a constant growth potential and are looking to break into the next level of their business. The Indian School of Business (ISB), Hyderabad has been delivering the programme since three years and BIMTECH was made the academic partner for the Uttar Pradesh and National Capital Region areas for this year.

In the four-month-long programme, the 30 attending women entrepreneurs have one-week of classes every month. These sessions are meant to help the women overcome obstacles faced in their business, post which they go back to their businesses and apply all the strategies they have learned under the guidance of a mentor. In the next sessions, the changes are reported back in class. The women come from diverse backgrounds and educational histories such as in BA, BCom, BSc, architecture, design and more.

While Hiresha was struggling with managing her workforce and the volatility of the nature of her otherwise profit-entailing business, Bela was facing difficulties with marketing and accounting. A week into the Goldman Sachs programme, Hiresha has already started seeing results. Earlier I was in-charge of everything. I have now learned the importance of segregating work among all employees. I have created departments at my office. Not only has this taken some of the workload off me, I can also see a change in everyday productivity pattern, Hiresha told PaGaLGuY. Similarly, Bela has learned the basics of accounting and financing which she feels is helping her monitor her business growth better.

Over the past three years, the Goldman Sachs program has already touched the lives of 500 women entrepreneurs across the country. While some of them have been working with the full support of their family members, others have had to face some teething struggle proving themselves as capable entrepreneurs.

For example, 34-year-old diploma-holder in animation Taruna Umnatt is the co-owner of Morph Information Technology Pvt Ltd, an animation production house based out of New Delhi. For the single and ambitious lady, the fact that her family has never asked her any questions about her business is good enough support. Besides being the creative designer of her company, she also handles day-to-day operations in all departments of her business. After a week in the program, Taruna, who had been feeling that her business vision was blurred, has already implemented changes at her workplace. After nine hours of daily classes, I go to my animation studio in the evenings. Increasing the delegation of responsibilities among my staff has shown positive changes in the day to day operations, Taruna said.

Asked if it is challenging to start and run a business as a woman in India, one gets mixed reactions from the programme participants. While some feel that times have changed enough for it to not be a problem, others share their apprehensions drawn from their initial struggles. Like 42-year-old Vijay Laxmi, director of marriage bureau service Milan Matrimonial had to deal with disapproval from her family before she took the plunge. A homemaker and a mother, Vijay Laxmi was a good communicator and had helped fix up almost ten marriages in her community before her family started raising questions about her work. Intent upon the idea of creating a business out of her matchmaking skills, Vijay Laxmi first convinced her husband and then her father-in-law before starting Milan Matrimonial Over time, she has become better at handling both family and business simultaneously. When I started out, I had to leave my two young children at my mothers house everyday. It was difficult but somehow I managed, Vijaya Laxmi told PaGaLGuY. The arts graduate had not really been tracking the progress of her business in the last seven years. But now, she has started keeping written expenditure accounts and is planning to launch a website to support her business.

Harbeen Arora

Social entrepreneur Dr Harbeen Arora feels that even as the world is changing, it is still difficult for a woman to claim a place for herself in the world of business. A graduate from Kings College in London and a PhD in creativity and therapy from the University of Paris, Dr Harbeens venture promotes the handloom industry across the country. On the other hand, 27-year-old Shruti Rawat, the owner of playschool ‘Saksham’ in New Delhi, is of the opinion women now have it as easy as men when running a business. From getting repair work done at my school to scouting local markets for distributing pamphlets and announcements, I have done everything that I think a man would have done to promote his business, Shruti said.

Shruti Rawat

For both these single women, family support has never been an issue. However, these well-educated and dynamic women too have found finance and accounting to be weak points. After a week of classes under the Goldman Sachs program, Dr Harbeen been delegating more work among her employees and that in her opinion is making them connect better with the business. Shruti on the other hand is upbeat about marketing her school and running on full capacity. My school has a capacity of 170 students whereas currently I have only 80 seats filled. I still have a long way to grow, Shruti said.