Innovative Initiative to Promote Women Entrepreneurship Through Women Entrepreneurs Association of Tamil Nadu [WEAT]:

An Initiative of Centre For Women’s Studies, Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirapalli


N. Manimekalai


Centre for Women’s Studies,

Bharathidasan University


Tel: 0431-2407028

Fax: 0431-2407045






Women Entrepreneurship Development has been a challenge for many industrial promotional agencies in India.  Entrepreneurship Development Programmes have not succeeded in bringing desired results.  Efforts to promote entrepreneurship through STEP, EDC etc also yielded with limited results.  Similarly teaching entrepreneurship in colleges, conducting awareness programmes has stopped with the awareness alone failed to go beyond taking up entrepreneurial activities.  Given this it was attempted to analyse the prospects and problems of women in micro enterprises in Tiruchirapalli district which revealed that women entrepreneurs largely confirmed to micro scale of operation, mostly service and trade, and feminine and traditional nature of activities in which women were found since long.  These women were not able to avail any formal credit and largely depended only on informal credit taking away their lion share of profit.  Given that majority of the women entrepreneurs in the micro scale were pushed to assume such occupations due to their poor economic background, who do not have any organization or association to support their demands to government or any other bodies to collectively represent their issues, it was recommended strongly to have an association.  It is the outcome that study done in 2001 by the author of this paper that the Women Entrepreneurs Association of Tamil Nadu [WEAT] could be initiated with the modest number of just 35 members in the beginning which has risen to 526 numbers at present.


Primary aim of this initiative is to bring likeminded, budding as well as struggling women micro entrepreneurs to come together to represent solidarity to promote entrepreneurship, ultimately taking it as a movement to make interested women to be job providers rather than job seekers. One of the major objectives of the WEAT is to promote grass root women to become entrepreneurs not necessarily self-help group women but women in micro scale or self-employed women and further to help the existing entrepreneurs to expand their scale of operations.  


Progress of WEAT:

WEAT within its short period of inception, able to attract several women to become members, undergoes training, prepare project, get bank assistance and start their units and run the unit.  The specific progress and strategies followed may be outlined as follows.

·                    26 women entrepreneurs could start their garment units by availing bank credit

·                    More than 40 existing women, who were already engaged in certain micro entrepreneurial activities, were able to expand their scale of operation.

·                    43 women were able to receive intensive food processing training for five days and able to diversify their products

·                    36 women were given computer training able to either work with ITES or initiate ITES

·                    Another 20 each woman who had undergone the above training will be tied up with bank loan to initiate BPO and Food processing units, which is under processing.

·                    Another 30 women were given training on Eco green products such as banana fibre products, areca nut leaf plates, fly ash bricks etc are also given and their application to install machine and start the unit is under processing.

·                    The members of WEAT are taken to give training to College students with attractive honorarium. 

·                    They are taken to interact with college teachers to take the message of their struggle to progress and survive in the field.

·                    The have also been recommended to be professional trainers to DRDA, Women Development Project, Tsunami affected areas etc.

·                    Above all, the products of members of WEAT as well as SHG women are exposed to regular exhibition cum sale in the University and College Campuses, every two days in each colleges, in around 10 colleges and University campus ensuring thereby 22 days of regular marketing of their products, which has contributed to expand their business

·                    All women enterprises have been started in three different places, in which the members sell most of the products produced by the WEAT members

·                    Effort to approach the district administration to give space in market areas to display their products, to make them members of various task force committee to represent their issues, exploring various future opportunities for promoting women entrepreneurship etc

·                    Every 15 days meeting of the entrepreneurs inviting various officials, entrepreneurs, association etc motivating them has been on going.

·                    The strategies followed are tying up with various organization which are working for women entrepreneurship, helping them right from identification up to starting the enterprises, marketing etc and networking with similar organizations which deliver the good without any cost.  Above all, the credibility that they have on the University, which is an academic body not NGO and self-less, price less service given by the Centre, the access, the response and facilitation which all go a long way in bringing such a progress for WEAT.


Initiatives to promote Women Entrepreneurship:

            There are several interventions by both government and non-government organisations to promote entrepreneurship among women. A unique programme has been conceived by the candidate on the basis of the researches done, and the issues identified particularly lack of formal credit, lack of networking, lack of marketing etc were addressed to certain extent by establishing an Association bringing the women entrepreneurs together in the name of Women Entrepreneurship Association of Tamil Nadu [WEAT].  The following section briefs various initiatives taken with WEAT and its progress.


Objectives of WEAT:

            To help the women in informal sector to become successful women entrepreneurs supporting right from identification of a project, skill training, and tie-up with bank for finance and marketing

     To empower women to become self-employed so as to become economically independent and decision makers in business

            To bring social empowerment through behavioral change to address the myths and misconceptions associated with their capabilities and

            To help the existing micro women entrepreneurs to expand their scale of operation who suffer more than the new entrepreneurs.


            Women Entrepreneurship has been emerging among women of various classes. Research on Entrepreneurship revealed that it has been the domain of men for a long.  A research conducted in Tiruchirappalli district on women entrepreneurs revealed that they are found in micro scale of operation in the trades of tailoring, beauty clinic, fancy stores, petty shops, food based products, ready made garments, etc.  They found themselves comfortable with the feminine and service nature and micro scale of activities.  Moreover, it was very rare to found women in non –traditional, non-feminine areas! Why the women increasingly confine to such micro scale of operations? Have all been well researched in both national and international levels.  It was underlined that the dual responsibility and the associated lack of time to fully devote to business have made the women to confine to part time and temporary nature of entrepreneurial activities.  Also these women have lack of support from formal sector such as banks, which made them increasingly rely on moneylenders who charge really exorbitant rate of interest. Moreover, unlike men owned enterprises which have their enterprises registered with DIC or Inspector of Factories, these women owned enterprises which are micro in scale are not registered and hence there is no data base also.  Metro Cities like Chennai may afford to have Association and considerable number of women entrepreneurs, which is absent elsewhere. 

            Understanding the lack of data base on the one hand and the increasingly micro scale, feminine, traditional nature of units on service and trade run by women and their inability to represent their issues particularly credit and marketing needs.  It is in this context it was felt that there is a need to organize these women collectively to represent their needs and accordingly it was formed and inaugurated in Tiruchirappalli on June 14th 2006 with 150 members.  It was understood that if the Association functions in only one district it may not be a strength and hence it was planned to extend it to all the seven districts under the Jurisdiction of Bharathidasan University, including Tiruchirapalli, Thiruvarur, Thanjavur, Karur, Perabambalur, Nagapattinam and Pudukottai. Already on July 8th Thanjavur Branch has been initiated with around 100 members.

            It was also felt that if this association has a networking with other Associations of Men owned enterprises, it would still facilitate these women to reach the objectives and goals easily.  Accordingly, the Centre has approached Tiruchirappalli District Small Industries and Tiny Industries Association [TIDTSSIA], which has got sanctioned a project from Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, under the Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Development [STED], Government of India and so far six projects have been introduced and experts in the field were brought to discuss and motivate these women.  Every day new members are getting enrolled. Though initially during June 2006 it was registered with just seven members, now it has touched seven hundred members within six months. Enquiries keep coming from neighbouring like Karur, Coimbatore, Tirunelveli, Dindigul, Erode, Cuddalore districts etc.


Training for Women Entrepreneurship Development:

            Realizing that women with tailoring skills are present more, the first project launched with the support of STED was tie-up with Textile Export Association of Karur, Tiruppur etc to get regular stitching order.  Since it may not be possible to realize the sufficient turnover with the traditional machines, it was decided to approach for credit from banks to install power sewing machines, to State Bank of India under Sree Shakthi Scheme on behalf of WEAT through STED.  However, the formalities, procedure and initial reluctance to accept the women, delays the process, but it will be through in a week.

Since Women micro enterprises are increasingly found in food-based products, a tie up with food products manufacturers such as Rock fort Masalas, Mammi more, etc has been made.  They promised to give regular orders to and from the women who produce various processed food, help in standardization, improving the technical know how etc. It is proposed to adopt ‘a cluster d development’ approach to bring all the producers of food-based products producers under one umbrella.

            Another area opened to the members is organic farming, using Bio fertilizer with cynobacteria, which gives better yield also Greens; Vegetables can be produced using the manure even in trays, keeping in terrace. So this cultivation need not be restricted to rural farms but could be done in plastic trays by urban households.  Those who have space can undertake as kitchen gardening as this is a very short-term crop which could be taken up with least cost possible and limited space.

 In order to help the very low income group, mat production from textile waste has also been opened up, where in the knitting wear wastes from Tiruppur textile units will be supplied by companies in the doorsteps to undertake foot mat production.  The feature of this enterprise is that it is very simple, it can be done casually attending to other activities does not require much advertisement except labor.  The company gives the waste and gets back the mat.  The women are capable they can market on their own. Small carriages, petrol bunks oil mills; etc may take the unknitted cloth directly instead of mat.  All depends on how the women perform and capable in direct marketing.

Imitation jewellery project has also been opened up in which the entrepreneurs will supply the metal, train the women on various design making of jewellery and market it.

Similarly these entrepreneurs have been opened to ‘surgical accessories training’ which can be taken up with the ordinary sewing machines that the women have already with their possession.

SHG Women Product Marketing:

            Another major activity opened to these members of both SHG and WEAT is regular marketing support to the products manufactured by the women in the University campus, colleges etc. for two days every month.  So far three colleges have   come forward to provide space to market their products for two days in a month.  The turnover happened to be encouraging for these women and the products are also reaching new type of customers. Invariably it is found that the food based products realized large sale compared to other products.  There has been a mixed response from boys, girls and co-education colleges.  In girls colleges, University campus, there is a good appreciation of SHG products compared to co-educational institutions where in there has been an initial reluctance.  It makes the centre and Association to switch over to different Strategies

It is proposed to approach the district administration, the corporation to the women entrepreneurs and their products by way of giving space in crowded areas say Bus stand, Markets, Uzhavar Sandhai etc, so that these women will have regular marketing.

Similarly, it has been proposed to approach the Government offices, BHEL, Railway workshop, office Banks space to exhibit the Products on the salary days.

Regular orders to caterers for meetings in University, TIDISSIA, industrial Estate etc., has already been on.   As one of has opened shop under the banner of All Women Enterprises the members and she helps in marketing the products of all the women in her shop. The sales performance has been very encouraging.  If such shops in some more corners were opened, these women’s products would be comfortably marketed.

Another opening to the women has been herbal plant cultivation, herbal based products production and Marketing. With a tie up with a private industry, these members of the Association have been advocated to either go far plant cultivation where in the saplings will be supplied by the Company and on by back basis, the produce will be taken back, or undertake a project to produce herbal based Soap, hair oil, etc for which technical know how will be taught by the company.

Herbal oil manufactured by women is being accepted by KVIB to market in their stalls.  One member could successfully market in the local super Markets, which is fast moving.

This apart, WEAT has been associating with TIDISSIA- STED    through Centre for Women Studies, in getting systematic support to initiate enterprise right from identifying the prospective product/ service/ trade preparation of project Plan, recommendation to bank for finance, getting the Machineries, raw material, marketing the produce etc.

A group of women who have expressed interest to engage in production of sanitary Napkins have been arranged to give a two-day training with a promise to get the run material, which will be cheap and harmless, such as wood bulb instead of cotton

Similarly Thanjavur branch with more than 100 members has been inaugurated. There has been lot of opportunities have been identified to be prospective for future entrepreneurs.  In fact as a maiden attempt a group of the members prepared food for the meeting and supplied which was appreciated by the women members.  It the college in which the inauguration meeting was organized pointed to various openings within the college campus itself including stationers, Canteen, supply of Lunch for the meeting, hostel for women students etc.   SBI has agreed to support any project by several such opportunities could be opened to these women and it is only they will power, self – confidence, continuous involvement with commitment, which are very much needed for progress in future. Several strategies are being tried to identify the best strategy, which would make these women sustain in business.

Later Developments:

            WEAT has been really getting support from various sides, which are briefed below

  1. In collaboration with TIDITSSIA, 26 women entrepreneurs have been supported with bank finance to start ready made garment units with the support of regular orders from Karur Exporters Association
  2. Every fortnight a meeting, motivational campaign, training are being organized on need based areas, bringing experts associated with programme implementing departments, banks, Industries, government departments, Educational institutions etc.
  3. Products of these women are permitted to be sold in the University Campus regularly on every first Wednesdays and Thursdays regularly and 10 other colleges and accordingly nearly 22 days they are occupied in a month to market their products.
  4. In Collaboration with Ministry of Women and Child Development a five-day intensive training was organized on Food processing and 20 women have been identified to submit project for finance from SBI.  It was targeted to support 1000 women entrepreneurs by March 2007 by SBI.
  5. In Collaboration with District Rural Development Agency, Mahalirthittam, several training programmes have been planned using the expertise with the women entrepreneurs of this association.
  6. The successful women entrepreneurs have also offered college students training. 
  7. These Association members have also been offered part time temporary jobs in the University
  8. The membership which was just 37 in the beginning when it was inaugurated in June and increased to more than 700
  9. The marketing of the products has been expanded to Engineering colleges, which has improved their business performance.

Production Units:

      Several members who were engaged as home based activities have now expanded to higher scale, involved in large production appointing workers. 

Food and food based products, catering services, ready made garments, imitation, jewellery etc are the examples. Nearly 25 women have initiated their own garment units taking regular orders from Exporters Association Karur, Erode etc. installing nearly 25 power sewing machines, releasing a turnover of 4000 pieces stitched every day, extending on an average work to 250 women. 

      Catering services, food based products are recommended to the Hostels in Engineering Colleges, University apart from regular order from staff and students.

      Bio-fertiliser training based on coir pith and Cynobacteria was given to the members of WEAT and several of them will be initiating bio-fertiliser unit or apply bio-fertiliser to their farms including vermi compost.

      To promote Eco green products, training on Areca nut leave plant, banana fibre based products, paper bags etc was given an around 20 women are trying to initiate the enterprise.

      Food processing training given for five days with the help of Ministry of Women and Child Development has helped 25 women to engage in food and fruit processing activities which are prepared and sold in their stall provided in the colleges and Universities.

      Collaborative effort with a NGO working on least chemical input to agriculture, the land available in the University, will be turned into water shed and the cultivation of tree crops, with the help of these members, students in the University Campus and also keep it as a model to the neighbourhood villages.

WEAT is an organ of the University and hence there is credibility among the public and most of the training is being offered identifying the need, market etc with financial support from bank.  The women, who are capable of doing and managing many crisis situations, were denied with the opportunities.  WEAT is targeting such women who really long for doing and achieving something. It has just born, and it will have its growth in flying colours in future.

            Apart from traditional nature of activities in which women have been engaged with since time immemorial, efforts to introduce women in non-traditional activities have also been made. 

12- day Computer Basics Training has been given already and the same batch of 36 women have also been extended with 25 day training on experiential English communication skills, which helps them to improve their communication.

            Once they complete this process, they will be introduced to the BPO business in IT sector.  Already several companies are approaching them to take them either as employees or self-employment.

            Women would also be introduced to initiate enterprises on engineering and fabrication for which BHEL will be supporting with regular orders.

            The women or general engineering units functioning already will also extend welding training to the women entrepreneurs who will be then absorbed by the industrial units owned.

            Advanced computer course training will also be given to the women who are really interested in starting computer based education or other IT based units, mainly on web designing, multi media etc.

            After taking the training one women had initiated the bio-compost projects, 25 women installed 250 power sewing machines and run their units, two micro trading centers opened marketing the products of all women entrepreneurs’ products.

New openings:


            [i] Openings for Welders, Fitters as employees and employers.  Underlining that there are five R required for successful entrepreneur namely man, material, machine, market and money, he advocated that the women must possess all these to become successful.  Women can also appoint male welders in their units supplementing women welders he added.

            He estimated in 10 years there may be a need for 10000 women welders and if proper infrastructure is developed, and encouraged, women can easily get employment.

Second opportunity highlighted was

[ii] Machine components products may be encouraged in which Women Entrepreneurs Association of Tamil Nadu, TIDITSSIA and his association may help in supplying regular orders. He did emphasized on the success story of Bangladesh, Grameen bank initiated by Mohammed Yunus.

Third opportunity explained was

[iii] Mineral water company could be started by group of motivated women which has an emerging market and supply to the industrial block of Thuvakudi which has lot of forward and backward linkages, such as production of bottles, machines etc. which could also be taken up by the women

Fourth opportunity

[iv] Power Plant

            The heart of the issue is lack of power and if captive power units are established using the renewable energy sources, fossil fuel dependency may be given up.  He invited motivated women to supply proposis called, kaurvel tree which in large demand for his own power plant industry.  There is a demand of 200 ton at the rate of Rs. 1500 to 2000 per day, that is Rs. 4 lakhs worth of orders every day and offered to help the SHG women and members of entrepreneurs to take up task of continuous supply of kuruvel stems for 1.2 crores per month.  So training may be given on these areas and women make use of these opportunities he said.

Fifth opportunity, which he talked about, was

[v] Catering and canteen services in the industrial estate area:

            GB industries have a canteen services but it requires lot of skilled manpower to supply food to 500 workers within 45 minutes.  So he advocated the women to look for other areas within the estate to open catering services in two to three places. The members of WEAT may take this up shortly

            The catering services of the members of WEAT will also be encouraged to supply services to seminars and conferences organized in the University.  Already few departments give orders only to WEAT members.

            The women entrepreneurs also run the canteen of the University from rural areas.  A permanent retail outlet is being under construction to have their products sold in the campus permanently.


            It is a growing intervention and at the time of conference the author may have more to say.  Such intervention by the academic bodies in promoting entrepreneurship through action research needs to be exposed to all who work on this area.