Women Enterpreneurship Association of Tamil Nadu (WEAT).

Women Entrepreneurs Association of Tamil Nadu [WEAT] - A Gate way for Women Entrepreneurship Promotion

Women Entrepreneurs Association of Tamil Nadu [WEAT] was launched during June 14th 2006 with a humble beginning of 35 members who were only engaged in some micro economic activity and many had only aspiration to become entrepreneur. Though it was named as Women Entrepreneurs Association not every member is an Entrepreneur but they have the drive and energy to become entrepreneur and aspire for entrepreneurship.

With such a humble beginning got registered under Registrar of Societies Act and focused to bring as many women as possible to the folder of WEAT by conducting intensive weekly meetings with the support of media with the good coverage of the weekly meetings. Thanks to media for their support in disseminating the news which helped in sustaining the meetings and arrive at more than 500 members in six months.

It is on the same day of registration of the WEAT, Tiruchirapalli District Tiny and Small Industries Association [TIDTISSIA], got the Science and Technology Entrepreneurship Development Project sanctioned and they were looking for participants for their project to train and create entrepreneurs and WEAT was in need of programmes. A coincidence of this also helped WEAT to get prominence and indirectly the STED projects. Above all, WEAT was created by the Centre for Women's Studies, Bharathidasan University and it was to hand hold till WEAT reaches a stage to independently grow and hence every programme, meeting, training, workshop,conference are being done jointly by WEAT and University. This strategy helped and gives confidence among various women.

In order to formerly inaugurate the Association, preliminary meetings of at least 10 to 12 meetings since March 2006 were organised and on June 14th it was formerly inaugurated keeping it as a two day seminar on "Entrepreneurial Opportunities for Women" inviting all key line departments which could possibly support women including MSME-DI, District Industries Centres, Banks and their schemes for women, Khadhi and Village Industries Commission, BHEL, THADCO, DRDA, Social Welfare Board, Dept of the Welfare of the Differenlty Abled, TIIC, Coir Board, National Small Industries Corporation, Mahalir Thittam, SIDCO, Private Corporate with opportunities for Entrepreneurship, Department of Horticulture, Export Promotion Council, TREC-STEP, Kumarappa Institute of Entrepreneurship Training, SBI, IOB, Canara bank, Indian Bank and other banks training programmes, Central and State Government Schemes with various Departments were all brought together giving an awareness on schemes and departments for women and men to become entrepreneurs. A souvenir had also been released containing all possible information to start an enterprises, various departments with schemes to support them including subsidy, self employment, and rural or agro based schemes with the addresses of the departments, which was appreciated by the participants.

This has been taken as the right strategy to attract and create awareness to the aspiring entrepreneurs and also promote entrepreneurial base among women. It is since 2006, every year in June it has been made mandatory to organize anniversary and also hold two day seminar inviting both men and women.

Annual Conference and seminar with the support of various departments as WEAT does not have a comfortable financial base, sows the seed for planning the activities of the subsequent months in the year and now it has become a usual activity.

Strategies Followed

Every women who is interested can become a member by paying Rs. 100 towards annual membership and in the beginning Rs. 25 towards registration.

Women who are committed and work for the organization, and observed to be working with the spirit of organizing and work in co-ordination with others, team building and leadership qualities, are normally nominated for Office Bearers and other will be Executive members.

While becoming members, they are given an application and asked to submit 24 self addressed post cards to intimate them about the days of the meeting. It was tried that every second and fourth Saturdays as the meeting days and later changed as 4th and 18th of every month and if they happened to be Sundays, it will be conducted on next days.

The fortnightly motivation meetings are also structured such that some speakers minimum two will be invited who will be talking on various entrepreneurial opportunities and the nature of support available with them. Repeated meetings and members who attend the meetings happen to be new in every meeting and only a few members used to be attending meeting after meeting and have less aptitude towards choosing and some women used to come for one or two and give up.

The bankers and department officials from various line departments who could not find much time to speak at the conference will be invited for the fortnightly meeting. Invitation to the press used to be sent and a coverage about the deliberations appear which gives better reach to the people.

The members who were committed to start a business or industrial unit were guided right from identifying the project, training, project report preparation, linking to banks, starting the enterprise, linking with government schemes, supporting them with raw material procurement, machinery supply, marketing and management development though MDP.

WEAT extends handholding support to women who are interested to become entrepreneurs at every stage in coloration with various agencies and departments. This is one of the factors which has really contributed to the progress and sustenance of WEAT.

It needs to be emphasized here that the whole concept of WEAT and the need for such Association for Women was the outcome of a Research Study undertaken by Dr. N.Manimekalai, in the Department of Economics, Bharathidasan University, funded by UGC on "Women in Micro Enterprises". The major findings of the study motivated and necessitated for the emergence or origin of WEAT.

  • There was no data base on Women Entrepreneurs and the researcher did a census and identified around 550 women owned enterprises in Triuchirapalli.
  • They were all micro in scale of operation ranging from an investment of Rs. 10000 to Rs. 1,00,000 during 1999.
  • Majority or almost all the women were found in service, business or trade kind of activities and only a very a few in processing units.
  • They were in feminine kind of activities and traditional or conventional areas like pickle, tailoring, fancy stores, beauty clinics, grocery shops, etc.
  • Not even a single woman was supported by banks nor with any Government.
  • Some had tried but could not succeed in due to lack of collateral or credibility on women.
  • They desperately were in need for some collective body to represent their needs.

It was this background and their willingness to become a member of an Association if created had made Dr. N.Manimekalai to conceive the idea of initiating the Association though with the gap of five years after the Research was done, moving to Centre for Women's Studies as Director.

The lessons learnt from this initiative are that there needs to be Research and continuous Research to promote women entrepreneurship which was done by the University department and the action implementation by WEAT.

Keeping the findings in mind, it was focused to bring women out of conventional areas on the one hand, and banks to come forward to lend to women. In addition, there needs to be collective effort by the women to get everything done, which had given rise to WEAT which is now serving as a Social Collateral for various women.

Non-conventional Areas of Business

From the beginning WEAT focused on bringing women into non-conventional areas with the support of various organizations motivating the women to undergo training. Eco friendly areas and using the locally available resources were the focused areas in the beginning in addition to the Science and Technology based Ready made garments, computer based BPO, fashion designing, fly ash bricks, DTP, sanitary napkin, jute and coirbased articles etc. Some women could get training in such areas and partly with the support of TIDITSSIA STED started the units.

The schemes to support women in Banks, particularly Canara Bank were well utilized. In fact establishing the office at TIDITSSIA premises, computer and a printer was sponsored by Canara Bank, furniture by Viveks Co Chennai, and the membership fee collected and the sponsorship raised to conduct the conference facilitated to appoint a full time staff, get a phone connection, and also rent for the office space.

In order to sell the SHG made products, Canara Bank Support was sought and could help in showcasing the products to public and get the support for SHG products.

A special feature of WEAT is basically shape the aspiring women to get motivated and start the enterprise in the areas of interest chosen by them irrespective of caste, age, education, class, region, religion etc.