Business experts from the Women’s Business Institute (WBI) at Salt Lake Community College recently returned from their fourth annual trip to Mumbai, India for an initiative to bring low-income women out of poverty through entrepreneurial training and small business counseling. The initiative was launched in 2007 in collaboration with the Women’s India Trust (WIT), a non-profit organization in Mumbai that was established in 1968 to provide women in India easy access to education, income generating skills and employment.
SLCC’s Women’s India Trust Initiative is an entrepreneurial training program that provides women in India with the education and skills needed to start a home-based business and improve their quality of life.
Randy Schouten and Ann Mackin, business experts from the College’s Miller Business Resource Center (MBRC), provided the two-week entrepreneurial training to 25 women from Mumbai and surrounding villages. The trip was Schouten’s fourth visit to India to facilitate the training, and Mackin’s first.
“Fundamentally, as we empower women throughout the world to become financially independent, women raise the standard of living for their families. We encourage and support women to rise up out of poverty,” said Mackin, Director for the Women’s Business Institute at the MBRC.
Women in the entrepreneurial training with Schouten and Mackin spent ten days in class–exploring the foundations of starting and growing a business and learning about finance, marketing, sales and operations. The cohort also divided into small teams to create a business outline. Three teams worked on building a sewing and embroidery business, one team focused on a catering service, and a fifth team worked towards developing a pre-school program. On the last day of the course, students presented the information they learned from the class to their peers.
In addition to teaching the entrepreneurial class, the WBI team also provided women specific business counseling. Schouten, Division Chair of the MBRC, counseled Mrs. Vaishali Sunil Phabtare, a woman who had taken his class in a previous visit in 2011–who has since started her own business. After completing the course in 2011, Phabtare used the lessons from Schouten’s class to discover and identify a viable business opportunity to mill whole wheat, rice and other grains for families in her neighborhood. Prior to launching her business, “Flour Mills,” no milling service was available in Phabtare’s neighborhood–leaving families to travel great lengths for slow and poor milling services. Upon discovering the opportunity, Phabtare saved money for a full year to purchase a wheat grinder and launched Flour Mills on January 1, 2012. In just the first month, Flour Mills had generated 2000 Indian Rupee’s (or approximately $40), a 13% return on Phabtare’s investment for the grinder.
The 2012 entrepreneurial training cohort demonstrated to be unique to Schouten and Mackin because of the broad number of business opportunities considered by the women in the program. When the program began, most of the women focused on starting embroidery or sewing home-based businesses. This year, women in the program began to explore a broader scope of businesses including fish wholesale, daycare, pre-school, wheat grinding or even a home-based candy shop. Many of the students will use the business outline developed in the course to start a business, while others will take some time to save money or explore market opportunities. “They all had an entrepreneurial spirit,” Mackin said regarding her students. “Whether or not they start a business this year or next year–or a couple of years down the line, the seed has been planted that it is possible.”
The relationship between the Women’s Business Institute (WBI) and the Women’s India Trust (WIT) has helped the College establish a student-based international marketing company. The company will give students an opportunity to learn all aspects of international business where students conduct market research and import products made by women through WIT programs for distribution in Utah. Revenues produced from the student-based company will be utilized to sustain the entrepreneurial training program in the future. To date, the initiative has been supported by donations from local Utah businesses.
“Students learn how to import, distribute, make a profit and run their own little business,” Mackin said. “In turn, the Women’s India Trust has a direct channel for distribution to sell more products.”
The Women’s Business Institute is looking to expand the training program in partnership with the Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University and the S.P. Jain Institute of Management & Research in Mumbai. As the program grows, students from partnering institutions will also teach entrepreneurial skills to women in Mumbai–providing a continuum of small business support to sustain the WIT Initiative throughout the year.
As a result of a strong international partnership between Salt Lake Community College and the Women’s India Trust, women in India are learning critical business skills to improve their quality of life and create a better future for their families and communities.
The Women’s India Trust Initiative is part of a college-wide India exchange program designed to prepare the College’s students for international business. The program is a service of the Women’s Business Institute, serving refugee, under represented and low-income women locally and throughout the world. For more information about the initiative, visit www.mbrcslcc.com/wbi_witi. For more about WIT, visit www.wit.org.in.