* New initiative aims to unlock opportunities for women-owned small businesses by enabling access to tools, resources and networks
Airtel Payments Bank, Frontier Markets and the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth today announced the launch of She Leads Bharat:Udyam, an initiative to elevate 100,000 women-owned small businesses with resources, tools and opportunities to grow and diversify their incomes. The announcement was made at the Asia Inclusive Growth Forum, an event convening over 100 cross-sector leaders for candid, impact-driven dialogues on advancing inclusive growth in India and across the global south.
In this first phase, this initiative will enable 100,000 women-owned small businesses in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh to learn and earn via Frontier Markets’ proprietary, flexible Meri-Saheli platform. 10,000 of these women small business owners will be further enabled to grow their business by becoming Airtel Payments Bank Business Correspondents (BCs) and unlock additional revenue streams. This is aligned with the Bank’s vision of ‘Empowering India with Accessible and Inclusive Banking.’
“Taking our commitment forward to empower women in rural India to embark on their entrepreneurial endeavours, we are collaborating with Frontier Markets and Mastercard on She Leads Bharat:Udyam,” said Anubrata Biswas, MD&CEO, Airtel Payments Bank. “We take pride to welcome them on board as Business Correspondents, joining hands with our existing network of 50,000 women BCs who play a vital role in taking banking and financial services to underserved rural pockets of the country. We look forward to our journey in building a financially inclusive economy.”
The partners envision She Leads Bharat:Udyam helping to expand access to financial services, delivering a new blueprint for serving rural markets and extending women-owned small businesses with support tailored to their needs.
“More women entrepreneurs are coming into India’s workforce and adding energy to the economy. When these business owners can access credit and digital tools, they can keep expanding and become more resilient. That’s good for their families, employees and communities. That’s what inclusive growth is all about,” said Ari Sarker, President Asia Pacific, Mastercard.
Women-owned small businesses face challenges that can often prevent them from achieving their full potential. In India, women-owned micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) constitute 20% of all MSMEs yet receive only 5% of the total financing provided by public-sector banks. They are often less digitized and receive less training to build their businesses. However, when properly supported, women entrepreneurs are more likely to hire women, more likely to repay credit and more likely to share increased income with their families and communities, serving as core drivers of inclusive economic growth.
She Leads Bharat:Udyam is a first-of-its-kind initiative that brings together the private sector, social enterprise, and philanthropy in the banking, financial services, and insurance sector to demonstrate a digital-first model designed to unlock ways for women-owned small businesses to increase their incomes. Frontier Markets will implement the program and leverage its cadre of Saral Jeevan Sahelis—women entrepreneurs—to identify and onboard women-owned small businesses onto their Meri-Saheli platform. In partnership with Airtel Payments Bank, Frontier Markets will onboard eligible women-owned small businesses as business correspondents and leverage its Saheli network and platform to increase product and brand awareness and generate leads to maximize their earning opportunities. In addition, these women-owned small businesses will get access to a suite of tools, resources, and market services available in the Meri-Saheli ecosystem, offering them ways to learn how to run a successful business and earn more revenue.
“Frontier Markets has built a technology platform investing in the power of women as driving forces for commerce in rural India. Thanks to the leadership of Airtel Payments Bank and support from Mastercard, we can leverage our 10 years of efforts to reach a new level of scale, truly combining the best of global leaders' expertise and resources to support our efforts to deepen the impact that rural women have in building thriving rural markets in India,” said Ajaita Shah, Founder & CEO, Frontier Markets. “This partnership strengthens and enables social enterprises like us to thrive and implement our goals at scale.”
She Leads Bharat:Udyam will be funded by the Mastercard Impact Fund, and Mastercard will bring the catalytic capital and global expertise of its Center for Inclusive Growth to unlock tools, resources, and networks for the women-owned small businesses.
Airtel Payments Bank’s ground force and Frontier Markets’ Sahelis are already working in the field to bring this partnership to life and identify the first tranche of women-owned small businesses eligible for the program.