Our Mumbai numbers are ringing all day long: young entrepreneurs are calling us to talk about their ideas.
Just as Ashwin returned from the movie screenings in Sangli, the radio commercials pierced into every nook and corner of Maharashtra to announce the call from Be! Fund Mumbai. We are so excited when entrepreneurs from the most remote, underdeveloped areas of Maharashtra such as Jat taluka call in with a business proposition. Indeed, we have all been busy discussing ideas all day long on the telephone! Some of the young people amaze us with their clarity and their experience while others want to share their ideas and understand how they can build better plans.
An excited mother called us saying all she wanted was to come see us. At first, her excitement was confusing – she’s not our target audience – but we invited her for an interview anyway. She came in with her daughter (who was the entrepreneur!). Her daughter said she wanted to start an organic farm and later expand to setting up solar lights in the village. We were fascinated with her motivation and her sensitivity for her community and we like her plan, organic farming + renewable energy, now that’s cool. Another young man called with his plan to produce jams and pickles using a fruit that grows in the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, locally known as “Ambadi”. Wikipedia came to rescue; we found that Ambadi is popularly known as “Roselle”, it is grown in various parts of India and is also popular in countries like Myanmar, Australia and Nigeria for making jams and pickles. Who knew. We’re excited to try his jams
While it’s exciting we’re also seeing another trend, for every 20 young men that call us, one young woman calls us. Young women are more hesitant, they have to win family support, they are not sure if they can travel to our office, they want to be in a group, make sure we’re real. We’re committed to investing in as many women as we invest in men, and so as soon as young woman calls us, we’re on it. Asking if she can come tomorrow, if she needs directions, help, us to come pick her up from the train station, the Be! Fund women take over, trying as much as possible to make Be! Fund equally accessible to women as to men. We draw the line at giving ideas – we won’t give ideas – but if a young woman comes to us with an idea, we celebrate, fast track, support her and try to talk to her family to gauge their support. Young women who call us have the desire to “be” different and do things differently; and we are certain that they will. Yet others drop out due to lack of support from friends, family and their community. We hope that the women who find a way to negotiate rigid societal norms, will be role models for other young women. There can be no greater impact than changing the way our world sees women, and in turn, creating space for young women to change the world.