“Providing a safe environment, rendering equal opportunities and cultivating a congenial home, all go into empowering women. Empowering a woman brings about a multiplier effect, further adding happiness to the family and in turn to the economy said Malini Shankar, Principal Secretary, Water Resources Department (WRD), Government of Maharashtra who presented the keynote address at an event on ‘Women Enterprise Builders (WEBs)’ on the occasion of International Women’s Day, which was jointly organized on 9th March 2015 by MVIRDC World Trade Center and All India Association of Industries along with Idobro.

Speaking on her days as she started out in the government, Shankar shared her experiences of how men viewed her, both in the rural and urban sectors. She pointed out the difference between rural and urban. While in the rural set up they respected the chair irrespective of the gender, in the cities, her position has been challenged as she performed at par with the males.

Karon Shaiva, Chief Impact Officer and Managing Director, Idobro Impact Solutions was the moderator of the first session. When introducing the panelists she said that ‘as women we should be really proud of ourselves, just being ourselves’.

Ms. Rupa Naik, Director, MVIRDC World Trade Center and Executive Director, All India Association of Industries, Ms. Karon Shaiva, Chief Impact Officer & Managing Director, Idobro Impact Solutions, Ms. Chitkala Zutshi, I.A.S. (Retd.), Member, Water Resources Economy, Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority, Ms. Andrea L. Aquilla, Economic Officer, USA Consulate, Ms. Kajal Anand, President, All India Cosmetic Manufacturer’s Association, Ms. Nirmala Kandalgaonkar, Founder, Vivam AgroTech and Ms. Bijal Ajinkya, Partner, Khaitan & Company.

Addressing the issue of what it takes to be a woman enterprise builder, Bijal Ajinkya, Partner, Khaitan & Co said that women were born multi-taskers and bring the “emo-quotient” to the work place. Ajinkya has been lucky to have a very supportive and progressive family, which reflects on her decision to select more women members in her team due to their dedication.

Speaking on the importance of gender-balance and not equality Kajal Anand, President, All India Cosmetic Manufacturer’s Association spoke of how her demanding father’s shaped her mind. This was her turning point to break away from her struggles and prove entrepreneur skills.

Enlightening the audience on the role of women entrepreneurs in the economy, Andrea L. Aquilla, Economic Officer, USA Consulate remarked that every dollar a woman contributes to the GDP brings prosperity to the family and in turn to the nation. She also said that a woman invests in education, family and improving lives. Speaking of India’s experience, Andrea observed that more women have come out of their safe home-based environments and are working in the formal sector.

One of the women to have received tremendous applause and acknowledgement for doing extraordinary work is Nirmala Kandalgaonkar, Founder, Vivam AgroTech. Kandalgaonkar is also a Tata Strishakti Awardee. In an inspiring talk she said how she began from small not expecting to create a business with a turnover of 5 crore. At the age of 48, she has touched upon a novel idea of converting waste to electricity to supply 5000 villages. Her driving point was to work for the fun of it and not for money. Along with it she also has been working to give back to the society by employing women. Currently, she had 125 councils under her for waste disposal, while catering to 800 tonnes of waste each day. She concluded by saying that all it takes is for a woman to think that she can do something and with the support of society and organizations such as the World Trade Center Mumbai, she can definitely achieve it.

Chitkala Zutshi, I.A.S. (Retd.), Member, Water Resources Economy, Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority shared her experiences as the chairperson of Maharashtra State Women Commission. She highlighted the cases at the Free Counseling Centre which was set up, with the help of counselors, lawyers and district judges to offer help to women who were victims of abuse or faced domestic issues. In one case the husband remarried after leaving his wife in the lurch. Although she won in the lower court, she lost out in the High Court. The lady pushed Zutshi to fight her case in the Supreme Court. In this whole journey, the lady learnt law and is one bright lawyer in a leading law firm. She advocated that problems can be solved if the community comes together.

Session 2 was moderated by Chhaya Sehgal, CEO, The Winning Edge. While introducing the panelist said that the greatest gift to a woman is a woman.

Speaking on the strengths of an entrepreneur, Amrita Chowdhury, Author, said that although she worked across various industries, she persevered her goal to write. She took a risk of diving into the unknown industry and has written of cyber crime, something she believes will help other women.

Beenoxi Arora, Vice President, Axis Bank Foundation has worked in Axis bank for 18 years. However, the last two years have been most memorable and role changing. She now works for the axis bank foundation, which has made her see life in a different way. Her biggest joy was to lakhs of rural women open bank accounts. This has helped the women attain economic self realization.

Ms. Malini Shankar, I.A.S., Principal Secretary - Water Resources Department (WR), Government of Maharashtra, Ms. Chhaya Sehgal, CEO, The Winning Edge, Ms. Amrita Chowdhury, Author and Ms. Beenoxi Arora, Vice President, Axis Bank.

Elaborating on the challenges women face, Nilima Patil, Director-Food Cluster, Maharashtra Chamber of Commerce, Industry & Agriculture said that people think women lack self-confidence. She defended that the reason women consulted others, is also take everybody’s opinion. Women are capable of thinking independently and for the benefit of everyone. She feels women have been responsible for the success of others.

Mahalakshmi Saravanan, Founder & Partner, Women Entrepreneurs India, in her scintillating talk said that trained entrepreneurs could further gain access to market through website promotion. She asked women to optimize online marketing solutions thereby getting access to international markets. She strongly advocated the power of teamwork.

Farida Hussain, President – Marketing, U.S. Vitamins advocated the importance of empowering women entails empowering men too. She said it begins from one’s home which extends to society at large - teaching men of gender equality and respect to women. Everybody talks of work-life balance, but for true success one is forced to sacrifice and women are doing it everyday. She observed that the ratio of women in senior management was far less. This despite, women bosses being more empathetic to the stress faced by their subordinate staff.

The event ended with a musical performance by Ms. Sunita Bhuyan a renowned musician and a violinist in the Indian style of Hindustani music, celebrating the strength of women in the form of music.

Rupa Naik, Director-Project, MVIRDC World Trade Center and Executive Director, All India Association of Industries proposed the vote of thanks.