Mrs. Sheila Kripalani is the Director of Pijikay Group of Companies. Chair, Board of Trustees, Habitat for Humanity, India. Managing Trustee of Grace International. Board Member of Terry Fox (India) Committee. Vice Chair and Hon. Treasurer of Bombay Teen Challenge, an NGO that prevents trafficking and rescues sex workers and their children. Past President of Indian Merchants’ Chamber (Ladies Wing). Recipient of the Asia Pacific Nehemiah Award for volunteer service towards eradication of poverty housing. Sheila is an Honours Graduate with a major in English Literature.
1. Tell us more about your organisation and how it enables entrepreneurship.
Habitat for Humanity is a global non-profit organization that works to eradicate poverty by providing families in need with safe and affordable housing solutions. Our vision is a world where everyone has a decent place to live. We work with low-income, marginalized families to build homes and seek to break the cycle of poverty by providing shelter. Along with housing we also delve into sanitation and hygiene and disaster response initiatives for families in need. Habitat for Humanity India has been in existence since 1983 and we have served over 1 million individuals through our endeavours.
India is defined by urban cities as well as rural villages. In urban India there are many families who have migrated from villages and now live in rented flats with exorbitant rent. It is extremely difficult for them to buy a home for themselves in the city because of high costs. On the other hand, in the rural areas many families live in poorly built shanties or mud houses simply because they cannot afford to buy a decent home for themselves. They have lived this way for generations. Even though these families live in different areas, the problems they suffer are similar – leaky roofs, cracked walls, pollution, lack of access to a sanitation facility and lack of proper water supply or electricity. When a family is provided with a Habitat home, it gives them the much needed stability and encourages them to positively think about the future. Over the years we have witnessed that families, especially women in the households, use their new home to operate businesses for example selling food items or offering tailoring services. Their home gives them the assurance that they can achieve anything they want.
Habitat for Humanity’s WOMEN BUILD India initiative brings together women leaders and achievers to empower underprivileged women. Our Women Build events provide the opportunity for women to take a proactive step in serving their communities sometimes through entrepreneurship. Women helping women sends a positive and powerful message. Through their interaction with the women leaders, the disadvantaged women are shown an example of how they too can make a change and step forward to create a better life for themselves and their families.
2. How does home ownership empower women entrepreneurs?
Across India, in urban as well as rural areas, women are still denied their right to housing and ownership of land. Women’s property rights are subject to a complex mix of laws and customs. In most Indian families, land is usually transferred though inheritance and it is almost always men who inherit the land.
Through the Women Build India project, the Habitat home is built in the woman’s name, as such she becomes the owner of the house. The project enables women from poor families to acquire affordable homes by mobilizing resources and volunteers through our women donors. All this and more provides a strong foundation for women to grow. It gives them independence and confidence to improve their quality of living. Most of the women who have benefitted through this project are working women. Many of them carry out small business from the comfort of their new home. Owning a home definitely has given them strength and the conviction that they can provide for themselves and their children through their income.
We worked with one such strong woman in South India, Lakshmi. Lakshmi earlier lived in a small one room house with her three daughters. The house was made of mud walls and had a tin sheet as a roof that often leaked during monsoons. In order to avoid the house from flooding they usually kept utensils to collect the dripping water. Due to this they had no space to sleep. Lakshmi cry the whole night worrying about her children and wonder who would look after them if something happened to her. Last year Lakshmi was handed over a strong permanent house in her name by Habitat for Humanity India. She even runs a very profitable tailoring business out of her home. Today she is a proud homeowner and feels that her new home has been a life changing experience for her and her daughters.
3. Do you believe that a woman who owns her own home is much more likely to start a business?
Yes, and we have seen this happen. I would like to share Lipi’s story with you to explain this further. Lipi Ansari spent her childhood in an informal settlement in Delhi which is the capital of India. She got married when she was in her early 20’s and looked forward to her new life. Her marriage though didn’t turn out quite as Lipi had hoped. Her husband was already married to another woman and had 3 children with her; Lipi recounts her trying times when her husband finally left her and her 2 daughter, after 8 years of marriage. She had no money to her name. The fighter in her held her together and took charge of the situation, encouraging her to fight. Today, Lipi can be well introduced as an entrepreneur! She is the proud owner of a small tailoring business which she runs from the house that she built with the help from Habitat for Humanity India. She now owns four sewing machines and hires one or two assistants to run her business, which she operates on the ground floor of her house. She also takes on young girls from the community as apprentices to teach them the skills of the trade. Lipi’s new source of income, which she attributes to her new home, allows her to support her family. Lipi’s aspirations for her two daughters, Faima and Afsha, are endless. She dreams of them getting a good education. And for this, she has decided to soon move to a location close to a good school and continue to use this house for her tailoring business. Lipi keeps telling us that the house has helped her become an independent woman with ambitions that she looks forward to achieving. So, yes it is very likely that a woman who owns a home will most definitely think about starting her own business, and it doesn’t matter who she is or where she comes from.
4. Do you believe entrepreneurship is the new women’s movement? And if yes, what do you think was the impetus behind this movement?
Yes, I truly believe that entrepreneurship is the new women’s movement and that women today are thinking out of the box. Many of them are opting to work in the home not as homemakers – but as job-making entrepreneurs which is a welcome change. Women have always known to do things differently in the corporate world. I have noticed that many women start a business which is close to their values and beliefs, they give high importance to freedom and flexibility. Entrepreneurship is more appealing to a woman because it gives them the platform to use their sharp business intelligence while at the same time building strong family ties. Women today no longer want to deal with corporate politics. Millennial women crave independence. Following their own rules and strengths, I think, has led them to feel content with their space. This new women’s movement is definitely here to stay and is creating some dynamic leaders in the business world.
5. A new generation of female leaders are being created through entrepreneurship what role do you believe they should play in fighting poverty and homelessness amongst women?
In many parts of India, women are still deprived of their basic human right to adequate housing, ownership of land and proper sanitation. Our neighbourhoods largely comprise of women and children, who are most likely to be affected by poor living conditions. The future female leaders have a huge and significant role to play in changing this scenario. They can volunteer or support the construction of homes to uplift the vulnerable sections of society. Housing plays a huge role in determining measures of well-being, such as health, income, education and safety. If children don’t live in decent homes with proper sanitation, the odds of their staying healthy plummet. If they’re not healthy, they don’t get educated; and if they don’t get an education, they don’t get decent jobs, meaning they won’t be able to care for their families or break out of the stranglehold of poverty.
A decent home opens the door to improved health, better performance in school, greater economic opportunities and increased community cohesion. Habitat’s Women Builds India initiative allows ‘women with means’ to participate and help ‘women in need’. The new generation of female leaders are brimming with ideas and creative concepts. We urge them to join us in our aim to provide a better and dignified life to women through building homes for them.