Financial services player India Infoline interviews Hina Shah, the founder of the International Centre for Entrepreneurship and Career Development (ICECD).The ICECD offers management and technical training in order to empower underprivileged men and women in their path to entrepreneurship. Established in 1986, ICECD primarily works with women due to its special focus on gender issues. ICECD builds capacity and trains entrepreneurs through seminars, workshops, conferences, policy planning, and consultancy. The interview also offers readers a case study on how ICECD worked with women entrepreneurs in a dairy initiative.

Hina Shah, Founder, ICECD, is a Master of Science specializing in Human Resource Development areas. Born and brought up in Jamshedpur, she studied her MSc. at the Maharaja Sayajirao University – Vadodara. She grew up to learn classical dance at Ravidra Parishad. In 1986, she transformed her own entrepreneurial experience into a developmental initiative and started ICECD. Hina Shah has helped the organization to grow and transform by her vision, mission oriented responsive leadership, which has led to an equally focused and motivated team of capable human resource. Her unique characteristic has been in not only defining organization goals, but also in analyzing the existing situation and identifying areas of inadequacy, quest for alternate strategies and initiating, managing and sustaining change.

“The International Centre for Entrepreneurship and Career Development (ICECD) has successfully mainstreamed many marginalized and under privileged women and men with developmental efforts, thus assisting the process of their social and economic empowerment. The focus has been on facilitating their emergence as entrepreneurs through technical and managerial training. Thus, a sense of ability and ownership is developed which motivates them to break their dependency and look towards a brighter future. Besides, organizations and individuals have been developed by ICECD in order to create a pool of committed, capable and socially responsible professionals who foster the process of non-reversible developmental change.

Replying to Anil Mascarenhas of IIFL, Hina Shah says, “We plan to extend our activities to rural and tribal areas of India, thus reaching out to the unreachable and deprived groups and mainstream them into the Indian economy.”

What is the business model of ICECD?
ICECD has developed a unique business model for women entrepreneurs & business creation, as well as for any person who wants to start a business. Given the complexities of products, markets, and the business environment in which an entrepreneur operates, it is important to fully understand the business’ tasks in their entirety.

With this business model, we have developed millions of entrepreneurs the world over. With the model having been developed over the last 25 years, sufficient evidence is available on the sustainability of enterprises run by women, if those capable are identified / selected / trained and linked with viable businesses and markets.

We have successfully replicated these initiatives all over India and over 55 developing countries through training with the help of trainers of NGOs and government organizations. The ICECD Women Entrepreneurship Development strategies have been adopted by policy makers, development and training organizations, and these strategies support organizations to lead rural women towards economic independence.

Brief us about your activities?
International Centre for Entrepreneurship and Career Development (ICECD) was established in 1986, to facilitate socio-economic and political empowerment of the underprivileged through micro, small & medium enterprise (MSME) development.

The centre’s activities revolve around income generation through self-employment/entrepreneurial activities, encompassing a wide cross section of the society.

With special focus on gender issues, we have developed models and strategies that include awareness building/capacity building training/linkages to develop women of various strata (rural/tribal/urban) of society into mainstream economic partners.

Information at ICECD is disseminated through seminars/workshops/conferences, technology transfer, publications, policy planning, research on related aspects, training of trainers and facilitators, consultancy and extension services like institutional capacity building of development agencies.

The interventions are tailor-made to suit each district of each state in India and ICECD is the only institution which does a follow-up and undertakes handholding for one full year for the new entrepreneurs. It has even developed various need-based skills among the rural areas such as plumbing, electrical, mobile repairing, etc. that have created employment opportunities and is a source of livelihood for thousands.

Not only has that ICECD turned tribals and primitive tribals in Gujarat into entrepreneurs, it has also trained 13,000 widows in the state of Gujarat to become self–employed and has economically empowered them. A maiden initiative of ICECD this year, has been Entrepreneurship Development. Training for 250 primitive tribals in Gujarat was undertaken and the success ratio has been 60%. This is a unique breakthrough in terms of mainstreaming such primitive tribal communities.

ICECD continues its march towards creating budding professionals in the field of Entrepreneurship Management, Rural Development, and Non-Government Organization (NGO) Management through post graduate diploma courses offered at the institute. These specialized courses have created a pool of professionals in India and countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia, Cambodia, etc. who are enabling a positive change by offering their expertise at leading NGOs, Government Departments, Private and Public Companies and various corporate sectors of the world. With new global opportunities and expansion of rural markets, we create qualified and competent professionals to fulfill the emerging and growing need for able human resource.

Tell us about your reach and what are some of the activities you plan in the coming years?
The reach of ICECD has extended to lakhs of marginalised rural/tribal women of 21 districts of Gujarat, namely Ahmedabad, Surendranagar, Sabarkantha, Mehsana, Gandhinagar, Bharuch, Anand, Patan, Navasri, Surat, Kheda, Vadodara, Kachchh, Banaskantha, Dahod, Junagadh, Valsad, Panchamahal, Rajkot, Amreli and Jamnagar. This successful experience was then expanded and replicated by ICECD by developing other NGOs and grassroots organizations all over India (in over 19 states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, among others).

The successful stories of Women Economic Empowerment became an inspiration to other developing nations, and the team at ICECD became instrumental in initiating and institutionalizing Women Entrepreneurship Development in countries like Zambia, Bangladesh, Lesotho, Botswana, Cameroon, Malaysia, Philippines, Jordan, Sri Lanka, Guyana, lvory coast, St. Kitts, and many others spanning the continents of Asia, Africa, Pacific and the Caribbean.

The multiplier effect of ICECD’s endeavors has reached more than 60 developed/developing countries of Asia, Africa, Caribbean and Pacific regions, with over 1150 organizations and 5500 plus trainers having been trained in the international arena.

In the future, we plan to extend these activities to rural areas as well as tribal areas of India, reaching out to the unreachable and deprived groups and mainstream them into the Indian economy.

What is the mission and vision for ICECD?
ICECD’s mission is to create a large pool of entrepreneurs by increasing their access to productive resources and to foster the process of non-reversible developmental change for the economic growth of the nation. For this, we have established a premier organization for Women’s Entrepreneurship Development.

We envision a continuous proactive movement towards the economic empowerment of women. Our vision and mission  will culminate only when women from all strata of society, particularly the disadvantaged and the poor, will achieve a sense of overall empowerment through meaningful participation and decision-making at family, community and policy levels.

What inspired you to get into this?
Earlier, women in the Indian Society faced many problems and at that time, the society (be it parents, husbands, in-laws, relatives, neighbours, banks or even markets) was not prepared to see independent women.

With a desire to be independent, despite facing many odds, I  decided to become an entrepreneur.

Resistance from society, friction at emotional and economic levels along with financial institutions refusing to sanction loans initially made it very difficult. However, the determination and grit to achieve the goal of self reliance made me move towards being an entrepreneur in the field of plastic packaging. By effectively balancing various other roles of a mother, a wife and a daughter, I soon received acceptance from family and society.

Moreover, it was when I saw a large number of deprived, poor and helpless women suffering socially, emotionally and psychologically due to economic deprivations, did I take up the mission to lead them towards self-employment and entrepreneurship.

It was in 1982, with 25 women participants of which 16 established their non-traditional businesses; we started “Women Entrepreneurship Development Programmes” in Ahmedabad.

Encouraged by this success, we refined the model and implemented it in many districts of Gujarat and various states of India. These women entrepreneurs were recognized as “economic contributors” by the financial/support institutions and policy makers, and specialized “women development policies” were formulated by the government to support women in rural areas.

In 1986, we started The International Centre for Entrepreneurship and Career Development (ICECD), a unique institute for women entrepreneurship. This institute was the only one of its kind that enabled thousands of women to become entrepreneurs, not only in India but all over the world.

What would be the demand supply gap for milk?
The country, already the world’s second largest dairy producer, in the long term faces a deficit in supplies unless it can further ramp up output growth, with consumption, swollen by growth in affluence and in India’s population, rising by around 8% a year, the US Department of Agriculture’s New Delhi bureau said. India’s farmers produced 109.5 million tonnes of milk last year, about a sixth of the world’s production, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

There is a gap of 18 lakh tonnes between the demand of milk and current supply, Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar said at a recent meeting. India is attempting to improve its domestic dairy production through a range of initiatives including improved husbandry and genetics, with the country’s dairy herd, by far the world’s largest with about 44 million cows, producing relatively low yields.

A model as successful as the ICECD IYAVA VASANA MODEL has the potential to be replicated in the nooks and corners of rural India to overcome such shortage of supply.

Share with us what turnaround has ICECD achieved in IYAVA VASANA ?
ICECD took up the challenge to change the dismal face of Iyava Vasna, and with great difficulty, slowly transformed the village into a model village by involving 90 of the 130 households, especially women, in small and micro enterprises.

We implemented our specialised Women Entrepreneurship Model in the village and formed 17 Self Help Groups (SHGs) with 233 women joining these groups. Initially, it was difficult to run these groups as women refused to break free from the traditional moulds. With dexterity and perseverance, ICECD  trained these women to start their own micro business.

Based on the village infrastructure and resources, about 70 women were trained by ICECD to start the milk cooperative. They were imparted technical and scientific knowledge and were provided resources for cattle-breeding, milk testing and storage. With the help of the micro-credit from ICECD, they started the dairy business. Today, at Iyava Vasna, one can see a group of women working at a measured and contended pace in the tropical heat who are also involved in other businesses like manufacturing garments, spices, snack food, Rexene bags and boxes in their free time.

From no income to receiving an income between Rs. 2000- Rs. 10,000 per month is  a substantial sum for their financial independence and a significant turning point for them.

Through the ICECD Federation, these women’s groups in Iyava Vasana have been federated and have evolved as Community Based Organizations (CBOs). These CBOs work in close co-ordination with ICECD and a variety of socio-economic activities have been implemented by them. CBO is the link at the grassroots and organization level for implementation of any activity in the village.

The transformation  from “Housewife” to “Entrepreneur“ has brought about a major change in their thinking patterns, and now, even the next generation of children are aspiring to become entrepreneurs. These women will no longer engage in labour, nor will their children. Their lives have taken a new turn.

It is a matter of pride for ICECD that the dairy business which is the key to the turn around in the village, both socially and economically, is taking a further leap. The dairy, that until now was operating at a small rented premise, is now going to have a more stable base.

We hear that a dairy business earlier had failed? What do you think were the reasons?
The men had formed a dairy earlier.  They were not trained in entrepreneurship.  They did not have any knowledge of the various aspects of milk quality (fat content etc.) and hence, were not able to fetch a good price.  They did not have any systematic planning ability, hence their work showed tremendous ad hoc action and inconsistency in the results and quality.  On the other hand, the women developed and trained by ICECD are fully equipped with capacity, capability and technique to run the dairy business. They are even given a computerized milk testing m/c to test fat content and the prices are decided based on quality of the milk (i.e. % of fat). They are highly professional and are able to maintain consistency and faith among their clients. The dairy is flourishing.

If men have expressed their wish to join this dairy business, why do the women want to run it on their own?
Oppressed by the male dominated society, once the women became empowered through the ICECD entrepreneurship and capacity building interventions, the women members in the group started taking their own decisions. It was their first experience to be able to take a decision, to have a say in an important development… gradually they took up more responsibilities and got decision making power even at the family level. This decision making, and the fact that no men would/could overrule their decisions in the group, has been a major factor for the women to feel empowered and feel pride in themselves and their achievements.. ICECD has inculcated an entrepreneurial culture in their Dairy and the women now have the freedom to take their own professional and personal decisions. These women have created their own identity in the village – and naturally therefore, these women would not wish to have any participation or interventions by the men. In the social structure which typically oppressed women, they have found their own space and identity which they do not wish to dilute.

Tell us about the Women Entrepreneurship Model in the village.
ICECD believes in the irreversible empowerment approach through capacity building. The institute periodically examines social and economic situations, analyses needs and finds ways to bridge the gaps. This has brought effective learning and behavioral changes, enabling women to carry out functions independently and effectively. ICECD through its trained manpower has also developed volunteers/SHG leaders and Area Development Officers (ADOs) who were trained and developed to monitor and look after their group members. They created a local handholding facility, which proved to be a fantastic strength for these women whenever a difficulty arose.

The rural women who at times worked as agro-labourers for generations, when pressed by economic needs, had no access to alternative economic opportunities to rise above poverty.

ICECD targeted these women and slowly empowered them by sensitizing, motivating, training and developing them to become economically independent by linking them with the dairy business, its promotion, creation and management; linking them with ICECD micro-credit support and to other financial institutions, thus facilitating them towards investment and capital formation through dairy and other house hold businesses; providing them with technical training for dairy business, besides other businesses like garment making, food processing, spice making, cattle feed,  etc.

Iyava Vasna model has been replicated in about 30 villages of Gujarat among other states in the nation, and in Asian and African countries. The aim is to replicate the model to 50 more villages in Gujarat in coming years.

ICECD has been able to implement an irreversible process of development in the society at large whereby it has benefited the disadvantaged women who have been able to overcome the physical, financial, psychological and social sufferings. This is ICECD’s tribute to humanity and the society.

What kind of technical and scientific knowledge did ICECD impart?
ICECD has provided capacity building training to help these women grow. Some of these inputs include development of entrepreneurial skills and attitudes (Business skills and behavioral competencies; Managerial skills of planning, team building, finance etc.; Scientific & technical knowledge skills related to Dairy business; Cattle care for better health and productivity; Fodder management and nutrition to cattle; Reproductive cycle of cattle and how to manage it; and technical skills to test fat content using computerized equipment.)

Which are the dairies you supply milk to?
The women cooperative of Iyava Vasna is supplying milk to Ahmedabad
Jilla Sahakari Dudh Utpadak Sangh Ltd. (Uttam Dairy) of Ahmedabad. The Uttam Dairy has an arrangement to collect milk from the village by a special transportation facility. Milk produced by each woman is collected and tested by women members themselves twice a day – early morning at 7 am and in the evening at 7 pm.

What role do you see rural women playing in the coming years?
The women of Iyava Vasana have started playing an active role in other socio-cultural as well as economic spheres. The women have played a significant role in environmental awareness and cleanliness of the village for which the village was even awarded a prize by the state government for one of the best managed and cleanest villages. This is a revolutionary change for a village comprising of the Darbar community, where women did not even step out of the “purdah” (veils).

In the coming years, we see women playing a bigger role in building the new generation in the Darbar Community. This case of Iyava Vasna is proving to be a huge example for the other villages who are inspired to change for a better tomorrow. With these rural women becoming increasingly proactive both socially and economically, we envision a paradigm shift in the upbringing of the next generation who would be active members of the productive Indian population.

Tell us about your financials?
Our institution is an NGO, registered under Trust and Society Act. The sources of  finance are Government grants, international funds as well as self generated funds received by charging fees to clients. The accounts are regularly audited as per the requirements.

If you were to give some suggestions to the government to improve the lot of rural women what would they be on urgent priority?
The villages need to reach 100% self-sufficiency through women’s economic empowerment. Today, women comprise of 50% of our total population and the urgent priority on the part of the government should be to lead rural women towards self–employment in villages, create more CBOs for greater self sufficiency, promote agri-business as wells as service business in rural areas, constitute women committees or representation in institutions such as: Banks, Business Development and Support agencies, Policy-making bodies; integrate women into productive activities under schemes like NREGA rather than merely labour and provide them with easy access to information and knowledge using Information Technology.

Micro-credit has been given a bad name in the recent times. How do you view the same?
Most micro-credit agencies use micro-credit as a business tool thereby putting the development of rural people on the back burner. This is the most crucial factor in Micro-Credit agencies earning a bad name.

Real indicators of a successful micro-credit intervention are not just recovery. It should rather assess the benefit that has been derived in terms of new enterprise, investment creation and employment generation.

ICECD believes that micro-credit is not only about giving money. Our micro-credit model and experiences suggest that entrepreneurial capacity building results in better enterprise performance and hence ensures better sustainability and growth. Micro-credit interventions must not only aim to monitor finance, but as the ICECD model – also provide support/counseling to small entrepreneurs to enable their businesses to grow and succeed.

Micro-credit programmes should make youth/women “bankable” and ultimately be able to mainstream them with banks or other Government schemes. Micro-credit should be a launch pad from where micro enterprises can graduate into small and medium scale units to contribute significantly to the economic development of a nation.

What is your message to the society?
My desire is to empower every woman to transcend all obstacles and take her rightful path in this world, as I believe that when a woman gets empowered, the family gets empowered, and when the family gets empowered, the state, the nation gets empowered. I envision every woman emerging as a socially and economically independent person, transgressing barriers of geography, age and creed, through emergence as a successful entrepreneur.