Across 10 states, villages and slums, over 1,000 children told us they thought entrepreneurs solved problems, all kinds of problems: things that were unfair (discrimination) and interrupted services (water, waste, energy). And when entrepreneurs weren’t solving problems – they were creating businesses that filled gaps – businesses that provided access to those same things that were missing where children lived – water, waste and energy. For children, sometimes entrepreneurs brought people together, for the greater good of the village, other times, they worked alone, earning the respect, trust and admiration for their very hard journey, making them role models for children to follow. Children told us entrepreneurs are everywhere: she is your teacher who sells mangoes to build another classroom, your father who insists you should be able to drink from the same school water tap like children of other castes, your grandmother who lets you go to school when your brother says you should stay home, your local leader who says together, we will get the bribe returned to the young person who stands up for what they believe in.
In the cities of Uttar Pradesh, North India, girls think a woman entrepreneur is different from a man because in order to start an enterprise she has to negotiate at different levels – with her family, neighborhood, community just to be able to leave the house. She has to negotiate much more than a man if she wants to achieve anything – and so it will take her longer to be successful. If she decides to start an enterprise she has to work at home and outside as well – she has to find a way to do two full time jobs, and she has to prove to everybody that she can manage both roles well. Otherwise people will say all kinds of things about her that are not true and unfair, to make her stay home, to force her from shame not to participate.
As an entrepreneur, negotiating both roles, she must take initiative to talk to people and build relationships with them. She also understands, to work in the community she has to build trust, over time. People believe that girls should not be allowed to go out of the house – because they think it is dangerous for girls to be outside. “Work”, for women is not something they choose to do – it is only if their family is very poor that the women work. If a family has a choice, they would prefer that girls do not work. A woman entrepreneur has to prove time and time again that she will always do the ‘right’ thing. People are less likely to forgive her mistakes as compared to men. She builds trust in the community by her clear communication and actions – by doing good work for them and fulfilling the responsibility entrusted to her.
Girls think an entrepreneur is motivated and determined to do new things, especially if she is told that she is not supposed to, and so she takes on the challenge. Girls think entrepreneurs are ‘free’ – they have freedom to decide when they go to work, and for how long. They decide what they wear and where they can go. Entrepreneurs, to girls, are free to move, and come back home again, to do what they think is right. They are free to choose.
In contrast, to the woman entrepreneur who has to negotiate to leave her house, boys in the villages of Andhra Pradesh, South India, think an entrepreneur is an extrovert, makes friends easily, is very much a part of the community; he participates in all of the local celebrations (often organizing them) and is there in times of sorrow as well. He is always presentable – wears clean clothes and has neatly combed, oiled hair.
He has good relationships with his friends, community and customers, he takes good care of them – if they need something that he does not have he makes sure that he gets it for them and in this way builds relationships and trust. He is also willing to let people pay a little late because he knows that they can’t always pay on time and people like him for this understanding. He always has a joke to tell and lightens the conversation when it starts getting too dry.
He is inquisitive, and makes it a point to get important information about something before taking initiative to make it happen and get other people involved. Even as a child he always asked questions – about the moon and stars, about outer space, about history. He makes decisions in his enterprise; he does not take orders from others. When he was not able to get a loan from the bank because he did not have any collateral, he took a loan from someone in the village, to start his business – even though his parents did not think this was a good idea and tried to discourage him.
He is not very highly educated but is able to read and write. The entrepreneur is someone who has faced problems similar to the ones the boys face – caste, poverty, lack of education – but has not given up and has struggled and has worked hard to make things better. He will treat everyone equally, regardless of gender, class, religion. If he has a daughter, he will make sure he gives her the same freedom as a son, because he feels that the discrimination that girls face is very unfair. He is upset by the prevalence of dowry and always tells others that this is wrong.
He realizes that while not desirable at all, sometimes it’s necessary to strike a balance between principles and getting the job done. He likes to plan – and he has planned for the future, as he feels life is within his control. His first aim is to earn enough money to be comfortable, then he will take on community issues. He has not yet heard of businesses that solve a problem and generate income, he feels they are either always on one side of the line or the other, development or business.