Women's entrepreneurship in India: Gelhei, the green warrior!

Photo credits: Action Education India


During its investigation in the framework of the project "Promotion of bamboo SME clusters for sustainable development", the Action Education (formerly Aide et Action) team met Gelhei. A shy woman, but with extraordinary skills in bamboo weaving.

women entrepreneurs supported by Action Education in India

The challenges of women's entrepreneurship

The first challenge women face in entrepreneurship is financial. Currently other challenges are emerging around ecology and climate change. These are various issues to be taken into account in achieving their goals.

The environmental opportunity in women's entrepreneurship in India

The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoFCC) was responsible for restoring the vegetation cover of Sambalpur, which was once one of the largest forest covers in Odisha. After planting, many tree protectors had to be used to protect the saplings.

Spotting the opportunity, the Action Education team supported Gelhei and his group in the production of tree guards that met the necessary specifications. However, it is clear that in order to turn this opportunity into a reality, substantial financial support is needed.  

The financial challenge in women's entrepreneurship in India

In the case of Gelhei, despite its skills and wide range of products (winnowing trays, seedling baskets and baskets for religious use), its annual income was derisory (20,000 INR or 228 Euros).

A diagnostic study showed that the demand for bamboo items was seasonal, with the majority of purchases taking place during the harvest or festivals. The Action Education team then decided to :

  • financing the launch of products for which there is strong and regular demand
  • improve the skills of Gelhei and other members of his support group

In fact, a working capital loan of INR 20,000 was provided by the Utkarsh Small Finance Bank to Gelhei and her group. With the help of Action Education, she quickly and efficiently acquired the skills to produce tree guards. Soon after, she started receiving orders from a reliable supplier, and that was just the beginning.

Gelhei has subsequently continued to improve its product range by creating a variety of packaging supplies used for both product and gift packaging. These packaging materials, made from bamboo, are carbon neutral and, if widely used, could help reduce the impact of climate change locally. Gelhei, who used to work as a seasonal worker, is now a full-time bamboo artisan who regularly earns INR 300 per day.

The example of Gelhei illustrates that women's entrepreneurship is one of the keys to women's financial autonomy and the appropriation of their rights. It is also a factor in the development of the communities in which they live. Education in women's entrepreneurship is therefore essential!


Women's entrepreneurship: the key to financial independence

Photo of Gelhei Ray, female entrepreneurNow that she has money, Gelhei can afford to enrol her son in a reputed private college and pay his school fees. She invests INR 500 a month for her insurance premium and has savings of INR 25,000 in the bank. Gelhei, whose aspiration was once remote, is now able to save for her son's education, health and retirement. Very soon, Gelhei will become a bamboo entrepreneur, selling her own brand of products and providing employment to other deserving artisans.

The International Confederation of Women Entrepreneurs presented Gelhei Ray with the PRIYADARSHINI award at the Mission Possible 2022 conference held in New Delhi in March 2022. She received the award along with 35 other women from different professions, including two bamboo business owners from Madhya Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh. 



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