Lead – Women’s Enterprise Support System (WESS)

About The Women’s Enterprise Support System:

WESS is the first Enterprise Support Hub in India designed for businesses run by women in the informal economy (agriculture workers, domestic workers, artisans, street vendors). It has three wings: incubation of new businesses, accelerating growth of businesses across stages, and investment for growth. Less than 3% of businesses in India are owned by women; we in WESS are inspired to change this skew, by supporting women’s businesses directly, or by partnering with the government as advisors on developing women’s entrepreneurship programs.

The startup economy has birthed many ‘founder-led’ businesses in the last decade, however, poor women’s entrepreneurship looks different from this ownership model. Most women are workers, and only when they pool their resources together, are they able to set up collectively-owned enterprises where they are – shareholders, managers, and decision-makers. These are registered for-profit businesses. Over 40+ years of work, SEWA Bharat, our parent organization, has seen that when women create such collective enterprises, they start earning more income, take more decisions and become more confident in their household, gain more respect in their communities, start participating in local markets, and many times enter leadership positions in their local government bodies. Collective entrepreneurship helps them escape poverty, evolves their own identity, and influences the lives of those in their family and communities who now see an alternative reality. Global research suggests that such worker-owned businesses have a 60% survival rate beyond the first year of business, compared to the 10% survival rate of startups.

So far, WESS has accelerated three businesses in financial services, one agribusiness, one artisan business, and incubated three businesses: homestay tourism, grassroots data collection services, and one eCommerce platform. These businesses are based in 5 states of India, and range from early-stage, revival, and late-stage diversifying businesses. We’ve ensured that all participating businesses have survived the pandemic, seen a 2x growth in revenue, and have a combined outreach to 300,000 people. We are a small and passionate team, with a robust network of industry mentors, working under the guidance of an advisory board of SEWA leaders and Professionals.

Where you fit:

We’re now looking for entrepreneurial women to lead WESS and the team during its scaling-up phase. Our goal is to ensure that each of the participating enterprises in the first cohort achieves their profitability targets, choose the second cohort, and pilot providing our services to the government. You will report to the Chairperson of SEWA Bharat and work along with the WESS team to achieve these goals. The role requires regular interactions with the core management teams of participating businesses, their board of directors, industry experts who mentor them, local SEWA union and program teams, and philanthropic organizations that fund the WESS. Given the diversity of people who make up SEWA, you will find yourself regularly interacting with a women-farmers board in a village in Bihar as well as the head of a large corporation who wants to procure wheat from this business. The role requires ease of use in both English and Hindi (verbal and written), and the ability to act as a translator whenever needed. 

You will work with a peer group that consists of the program leads like Research, Advocacy, Skill Development, Community Leader Development, Land Rights, State SEWA leadership, as well as operational leads of Finance, HR, and Admin. You will regularly collaborate with them for implementing your work, designing new projects, and co-designing solutions. 

The team you will join is agile, regularly interacts on slack, uses Trello and Notion, and keeps researching tech products that may improve business functioning, as well as ease coordination across a variety of users and work locations. 

You will enjoy this role if you:

  • Care deeply about gender equality, and social inclusion, and have the patience to work with wicked problems in the social entrepreneurship space
  • Believe in the need for financial sustainability of businesses
  • Have passion and interest in helping rural/urban poor women-owned social enterprises
  • Interested in social entrepreneurship, social impact, venture to invest, and blended finance
  • Identify having an entrepreneurial approach to work
  • Enjoy working with people, and leading a growing initiative

What the role is:

  • Working as cohort manager – who is responsible for ensuring business growth of participating enterprises by supporting the development of business plans and monitoring their growth
  • Recruiting Industry experts as Mentors for participating enterprises; managing the mentoring relationship to ensure outcomes
  • Being directly responsible for the business outcomes of 3 businesses incubated by WESS, and for their future growth plans
  • Developing the business model of WESS itself, and determining its 10-year plan
  • Raising a corpus to reinvest in new businesses
  • Developing new pilots under WESS – like peer learning platforms
  • Developing services that can be adopted by Government programs enabling entrepreneurship
  • Being the primary advisor to the WESS Board on all matters, most importantly on the growth of WESS.
  • Managing a mix of fundraising, grant management, reporting, team coordination, project management, and administrative responsibilities

What we are looking for:

  • At Least 7 to 10 years of relevant work experience
  • Women who are looking to shift from the private sector/corporate/startup ecosystem and switch to the social-impact space OR women who have experience in running socially driven businesses
  • Experience in driving growth in business outcomes OR experience of running your own business, or intrapreneurship within an existing institution (minimum 3 years)
  • Past experience in leading multi-functional teams and managing people (minimum 3 years)
  • Past experience of working with grassroots organizations or in the social impact space (preferred)

Required Skills:

  • Vision: Co-design vision, articulate goals, pitch it to internal and external stakeholders and be unafraid to reimagine when needed
  • Strategic Acumen: Ability to spot high-potential opportunities relevant for the participating businesses or for WESS
  • Ability to be a bridge: Constantly act as a bridge who can translate the motivations and needs of grassroots and professionals.
  • Developing networks: Identify useful collaborators, facilitate introductions, and partnerships, and maintain the relationship
  • Inclusive: Co-design solutions, believes in consensus building, and encouraging diversity in the workspace as well as pushing to solve intersectional issues (gender equality layered with caste, religion, sexuality, and any other form of marginalization)
  • Supporting colleagues and senior leaders: History of thriving in a role where your success is highly dependent on your team’s success, where your first responsibility is to provide outstanding leverage and support to your colleagues, including successfully and smoothly “managing upwards” by helping to guide and set-up things for your manager to be efficient and effective.
  • Process Management and Results Orientation: Strong project management skills, deadline management, sense of responsibility and accountability, the ability to manage multiple responsibilities, adjust and adapt along the way.
  • Interpersonal Savvy: Great at making and fostering relationships inside and outside the organization, keen intercultural appreciation, inclusive style, comfortable around senior leaders, can represent SEWA well

Application Process:

We encourage you to apply early since applications will be considered on a rolling basis. Interested candidates should write to ess[email protected] with the email subject ‘Application for WESS Lead’, along with your resume. While a cover letter is not mandatory, we request candidates to share a write-up that mentions why they are interested in this role and consider themselves to be a good fit for it.

Because we are a small team, we regret that we can only respond to applicants selected for an interview. We also regret that we are unable to participate in informational calls prior to interviews. Thank you for your understanding.

Our Parent Organization:

WESS is a part of the SEWA movement, which has organized 2.1 million women in India, is one of the top 10 trade unions in India and has inspired the women and labor movement across the globe, since 1972. WESS is an intrapreneurial project within SEWA Bharat, and gains from the vision and networks offered by being a part of this movement.