Renata Lok-Dessallien, United Nations Resident Coordinator in India
(Speech as prepared)
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
I am honoured to join NITI Aayog today in the launch of our 4th effort to recognize the very best of India’s changemakers: through the Women Transforming India movement.
I would like to use the word “movement” rather than awards or campaign, because this initiative has exceeded everyone’s expectations, and has gone far beyond the impact of its 39 winners over the last 3 years.
This is a movement that has brought us over 6000 stories of impact and change from across the country: stories of national and local heroes, stories of courage and community, and stories of collective growth that feed into India’s overall rapid, sustainable, and inclusive growth. It is a movement that has shifted the spotlight to how the real heroes of national transformations are often individuals with nothing but the indomitable courage to break their own glass ceilings.
I believe that if there is any one group which can decisively accelerate India, and the world’s, achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, it is India’s women: the future of this country is built not just through laws and policy frameworks, but on the ground, every single day, by over half a billion strong Indian women.
And although this is only the 4th edition of the Women Transforming India awards, the story of women leading change in India is by no means new. Indian women have demonstrated a remarkable entrepreneurial ability and will to catalyze change through the course of India’s history – as equal participants in the struggle for independence, as the architects of India’s democracy and extraordinary economic success, and as guardians of India’s future today – as entrepreneurs, administrators, captains of industry, and innovators.
This year, as in previous years, we are putting out a call to women leaders, who are personally and collectively creating ecosystems of change in their societies – whose example can inspire others to break the glass ceiling.
Above all, we are looking for entrepreneurs – women at the helm of innovative new projects that offer scalable solutions to national developmental challenges and opportunities.
And in association with the NITI Aayog Women Entrepreneurship Platform, we want to connect them to bigger opportunities and help their enterprises reach full potential.
We chose women’s entrepreneurship as our theme because at the heart of these Awards, this movement rather, is the idea that women lead Half a billion women are not a target audience. They are not one or two SDGs, or one or two government programmes or ministries. They are not the recipients of development. They are stakeholders. Their full and equal participation changes conversations, the way we talk about development; it transforms politics and decision making; it improves policy.
Every Women Transforming India story is testimony to the courage of women who were determined to fight against the odds and make a real difference: these are the stories that are truly Transforming India.
I would like to take this opportunity to extend my deepest appreciation to NITI Aayog for this initiative. It has been one of the most outstanding and proudest outcomes of our ongoing partnership with you, as the UN in India.
I would like to reiterate the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s personal commitment towards enabling women to lead change.
The Government, and NITI Aayog in particular, is working hard to ensure that every woman in India has the opportunity and conducive environment necessary to thrive and unlock her full potential in every sector, and in particular as entrepreneurs. Women comprise 70% of the borrowers for the Mudra Yojana, which promotes entrepreneurship and small businesses. Women entrepreneurs lead 30% of the projects set up under the Prime Minister’s Employment Generation Programme.
Promoting women’s entrepreneurship demands multi-dimensional, convergent approaches, against the many barriers that women have to battle on a daily basis: from unjust social norms to lack of opportunities, limited access to markets, and investor bias.
NITI Aayog’s Women Entrepreneurship Platform, and the NITI Aayog Investor Consortium for Women, launched with the UN India Business Forum, are two initiatives that are attempting to close these gaps.
I would also like to take this opportunity to recognize WTI 2019’s invaluable partnership with WhatsApp: your participation and reach will help us take this initiative to new heights and connect to more stories than ever before.
Women Transforming India is more than just a contest, especially today. I firmly believe we are at the threshold of an unprecedented opportunity. This is the tipping point. World over, there is a growing tide, led by women and fueled by an entire generation of young leaders, demanding inclusivity and concrete transformations.
Millions of women are transforming India every day – from taking small steps like sending their daughters to school – to fighting elections, taking on unfair social structures, and leading successful business and social movements. If the women transforming India lead us, the world will follow.