Please tell us about Flo Northeast.
FICCI Ladies Organization (FLO) is the women’s wing of Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), headquartered at New Delhi and 10 chapters pan India (Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Chennai, Coimbatore, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Ludhiana, Mumbai and Northeast) representing over 3500 women entrepreneurs & professionals. Established in 1983, FLO is the oldest women business Chamber in Southeast Asia. FLO works at enhancing the capabilities of Indian women through appropriate awareness, training and development programmes that enable women to contribute towards India’s socio economic growth by fulfilling their individual potential. Today, it has carved a niche as a premier women business organization not only in India but also internationally.
When was it set up? Who comprise your members?
FLO North East was founded on 14th Sept 2007 with Lalita Jain as the Founding Chairperson, by the parent body based in Delhi, under the Presidentship of Kiran Gera of Mumbai Chapter. This means we will be celebrating 7 years of our foundation next week. In our organization, we work our way through the hierarchy, so we have a hands-on training on how to lead it in all its aspects.
It comprises members, educated, articulate, forward looking, with a very varied profile of Entrepreneurs, Businesswomen, HR professionals, Govt. Service officers, Professors, Housewives, Restaurateurs, Writers, Artists, Jewellery and Fashion Designers, and Family Business owners ,Editors, even a Nutritionist and a Politician.
Do you agree that Northeast India is out of the corporate radar?
Until a few years back, I would have felt North East India was out of the Corporate Radar. The reasons were many and unique to this region, like insurgency, lack of communication and bad Connectivity, and reluctance of banks to give credit. With most of these problems disappearing, things seem to be looking up.
Instead of only wooing big corporate houses, that come and make promises, I feel that the local investors and entrepreneurs should be given encouragement with special incentives, and in this I think women can play a big role.
How can organisations like FLO contribute to rise in industrialisation and entrepreneurship?
Sectors like tourism, hospitality, F & B, food processing, handicrafts and handlooms, which have been the traditional backbone of the Northeastern economy have been managed largely by women. If these sectors are given a massive boost, the consumer base would naturally go up through extra augmented incomes and then big manufacturing would follow automatically.
What kind of services do FLO members provide?
FLO is a facilitating Body. Most of the projects that are taken up by FLO NE are at the grassroots level in remote areas. We have helped in upgrading the weaving skills of rural weavers, by imparting training under master weavers, and have held food processing demonstrations for local produce. Emphasis has been given on entrepreneurship development programmes for craftpersons by imparting bamboo and leather products training. We are presently trying to train and skill young people in jewellery design in collaboration with IIE and also helping them find markets for their products
Finding Marketing linkages for local products is our most important thrust, because without assured markets no amount of skilling or production is of any use. Our members in other Chapters are helping in e-marketing too.
Another project that we have taken up this year is career counselling and guidance for high school and college students, “From Campus to Career…..the Way Forward”. We have conducted sessions in the Biotechnology Department of Guwahati University, the Cotton College Women’s Forum and will be continuing in other colleges in Guwahati.
An ngo ETASHA from New Delhi will be giving comprehensive counseling to girl students of three government schools in Guwahati, in October.
How do you highlight success stories of your members?
Our parent Body asks for self nominations and last year, during the 30 years Celebrations in Delhi 30 Members were awarded for Excellence in their respective fields. From our Chapter, Jahnabi Phookan for Cruising and Hospitality, Native Handicrafts & Weaves, and Tanushree Hazarika Agarwal, for Business, Media and Communications ,were felicitated, along with 28 other achievers from all other Chapters
Pronita Barua , MD, Bemolapur Tea Co. Pvt. Ltd was nominated by FLO and awarded the prestigious International Women’s Entrepreneurial Challenge (IWEC) Award in Peru last year too. Earlier, the same award was given in South Africa to Madhu Lalita Jain, Entrepreneur of Handloom Unit.
Besides members, every year, our Chapter awards five women from the Northeast, who have excelled in their chosen fields.
Do you also strive to build the capacity of your members?
FLO endeavors to enhance the various skills of women through its educational and vocational training programmes, talks, seminars, panel discussions and workshops on a wide range of subjects like information technology, taxation, insurance, venture capital, stock market operations, accountancy, marketing, mutual funds, investment planning, entrepreneurship development programmes. We invite speakers from many diverse professions to increase our knowledge and exposure. We also focus on women related legal and social issues like uniform civil code, domestic violence, sexual harassment.
At the senior level, women who are already in a business or profession are provided with skill enhancement programmes like sophisticated management techniques, international marketing, human resource development, financial accountancy, etc. Every year FLO members attend Short-term Leadership Development Programmes in any of the Prestigious IIMs. While last year, it was IIMA, this year our members went to IIMB.
How do you think organisations like FLO inspire young women to be entrepreneurs?
The fact that many women are eager to join our organization is proof of that. FLO gives access and exposure to a large network of businesswomen and professionals all over the country. Membership of FLO opens many avenues and lead to personal development where our leadership and organisational skills are enhanced alongwith public speaking skills. Many collaborations are made and lasting friendships forged. In the company of such awesome achievers one feels that it is possible to achieve your dreams.
Do you think entrepreneurs in the region lack the adequate exposure?
Where there is a will, there is a way. The fact that entrepreneurs from this region have been awarded Awards of Excellence even in competition with women from all over the country says it all. Nowadays, it is definitely not lack of exposure, at least at the senior level that holds people back, it is entirely how that individual seizes the opportunities given her them. At the grassroots level, it is different: lack of resources in procuring raw material, such as yarn for weaving, or quality seeds for agricultural produce, or upgradation of methods of production, or lack of marketing facilities, these are the main stumbling blocks.
Nowadays, with facilities like the Internet, E-banking, teleconferencing etc. it is possible to run a national level business from anywhere in the country. For example, our Sr Vice-Chairperson Jayashree Varma is running a Pan India Consulting Company, KAAPRO, from Guwahati, similarly Tanushree Hazarika Agarwal, Joint Treasurer, has multiple business interests, Jahnabi Phookan, Past Chairperson, runs the Assam Bengal Navigation Company which pionered long distance river cruising in India , her latest venture is a Cruise from Kolkata to Benaras, Sabita Jain, Executive board Member designs jewellery and sells all over India as do Boutique owners and Fashion Designers, Alakananda Das, Gitanjali Barua and Suruchi Agarwal.
How strong is your network in all the northeastern states? How do you see the future of women in business in Northeast India?
We are still developing our organisation in this area, so far most of our members are based in Guwahati. Women from the Northeast are as ambitious and capable as any in the country, and this combined with their soft skills which are in demand all over the country, makes me see a very bright future for them. With the Central government determinedly giving focus and emphasis to women in general and also to the Northeast in particular, there are opportunities galore to achieve great heights.