Essmart is a woman-owned social enterprise that aims to commercialize life-improving products in rural India, including fuel-efficient cookstoves and solar lanterns. Early on, Essmart realized that few women were actively engaged in the local, family-owned retail stores that Essmart partners with to commercialize products. Through the Alliance’s Women’s Empowerment Fund (WEF), Essmart is working to better engage businesswomen to play a key role in encouraging consumer adoption and sales.

Essmart works with over 1,000 rural Indian retail stores, the majority of which are male-owned and operated. In the stores where women do work alongside men, women are often not fully engaged in all aspects of the business. For example, if an Essmart Sales Executive visits a store and the female worker is present but the male shop owner is not, the Essmart team member will often be asked to return at a later time. The dearth of women in business not only demonstrates untapped human resource potential, but also limits Essmart’s ability to reach potential adopters of beneficial products. Women can effectively promote products to customers and share their personal experience using those products, however the lack of women working in retail stores becomes a barrier to adoption.

With funding from the WEF, Essmart is building the capacity of both male and female shopkeepers via business skills, empowerment, leadership development, and gender sensitivity. The foundation for this education is based on the Alliance’s Empowered Entrepreneur Training Handbook, which is a toolkit that provides 6 days of business, empowerment, and leadership skills curricula to support and enhance clean energy entrepreneurship.

In January 2016, Essmart held its first training workshop with male shopkeepers in Pollachi, Tamil Nadu, which was followed by a women’s training in early March. Both workshops awarded 7 certificates of completion, and Essmart will be following these 14 individuals over a 6 month period to track progress on their individual action plans and attitudes toward women in business. Essmart expects to see an increased level of women’s decision-making and participation in the retail stores where the shop owners received this targeted training. Ultimately, we believe that a higher degree of women’s engagement in the marketing, distribution, and after-sales service of life-improving technologies will increase user adoption and sales. This not only provides more opportunities for women in business, but it also delivers more products to households and helps grow Essmart’s business.