The prolonged battle with the Covid-19 pandemic over the last seven months continues to be a challenge for large and small businesses across the country. While sluggish demand takes a toll on the financial health of businesses, a joint report by Bain & Company, Google and AWE Foundation reveals that over 50% of India’s urban women entrepreneurs have changed their business models to resist the short-term impact of the pandemic.

The report — which is based on surveys and interviews with nearly 350 women solopreneurs and small business owners in urban India — points out that women-owned businesses experienced a massive decline in revenue: About 73% of the women entrepreneurs surveyed have been negatively impacted by the ongoing crisis while 20% saw their revenue nearly wiped out.

The report finds that the biggest challenge cited by almost 45% of survey respondents was the lack of customer orders leading to muted demand. About 30% of women spoke about personal challenges, including significantly increased at-home care responsibilities, as a major obstacle in running their business. With movement restricted across the country during the lockdown period, 28% of respondents said disruptions to supply and lack of financial resources (22%) affected them severely.

“The pandemic has been especially devastating for women entrepreneurs, not only due to business coming to a grinding halt, but also because of an unforgiving increase in the domestic care burden,” said Megha Chawla, partner, Bain & Company and the study’s lead author.

The survey shows that about 54% of the women interviewed have already changed their business model and another 24% plan to adapt their business model in the near future. Examples of such changes in business include apparel manufacturers who moved to manufacturing safety equipment (masks, gloves, and PPE kits), coaching centres and gyms which expanded their reach by holding “virtual classes,” and food and beverage businesses which leveraged the “vocal for local” positioning to reach a wider audience digitally, the study added.

Sapna Chadha, senior country marketing director, Google India and Southeast Asia, said, “Technology has played the role of a powerful enabler in levelling social inequity and making opportunity accessible. At Google, we are working to bridge this very gap, through initiatives like our accelerator program for women-owned businesses in rural India to be able to succeed by getting access to the right resources, guidance and mentorship.”

The report, titled “Can Covid-19 be the Turning Point for Women Entrepreneurs in India?” pointed out that women are upbeat about the bounce-back. About 90% of the entrepreneurs surveyed believe that they will be able to survive the crisis with major changes to their business model and cost structure. Despite the fracturing near-term impact of the pandemic, there is clear optimism and rapid responsiveness among women entrepreneurs, noted the report adding that 80% expect demand to bounce back to pre-lockdown levels by March 2021 while some believe it could happen by this December.

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