From Opportunity to Success: Microsoft’s Holistic Approach to Supporting Women Entrepreneurs

From Opportunity to Success: Microsoft’s Holistic Approach to Supporting Women Entrepreneurs

When it comes to keeping up with the digital age, women in India face several challenges, which have a significant influence on the growing digital gap in the country. Microsoft, through its CSR Program, has supported a total of 10,000 women entrepreneurs, with the last 5,000 beneficiaries benefiting from a comprehensive approach that includes digital and financial literacy, bookkeeping, mentoring, advanced training for participants, and access to government schemes, all of which are aligned with the theme of sustainable entrepreneurship.

Weaving Entrepreneurial Dreams, One Stitch at a Time: Manisha from Nuh, Haryana 

“After the program, I felt that in order to grow the business, I need to be educated further.”


Manisha, is a determined young entrepreneur, from Bichhor village in Nuh district, Haryana. At the age of 19, she found herself in a challenging situation where she had to drop out of school to support her family financially. The conservative environment in Nu district further exacerbated the impact on Manisha’s life as her family opposed her desire to pursue education. As a result, she was confined to her home, without any opportunities for formal learning.

Despite facing these challenges, Manisha’s determination led her to seek guidance from her sister, who was skilled in tailoring. She quickly learned from her and began taking orders directly from home. However, the income from her limited customer base within the village was insufficient. 

A major turning point for her was when she became a part of the REVIVE program, spearheaded by Microsoft. This program taught her how to utilise digital tools and effectively manage her cash flow, enabling her to expand the business and reach a larger customer base. Moreover, it made her realise the untapped potential of her own phone for conducting various business related activities beyond mere communication.

Additionally, the program’s impact extended well beyond the realm of business, positively influencing the overall wellbeing of the community. Nu district, known for its persistent problem of financial fraud and crime, had long been a burden on its residents. However, with the implementation of the REVIVE program, individuals like Manisha gained valuable skills to safeguard themselves from such incidents, fostering a newfound sense of resilience and empowerment that surpassed societal gender constraints. 

Encouraged by such transformative effects and positive changes within the community, Manisha’s parents had a change of heart and agreed to support her in pursuing higher education. This marked the beginning of a promising chapter in her life, where she could simultaneously nurture her business and embrace the educational opportunities she had longed for. 

Manisha’s case study exemplifies the impact of Microsoft’s holistic approach in supporting women entrepreneurs. By providing digital and financial literacy, access to tools and resources and mentoring, Microsoft has empowered women like her to overcome challenges, achieve business growth, and pursue their dreams. 



Entrepreneurship among women is a vital component of the overall solution. However, women-owned enterprises in India face a number of challenges, including:

  • Inadequate access to skilling: Women entrepreneurs often lack the skills and training necessary to run a successful business. This might make it harder for them to compete with more established businesses.
  • Lack of market linkages: This may be attributed to a lack of knowledge of their products and services, as well as social and cultural barriers that restrict women from accessing the market. 
  • Limited access to finance: Women frequently experience difficulties acquiring loans or other sources of funding. This might make it difficult for them to establish or grow their businesses.
  • Socio-cultural barriers: Constraints such as inadequate access to skilling, lack of market linkages, limited financial access, and societal biases represent substantial hurdles for women entrepreneurs. These barriers impede their long-term viability and ability to innovate.

Moreover, the digital divide exacerbates these challenges, making it difficult for them to leverage technology for business growth and success. Therefore, addressing these challenges is essential to unlocking the full potential of women entrepreneurs.



Microsoft’s CSR Program stands as a shining example of a holistic approach to bridge the digital divide and support women entrepreneurs in India. Recognising the significance of digital tools as a leapfrog intervention in economic empowerment. Microsoft aims to support women micro-entrepreneurs by providing them with the necessary tools and resources to thrive in the digital age. 

Initiated as a pilot program targeting 5,000 women entrepreneurs in rural India, with the goal of providing them with digital and financial literacy skills as well as the capacity to effectively operate, manage, and develop their enterprises. 



Using a blended support model, Samhita’s partnership with Microsoft has aimed to address barriers and strengthen the women’s entrepreneurship ecosystem across 10 states by focusing on the following key areas:

  • Digital and Financial Literacy (DFL): Capacity Building Sessions were conducted to enhance women entrepreneurs’ digital and financial literacy. These sessions covered topics such as concepts of banking, insurance, and using digital tools such as mobile devices, internet, social media, email, and awareness of e-security and safety.
  • Digital Bookkeeping Tools: Women micro-entrepreneurs were introduced to user-friendly digital bookkeeping tools that streamlined their financial processes. By using the tools, they were able to improve accuracy, enhance cash flow visibility, and make informed decisions based on real-time data. These tools, built on Microsoft Azure, provide flexibility so that they can be used both online and offline, ensuring accessibility even in areas with limited internet connectivity. 
  • Performance-linked incentives: To encourage and motivate digitization in the first phase, high-performing women entrepreneurs or those with progressive engagement were rewarded with incentives. 
  • Handholding support: To promote sustained use of digital tools, and follow-ups for additional resources or support.



The first phase of the program successfully trained 5000 women entrepreneurs in digital and financial literacy, and provided them with access to user-friendly digital bookkeeping tools. These efforts yielded the following achievements:

  • 44.1% of participants continue to actively maintain digital account books for their businesses.
  • 62% of women began tracking their borrowing and lending by the end of the program as compared to only 27% at the start of the program. 
  • The number of women tracking inventory, banking operation, and payments increased by 10%, 14%, and 19%, respectively. 

A significant proportion of women entrepreneurs were able to digitize their bookkeeping practices, and were also able to obtain small formal bank loans because of these efforts. These included women entrepreneurs from various cohorts such as artisans, street vendors, dairy farmers and tailors.



In the second phase, the program has been scaled up to support an additional 5,000 women entrepreneurs and it includes multiple interventions, in addition to digital literacy:

  • Access to Finance: Access to formal financial resources remains a significant challenge for women entrepreneurs, which was addressed by facilitating access to credit and connecting women with financial institutions. By building relationships with banks and fostering partnerships, the program enabled the participants to secure financial resources. This support empowered them to invest in their business, expand their operations, and achieve sustainable growth.
  • Social Protection: By unlocking relevant government schemes and services, women entrepreneurs were able to leverage them to access funding, business development resources, and market opportunities. This strategic approach propelled their enterprises forward by providing them with the necessary support and resources to overcome barriers.
  • Mentoring and Peer Support: Through mentorship, these women entrepreneurs received valuable guidance, industry insights, and access to networks, enabling them to make informed decisions and seize new opportunities. Additionally, the program created peer support networks that fostered a sense of community, allowing women to share experiences and learn from one another.



Microsoft’s program has provided valuable lessons for scaling up and replicating holistic support models for women’s entrepreneurship. There are two key lessons that have emerged from this program:

  • Customisation: It is essential to address the specific needs and contexts of women entrepreneurs. By tailoring interventions, organisations can effectively address the specific requirements of women entrepreneurs, increasing their chances of success.
  • Partnerships: Collaborations with financial institutions, government agencies, and community organisations create a comprehensive ecosystem of support that helps in offering assistance and guidance to women entrepreneurs in their businesses. 


These lessons serve as valuable guidelines for organisations aiming to develop impactful programs for women entrepreneurs, and Microsoft’s Program stands as a testament to the effectiveness of such an approach. Ultimately, when organisations combine tailored approaches with strategic partnerships, they can create an environment for women entrepreneurs to thrive.

This article was editorialised by Ayushi Bhatnagar and Evans Rebello.

The Need for Partnership: Empowering Women-led Businesses through Collaboration

The Need for Partnership: Empowering Women-led Businesses through Collaboration


In this series, we delve on the key lessons from the Samhita -Collective Good Foundation (Samhita-CGF) and Microsoft Project on how to empower women entrepreneurs through digital financial literacy and build a stronger framework for the second iteration.


Women Entrepreneurship: The Indian Landscape

The COVID-19 pandemic had long-lasting devastating effects on the Indian economy, especially when more than 75% of small-scale livelihood families, who were into jobs like farming, construction and owned shops/stalls lost their ability to earn their daily wage income. But it also inevitably encouraged a new wave of women entrepreneurship, as the women, who were traditionally homemakers, realised that they could utilise their basic skills to make masks and other products and generate money, and decided to take on the mantle to run their households for the sake of survival through those tough times.

This wave of change quickly transformed women entrepreneurship into a fast-growing sector, and as of 2022, there are more than 13.5 million women-led enterprises in India. But they still attribute to only 20% of the total entrepreneurship in India. There is much more that needs to be done, and that can happen with the help of digital and financial inclusion. Financial inclusion can be considered the basis for enhancing the economic growth and empowerment of a particular country, and is a core need when thinking of establishing any entrepreneurship. This is even more imperative for women, as they lack the financial independence that is naturally granted to men in a patriarchal society. This is in different forms as outlined below:


  1. Socioeconomic and Cultural Barriers: There are many women who still end up handling a second shift model, where they are expected to handle both their businesses and homes simultaneously. 63% of women prefer to work from home for the same reason. This restricts their ability to expand their businesses, as they are not able to give in more time to establish it.
  2. Lack of Access to Funding: Women entrepreneurs usually tend to depend on immediate family, friends and relatives for financial support to start up and establish their business. Due to lack of financial literacy, many women do not even know how to be able to handle their own bank accounts. As a result, even as of 2022, even with 85% women who have bank accounts, there is a 37% gap in funding for women enterprises.
  3. Low level of awareness of government schemes: There are a variety of social security schemes provided by the Government of India like financial inclusion, insurance and direct benefit transfers (DBTs)which help to safeguard the future of Indian citizens, irrespective of gender, age, religion or class. However, a majority of women are not aware about them because it is not a topic that comes up in general discussions with other women.

All of these factors play a significant role in determining how women-led businesses are able to flourish in the Indian market.


Financial and Digital Empowerment of Small Women-Led Businesses

In order to recognise the need to bridge the gap between women entrepreneurs and digital financial mechanisms, Microsoft decided to empower 5000 women through their pan-India scale-up project with Samhita-CGF. These interventions included:

  1. Provision of access to government schemes and services: The women entrepreneurs were made aware about the schemes provided by the Government of India, broadly covering financial inclusion, insurance and direct benefit transfers (DBTs). They were educated about eligibility criteria, and were provided with hand-holding support in procuring the scheme related documents, and the post-application process.
  2. Advanced entrepreneurship training: The women were trained on the MeraBills digital bookkeeping app, on topics like retaining a bank account, cash flow management and how to use the digital banking services. Additionally, they were taught financial planning. The entrepreneurs were also provided training the marketplaces to sell their products.
  3. Mentoring and capacity building to help other members with their existing skill sets: The entrepreneurs who were provided with the advanced training were also moulded to become mentors to the other women in the cohort.
  4. Enabling credit for their respective businesses: Samhita-CGF got in touch with the banks and non-banking financial companies to create a criterion for the beneficiaries to be connected to the right financial schemes that suit their business. The information included the process of loan disbursement, and how they can return the money in the signed period of time.


One of the core reasons why partnerships like these are needed is because each firm has their own expertise, which can be utilised to help those that need it the most. For instance, Microsoft has access to the most innovative technological services available, while Samhita-CGF, through its REVIVE program has an understanding and expertise on financial inclusion. They also give businesses a chance to expand their particular customer base which makes it easier to reach out to more beneficiaries.

Stitching Her Business with Digital Empowerment: Meenakshi from Barmer

“Now I’m able to take money from my creditor and keep

monthly accounts of my deposits.”


Meenakshi, a 26-year-old resident of Barmer in Rajasthan has always had a strong desire to contribute to her family’s income through her tailoring business. However, managing the finances was a challenge for her, and she often had to depend on others for assistance. Her lack of familiarity with digital payments and bookkeeping made it difficult for her to transition to the new normal. Fortunately, through the REVIVE Project, Meenakshi was able to acquire the digital financial literacy skills needed to thrive.

Her story is a testament to the power of digital financial literacy in empowering women entrepreneurs. Here’s how she did it:

Meenakshi was introduced to the REVIVE Project through Pappu Kanwar, a master trainer from Barmer. She was taught how to operate the phone, use online banking, and send money using UPI. Additionally, Meenakshi was introduced to a digital bookkeeping app called MeraBills, which made it easy for her to keep track of her finances. In addition to reminders, financial reports, and budgeting, she no longer requires assistance with her finances and is independently operating her business.

Just like Meenakshi, there are several other women micro-entrepreneurs that are being connected to the digital world through skill building.



Some of the considerations for the future could be as follows:

  • Enabling online training via mobile phone: Women who participate in such cohorts usually come from a low-income background, hence have to delve into multiple odd jobs in order to support their families’ livelihoods. Enabling online training will allow more women to be able to participate at their convenience, and hence gain digital and financial literacy skills.
  • Having a women-only training: This might prove to be effective in ensuring dissemination of learnings. Additionally, personalising the experience with one-on-one sessions, will help the women to develop more trust in the process and work harder on incorporating digital and financial literacy into their livelihoods.
  • Provision of data connectivity: Teaching skills is effective only when the women will be able to practise and use the MeraBills digital bookkeeping app in their shops and neighbourhoods too. Hence, the provision of adequate data connectivity in common service centres, panchayat buildings should also be included as part of the programmes.
  • Promoting more diverse learning: Curriculum content is better understood when it is supplemented with stories, videos and activity-based learning. The trainers can be equipped and encouraged to deliver their complex ideas in a simpler manner for the women to be able to better retain the information in the long-term.
  • Associating the women with unique identification to track their progress: Women in these cohorts usually use their family’s phone numbers to register and implement the program. Creating a unique id will help to identify them as individuals, and monitor their individual areas of improvement and growth.
  • Determining an effective pay-for performance process: On achieving a particular milestone, the women were paid ₹400 to encourage them. However, money can often be seen as charity and/or insufficient for the particular need. A change in amount and more clarity on the rationale to the beneficiaries will help to make the process more efficient.

The Samhita-CGF- Microsoft program has been instrumental in changing the lives of more than 5000 women entrepreneurs so far, and the second iteration will help to take this partnership forward to benefit many more women. It is inspiring to see stories of resilience like Meenakshi, and it is our hope that many such women are able to utilise the digital book-keeping and capacity building skills and tools to further advance their businesses and live a life of dignity.


This article was editorialised by Ayushi Bhatnagar and Tanvi Deshmukh

Kirana Store Owners

Kirana Store Owners

Around 13-17 million kirana stores form an integral part of the retail industry in India and local economy in various pockets of urban and rural India. The kirana stores were especially instrumental during COVID-19 induced lockdown ensuring that citizens had stocks of regular food & grain supplies. The hyperlocal consumption will only grow with the rising middle-income group in India. However, the kiranas continue to be shackled in traditional, inefficient operational practices, and are under threat due to thin margins, increased competition from larger chains and ecommerce. While Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the pace of digital payments, larger digital transformation in terms of inventory management, customer servicing etc. is still largely absent. There is low awareness among small kiranas on benefits of modernization and lack of knowledge & handholding support to realize the transformation.

The kirana sub-alliance aims to catalyse penetration of digitization to the small merchants by making their businesses more profitable, resilient and competitive. The alliance focuses on demonstrating to the market that with awareness, hand holding and incentives, these small stores in urban & rural India can and will power India’s Atmanirbhar success story.

The initiative is jointly being funded by MSDF (Michael & Susan Dell Foundation), USAID (United States Agency for International Development), British High Commission, New Delhi and UNDP (United Nations Development Programme).

Through two partners CGF is working with small merchants to provide knowledge & hand holding on modern retail practices, subsidized access to PoS devices and cash incentives & other benefits to kickstart their digitization & subsequent business growth journey. Through effective digital transactions, better inventory management & efficient customer service, these small stores will be able to achieve higher business efficiency.

In partnerships with Snapbizz Cloud Tech, CGF is offering returnable grants to ensure 5000 high-risk merchants who have been left out of digitization initiatives due to various market barriers are able to access a POS device and an Enterprise Resource Planning solution to digitize their operations and make their businesses more profitable. Through the Snapbizz TOTO app, we are providing them with solutions that are enabling them to manage digital payments, monitor stock inventory, increase customer engagement and become more efficient overall.

The grant is paid back in 4 monthly instalments thus enabling it to support maximum beneficiaries with minimum investment. Merchants are further given a Pay for Performance incentive linked to successful repayment of the grant. The incentive is equivalent to four months’ rent and is aimed to ensure greater retention and increased adoption over time.

In partnership with Mswipe Technologies, CGF is offering a simple grant to train 75,000 small merchants with a turnover of fewer than 20 lakhs to adopt digitised payments including card and QR code-based UPI payment solutions for greater reach. Merchants who perform well over a period of time are further provided micro ATMs and offered financial instruments like loans and insurances.

In addition to this, our partner TRRAIN will enable merchants across both interventions to upgrade their skills through their Retail Education Program. Merchants are given access to a series of 49 DIY (Do it yourself) videos through the TRRAIN Circle app for them to understand the end-to-end process of modernization. Along with this, registered stores will be able to access counselling, insurance, loan offers and other avenues through the app relevant for growing their business.

The alliance has already reached 20,000 merchants and will cumulatively touch the lives of 80,000 small merchants by 2023.

Tracing the trajectory of COVID-hit digital India

Tracing the trajectory of COVID-hit digital India

Ever since COVID-19 hit India, the disease brought an onslaught of unimagined and unprecedented circumstances. Governments scrambled to impose lockdowns on short notice to control the spread of the disease and India was no stranger to adopting this global approach to control the infections. However, this strategy came with a set of complex implications that bore an impact on health, livelihoods, education and life as we “normally” knew it. 

The COVID-19 crisis has evidently affected livelihoods and brought income shocks to the working classes. This shock has been accompanied by an unanticipated shift to the digital mode and accelerated digitization in the country. To understand the impact of COVID-19 on India’s digital appetite, KPMG conducted a survey and illustrated its findings as following:

What is the impact of COVID-19 on the usage of digital payments?

As the survey demonstrates, 81% of the respondents claimed a higher usage of digital payments as compared to cash in 2020. Whereas none of the respondents reported a higher usage of cash over digital payments. 

The restrictions that were brought about as a result of COVID-19 not only hampered mobility, but also fostered a sense of fear among the common public. While white-collar workers were able to fall back on business-enabling tech platforms that they were already using, the livelihood of blue-collar workers and small business owners who carry out much of their activities manually and through face-to-face interactions had come to a complete standstill. 

The growing need to keep livelihoods going paved the way for the adoption of digital gadgets, catapulting digital payment modes and online transactions. Today, digital payment platforms such as G-pay, Phone-pe and Paytm are available not only at high-end shops but have also been adopted by small businesses such as grocery stores, paan stalls and even auto-rickshaws. 

Among the recipients we work with, digital mediums have become a part of everyday life for almost everyone — across farmers, beautypreneurs, street vendors and entrepreneurs with disabilities, the access to smartphones rate stands at 92-100%

In the suburbs of Ahmedabad, REVIVE beauty-preneurs (women running their own beauty enterprises), were also excited to discuss their recently acquired knowledge about digital payment options. Rani, one of our beauty-preneurs, had a particularly interesting story to share: In the excitement of stepping outside her house in the week after a long lockdown, Rani ran to her local supplier and picked up a heavy stock of everything-it-takes to reopen her salon. As she moved towards the cash counter, her enthusiasm waned, as she realised she had left her wallet at home. The next best thing she could do was try remembering her debit card details. No luck. She was relieved when the shopkeeper asked, “Do you have a mobile? Here’s my UPI (United Payments Interface) code.” Rani walked out of the store in amazement at the ease of making payments. “I didn’t even know this was possible, now I ask about UPI everywhere I go,” said Rani.

Additionally, small businesses have started utilising social media as a cheap and targeted means of advertising for their customers in the absence of in-person interactions. In fact, from our own surveys, we found that beauty-preneurs were finding new ways to do business from home during the pandemic. They had started using digital media to spread awareness about their own business and to upskill themselves on current make-up trends. 

Asha, one such beauty-prenuer, talked about how she uses Instagram actively to market her parlour to ladies in and around her village. She was amazed at how easily and economically the platform allows her to attract customers by using hashtags and images. For these women, the freedom to market and attract customers on Instagram has given them the kind of outreach that would have been impossible without spending money.

QR Codes for payments apps displayed at a grocery store in Katni, Madhya
Pradesh in India.

Beyond the livelihood discourse, the availability of banking services over digital platforms has reduced the need to visit banks in real-time and the option to pay bills online has also brought about ease of payments. On the one hand, while these restrictions resulted in unimaginable distress for the socio-economically vulnerable, it also forced them to adopt digital technology to navigate day-to-day activities. 

This shift is illustrative of the evolution of digital technologies beyond their conventional use for just communication in Indian society. For example, Uma and Jitubhai from our farmer cohort in Gujarat — post lockdown in 2020 — were hesitant to leave their farm to go to crowded towns for business transactions, for fear of contracting the virus. On a typical day, Uma travelled 100 kilometres to reach the nearest bank to make deposits; Jitubhai would spend an entire day at the electricity office, waiting in line to complete the paperwork for his bills. The pandemic forced them to find new ways to accomplish these tasks and led them to experiment with UPI digital banking, where basic banking services could be conducted at any location, with the tap of a finger. Uma now requests money from sellers for her farm produce through an online payment linked to her bank account and Jitubhai found a way to digitally pay all his bills. For both Uma and Jitubhai, the year forced them to adopt new ways of managing their daily activities and in turn, has resulted in saving time as well as ensuring safety for them and their families by limiting human contact. 

In addition to convenience, many beauty-preneurs report that the notion of not having to physically carry around cash provides psychological comfort and safety. Meena, for example, explained that women in her neighbourhood don’t like walking around with cash because they fear they might get robbed. For them, knowing that their cash is accessible in their digital bank account, while not being at risk of theft is a new concept that increases their trust in digital banking. 

Many from socio-economically vulnerable communities have displayed astounding resilience in reclaiming their lives and livelihoods during the Covid-19 crisis. However, the adoption of the digital mode has not been uniform in and around the country and there continues to be apprehension towards digital technologies. As the KPMG survey demonstrated, while 8% of the respondents claimed that they were comfortable with exclusively using digital methods of payment, a slightly larger percentage (11%) reported that they would prefer to use cash exclusively over digital modes of payment. The latter statistic is illustrative of the lack of accessibility to digital mediums for all. The overwhelming critique of online education as an exclusive space and the inaccessibility of digital vaccine registration for some, demonstrates that a digital divide still exists in India. Not only is there lack of access to digital gadgets, but also limited access to the internet, which is a necessity for most Indians today. 

While accessibility presents a huge issue, lack of trust in digital technologies has also impacted digital attitudes in India. This stems from a lack of knowledge about how digital technologies work and/or from concerns over privacy of one’s personal and financial information. Therefore, we are witnessing a paradoxical case of accelerating digitization with a digital divide that can only be bridged by improving accessibility, transparency and by raising awareness.

It cannot be denied however, that in a lot of ways, the very understanding of technology has catalytically advanced during the pandemic for many Indians — from being a mobile device to an internet portal, to a marketing outlet, to a channel for teaching and banking. It has contributed to efficiency,  ease of doing business and the provided the unique opportunity to expand one’s skills for both livelihood and leisure enhancement.

While urgent and pressing issues of financial literacy and digital privacy remain, Leelabai, a member of our farmer cohort, gives us hope about the potential of India’s digital transformation: “Internet penetration will be everything for the women in my village. Especially those who were always constrained by their domestic duties. I can’t wait to see those women have the same freedom and access to the world as their husbands.”

REVIVE Alliance is a blended finance platform, created by Samhita-CGF, in partnership with United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Michael & Susan Dell Foundation (MSDF), Omidyar Network India, British High Commission New Delhi and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). In collaboration with companies, foundations and social organisations, REVIVE identifies deserving informal sector workers and micro-entrepreneurs who have been affected by the pandemic, and provides holistic support to aid their recovery, build their resilience and invest in their long-term growth. The stories in this article have been borrowed from our qualitative interviews with recipients from different cohorts to present on-ground insights on the adoption of digital technologies in their communities.