An Indian billionaire had to rework his philanthropic programme because there weren’t enough women entrepreneurs

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An Indian billionaire had to rework his philanthropic programme because there weren’t enough women entrepreneurs


  • Harsh Mariwala introduced Ascent Foundation seven years ago to promote entrepreneurs.
  • Harsh nurtured some of the very popular brands in India including Saffola and Revival.
  • The foundation has 500 entrepreneurs taking part in the peer group discussions but less than 50 of them are women.

There are fewer women entrepreneurs in India and as a direct effect there are fewer people who encourage them.

But Harsh Mariwala a billionaire who leads a Fortune India 500 company — Marico, wanted to solve this problem. He introduced Ascent Foundation seven years ago to promote entrepreneurs and help women entrepreneurs wade through the challenges of businesses, and grow. After all, he nurtured popular brands like Saffola and Revival.

However, Mariwala had to rework his cause soon after as there just weren’t enough women entrepreneurs to work with. He turned his not-for-profit venture into a grooming ground for all entrepreneurs-- not just women.

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"I wanted to impact entrepreneurs in larger numbers. I started this to promote entrepreneurs. But there weren’t many women entrepreneurs,” Mariawala told Business Insider.

Today, seven years later, the foundation has 500 entrepreneurs taking part in the peer group discussions but less than 50 of them are women.

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"Women's take on anything additional to office is very different and they consider it a tradeoff with their time with family" Archanna Das, Head ASCENT Foundation.

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Ascent is a peer-to-peer network that helps women entrepreneurs troubleshoot their problems through events and workshops. It periodically organises exciting, highly content-driven events like the flagship annual Conclave, Mixers, Workshops, Huddles, etc. They charge an annual fee of ₹10,000 from all the members to attend these events.

“SMEs have a learning curve and we offer is a peer learning platform. We are playing a catalytic role,” Mariwala said.

Right now, they have people with an annual turnover of up to ₹2,000 crore who are taking part in these peer groups. And only 10% of them are women.

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Mariwala still wants to help those who need help the most. He understood the issue and roped in Archanna Das (who is brand and communication management professional), and Shivani Divecha (who had curated events at TedxGate) for course correction.

The team brought in stricter eligibility criteria and introduced the concept of initiator — a person who would initiate the talk for the first four months.

The entrepreneurs — who want to become a member are required to have a turnover of ₹5 crore for product business or ₹1 crore for service business.

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They get access to the annual Ascent Conclave and other smaller events that happen from time to time.

They also get access to a list of 30 mentors across industries who can guide them in dealing with their challenges including ex CEOs of prominent companies

Ascent Foundation has also partnered with Stanford University and SP Jain to give their members access to certain courses on entrepreneurship.

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