Helping Women@Work 

The U.S.-India Alliance for Women’s Economic Empowerment is helping drive the economic recovery of women workers and entrepreneurs impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

By Jason Chiang

March 2022

Helping Women@Work 

The U.S.-India Alliance for Women’s Economic Empowerment helped microentrepreneurs like Seema access a Jan Dhan bank account and learn about flexible financing options. 

The global COVID-19 pandemic intensified the already existing inequalities experienced by women, such as unstable incomes, diminished savings, and lack of access to credit and social security. Around the world, 73 percent of women-run businesses were hit badly by the pandemic, and nearly 20 percent faced permanent closure.  As countries reopen their economies, socioeconomic inequality has grown even worse for women. From difficulty accessing financial services to increased pressures balancing unpaid care and domestic work while working, women are enduring underemployment and sudden financial disruptions. Without corrective measures to help protect and empower female workers, national economies will continue to suffer. 

In India, the economic impact of achieving gender equality is immense. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that equal participation of women in the workforce could increase India’s GDP by 27 percent. To catalyze women’s economic advancement and inclusion throughout India, the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum, and George Washington University launched the U.S.-India Alliance for Women’s Economic Empowerment (Alliance). It is co-chaired by the State Department’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs Assistant Secretary Donald Lu and Senior Official  Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues Kat Fotovat, alongside the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Acting Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Asia Craig Hart and the Chief Executive Officer of the USISPF Mukesh Aghi.

On March 29, following an emotional visit with USAID small-business beneficiaries whose stories of overcoming adversity and achieving success with U.S. support after suffering grave COVID-related losses, Senior Official Fotovat participated in the in-person launch event for the Alliance in India.  Speaking at an armchair discussion with CNBC’s Bureau Chief for TV-18 Parikshit Luthra, Fotovat emphasized the longstanding U.S. commitment to advancing women’s economic security: “When women’s voices, expertise and contributions are recognized in the boardroom, marketplace, household and community, businesses grow, partnerships are formed, and innovative solutions are created, allowing economies [to] thrive and women to prosper.” Later, Indian Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani reiterated the country’s commitment to lead “women-centric initiatives that have supported the growth trajectory of many women in India.” “It is time to move the needle,” she added in her keynote speech, “to see women as owners and leaders of technology.”

The event featured an announcement by Google India Country Head and Vice President Sanjay Gupta, “Google pledges to support 1 million women in their entrepreneurship journeys with WomenWill and towards the cause of the India Million Women Mentors Initiative of the Alliance. Since 2015 in IndiaGoogle began the journey to bring more women online with the Internet Saathi program, which trained approximately 30 million rural women across 300,000 villages in basic digital literacy.”

The Alliance was first launched in the United States in October 2021 by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Administrator Samantha Power during the virtual U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF) Annual Leadership Summit. 

Administrator Power announced Women@Work, one of the Alliance’s first initiatives. Led by Alliance member Samhita-Collective Good Foundation (Samhita-CGF), Women@Work is a coalition of corporations, philanthropic organizations and nonprofit organizations advancing the economic recovery of women informal sector workers and women-led small enterprises in India.  The REVIVE Alliance, a USAID activity led by Samhita-CGF’s, supports aspects of Women@Work.

Women entrepreneurs like Seema shared their experience: “Because of the lockdown, business was stopped so we decided to shut down entirely. My business debt and loans doubled, and I was not able to repay the amount,” says Seema. “With help from Women@Work, I was able to access a Jan Dhan bank account. I learned flexible financing options and received enterprise development support through the initiative. Afterward, I leveraged my network in the chawl and realized there is more money to make in retail than in wholesale,” she explains. 

Looking ahead, the Alliance intends to focus on accelerating venture-backed investments in women-owned enterprises, supporting women’s leadership in green growth in India, and fostering women’s leadership in STEM careers among other priorities. 

Jason Chiang is a freelance writer based in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.


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