• Tell us about your current role that you have at Be.artsy? Also, what is the primary motive behind the establishment of Be.artsy?
I am the Founder of Be.artsy. I started the social enterprise in 2010 to raise awareness on social issues with the prime focus on gender awareness and financial literacy. Be.artsy has a unique and innovative art-based approach to awareness programs. We offer both on-ground and online programs in all major Indian languages. We have covered over 1,80,000 people in 42 cities. Most popular programs are ‘ITS’ NOT OK’, an awareness program for prevention of sexual harassment and ‘Kamai Ki Mehnat’, a program on financial literacy. Our fastest growing program is the more recently launched “Be Your Own Lakshmi” an exclusive online financial awareness program for Indian women. We also deliver customised awareness programs for UN agencies and government departments on topics like road safety, mental health, etc.
• As a women entrepreneur what were the major challenges that you have faced during theinitial days of your inception and how did you mitigate those hurdles to develop into a recognized name within the industry?
The first challenge was that I was not taken seriously by the organisations that I approached for paid awareness programs. One reason was that the concept of paying for awareness programs was too novel and unproven. It was a challenge to convince large organisations that there were practical benefits to having aware employees. Most organisations dismissed it as something for NGOs to do for free. The other reason was societal bias: I was a young woman, with no MBA, without backing from a business group/ family.
As a result, the projects I got were sporadic, making it difficult to have employees on payroll. I was constantly juggling my finances and cash flow just to break even for four years.
Fortunately, I had three things going for me. I had 7 years of sales experience before I started Be.artsy, so making hundreds of cold calls and getting rejection after rejection was already my daily routine. I was used to meeting stretch sales targets. The second thing was my passion for the mission of making art-based awareness programs viable as a business. Last but not least I believed my gut a lot. I used to tell myself, “If anyone in the world can do this, it is YOU, Shikha Mittal!”
“My advice to women entrepreneurs would be, if you cannot convince the family to pitch in, hire help for the house and kids. Do not try to be a superwoman. - Shikha Mittal, Founder and Director, Be.artsy”
• Mention some of the women entrepreneurs that you look up to and in your opinion, what are the qualities that are needed to become a women leader in the modern corporate realm?
My idols were Ellen DeGeneres and Oprah Winfrey. Both are successful entrepreneurs who rose above failures in a highly competitive industry which is notoriously unfriendly to women. They had no godfather and suffered from further discrimination due to their race/ sexual orientation.
First is that one must have all the qualities that a leader must have, whether man or a woman.
Unfortunately, as Charlotte Whit ton observed: 'Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good.' Recognising that women have to climb a steeper hill than men, women who aspire to leadership have to develop the art of resilience, not to get overwhelmed with injustice, to have really high belief. If possible, find a mentor. Having a community of women is very helpful, as I discovered when I completed the highly selective Management Program for women entrepreneurs at IIM Bangalore in 2015 and bonded with my 29 batchmates.
• What are the techniques and policies that women entrepreneurs should incorporate in their business to successfully compete with their male counterparts in the post pandemic business landscape?
Male entrepreneurs who succeed are backed up by a supportive family. Somebody else looks after the house work and the kids. For women entrepreneurs to succeed, they need the same. My advice to women entrepreneurs would be, if you cannot convince the family to pitch in, hire help for the house and kids. Do not try to be a superwoman.
Equally important, do not be swayed by stereotypes. You don’t have to be softer in HR or financial decisions. The one thing you should never delegate is financial control. Never under charge for your services. Be a tough negotiator, concede no advantage. Remember, the families of your employees depend on your success. Take full advantage of the fact that you are more likely to attract a more diverse workforce than the average male entrepreneur, so pick the best talent.
• According to you how can women achieve financial inclusion in the male dominated business world?
Only one - by enrolling for “Be Your Own Lakshmi”, the 12-week weekend course that Be.artsy has exclusively developed for Indian women. Too long have we been lakshmis for our families and society. It's time to be our own Lakshmi first. The course covers: understanding the concept of money, financial planning, time value of money, cash flow, budgeting, saving and investments, preparing for emergencies, risk and insurance, and much more.
• Post pandemic how much of importance should women give for prioritizing their personal finances and what positive changes will it offer an individual?
Research in India has shown that women's financial independence increases their physical security and decision-making power. The pandemic has jolted us out of our complacency. Post pandemic we should retain the lessons that economic stability cannot be taken for granted. We need to secure our personal finances against unforeseen calamities.
• What will be your advice for women when it comes to opting for the most effective and efficient ways to optimize their finances?
The hot tip for everyone is that personal finance is not a matter of teamwork. As I frequently say, “It's as intimate and isolated an activity as going to the loo.” We must all have control of our finances regardless of how well-intentioned our family members may be.
Shikha Mittal, Founder and Director
Shikha Mittal is the Founder-Director of Be.artsy, a for-profit social awareness enterprise that leverages the power of art. She saw an opportunity to make awareness programs a commercial business instead of merely charity. Be.artsy offers highimpact awareness programs since 2010. These are edutainment programs using street theatre, survey, digital content, webinars, online and offline interactions which engage and involve the audience actively. In this exclusive interaction with Higher Education Review magazine, Shikha Mittal – Founder and Director, Be.artsy highlights on her journey as an women entrepreneur in the challenging industry.