Together apart! Amid the global health crisis created by Covid-19 that has wreaked havoc on economies, livelihoods and our collective mental health, WhatsApp silently played a key role in facilitating meaningful communication between friends and families, across generations and geographies.
Last year, the messaging platform owned by Facebook helped women entrepreneurs grow during turbulent times. During his keynote address at the first-ever India edition of The MAKERS Conference, WhatsApp India head Abhijit Bose highlighted the company’s key objectives for India, which features digitization and scaling small business ecosystem at the top of the list.
“We wanted to make it easier for consumers to connect with and buy from their favourite businesses - both large and small over our platform. The national institutions and banks, educational companies, merchants of all sizes, and the government have used our business API (application programming interfaces) as a way to deliver interactive experiences for anyone on WhatsApp to engage with them. We will continue to expand the business API offering features and facilities for the ecosystem in India for highly-customized customer experiences,” adds Bose.
Bose showcased a few examples of women-led businesses that have benefited from WhatsApp’s unique functionalities.
Poonam Bir Kasturi, the founder of Bengaluru-based Daily Dump which is India’s first compostor for urban spaces, started her business with the WhatsApp for Business App and has been able to achieve steady results over the years. She has designed a simple terracotta pot people can use to compost at home, but there’s a lot more that this company is doing.
“We also reduce waste through the collective action of urban citizens. The biggest challenge we face is changing people’s mindsets; we are using WhatsApp for Business to educate our customers. We guide them at every step of the way. Customers send pictures of their compost when it’s not doing well, and we respond immediately with solutions,” she explains.
Through WhatsApp Business, Kasturi has been able to consistently connect with 50 customers during the day, some of whom are based in Dubai, US and Australia.
“In the last three months, we have sold one lakh worth of products via enquiries that come in from our WhatsApp Business channel. That has helped contribute to our average sales growth of 20 percent year-on-year. Our terracotta kambha has become a much-loved symbol of pride in customers’ homes. With over 60,000 customers today, we are able to reduce close to 50,000 kilos of organic waste daily,” says Kasturi.
Eliminating barriers to growth
WhatsApp for Business has been able to give life to the dreams of many women, including Aarti Laxman Rastogi, who suffers from a hearing disability. The founder of all-natural, small-batch artisanal ice-cream company, Artinci, Rastogi was ready to start her business but was worried about being able to communicate seamlessly with her growing customer base.
“WhatsApp Business changed everything for me. It helped me coordinate with my customers, answer my questions, and take special delivery requests. Artinci is more than just me and making ice-cream; it is about empowering our communities. Over 70 percent of our employees identify as disabled or LGBTQ. In the past one year, we have grown from one online outlet to six across the city with plans for more in the pipeline,” she says.
“India is WhatsApp’s largest country and we are continually taking feedback from small business owners to enhance our product. Last year, we released features such as catalogs which help people find the business catalog of a company, and discover something they might like to buy,” explains Bose.
WhatsApp for social impact
Investing in programs that deliver social impact using Whatsapp’s unique capabilities is a strategic focus for the company. “Empowering women through technology is one such area. When armed with the right tools and skills required to scale their businesses, women can achieve further financial independence and be a significant driver of economic growth in the country,” shares Bose.
One such example is the Mann Deshi Foundation, an organisation focusing on financial independence of rural women in Maharashtra. WhatsApp has partnered with them on skill building for livelihoods as well as providing training on digital business tools so that their women members are comfortable in communicating on WhatsApp.
WhatsApp has also partnered with the government on many interesting and impactful initiatives.
“Whatsapp for Women Entrepreneurship Platform (WEP), a women-focused flagship initiative of the NITI Aayog, announced the step to scale a program to mentor and skill aspiring women entrepreneurs. In addition to our business tools, we are committed to imparting the needful skills and knowledge for women entrepreneurs to scale their businesses and enhance their entrepreneurial digital skills,” Bose adds.
India is poised to be the global template, and WhatsApp is “excited about the opportunity to help scale India’s digital economy, especially as women entrepreneurs over the next few years,” as Bose puts it.
(Edited by Amrita Ghosh)