We have to galvanize local economy and show resilience to tide over this crisis: Jahnabi Phookan

At FLO we call ourselves “the power to empower”, and we are committed to work with women at every level, says Phookan.


After taking over the role of National President, FICCI, FLO, Jahnabi Phookan in her first exclusive interview spoke about her vision for the organisation, the need for greater representation of women in the workforce and how women entrepreneurs can deal with the economic challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic.

Excerpts from the interview:

Having been appointed as the new National President of FICCI FLO, what are your plans for the organisation?

I have been appointed as the National President of the women’s wing of FICCI. Infact in all the 37 years of FLO’s history, it is the first time they have someone from the North-East to head the National Chamber of Commerce.

My mission will be to bring in sustainability. It is a very important part of the decade that we are in- the 2020’s, and I believe livelihood is the only way to economic empowerment and equitable society.  At FLO we call ourselves “the power to empower”, and we are committed to work with women at every level-- be it the corporate, the boardroom, the middle sector or the grass roots.

We have reached out to IIM- Ahmedabad and IIM Bangalore for our online skill development programme. We are also working towards re-skilling of women who have been out of job for years and want to come back. India has a growing number of home-entrepreneurs, there is training for them as well. These are the ideas I have and I wish to take these forward.

You come from the travel and tourism sector which employs a lot of people but is unable to earn any revenue right now. What should the government do to kick-start the sector?

Tourism sector is labour intensive and we have requested the government to extend loans and provide interest free loans. We know that we have to reinvent the wheel and show resilience. We will not expect the overseas market to come to our doors but we will galvanize the local economy. 

For the economy to run, tourism must also start flowing. It will gradually open up, maybe there will be shorter tours and weekend tours. What the PM has spoken about is to discover your own country first instead of travelling overseas. I think we will get back on our feet, and in the meantime the little movement within our own states will help our taxi drivers, local food owners and all others in the value chain.

We also plan to sign a MoU with the Ministry of Tourism to train women under NSDC for health, hygiene and sanitation and the ‘Tourism Facilitator Certification’ programme.

Women have been largely marginalized in our society, over the last five years has there been any significant change in our collective mindset?

I think education is key and women must get education. Government has created Self-Help Groups which have helped tremendously, especially in the North East. 

MSMEs have done a lot of work too. The nano enterprises, small businesses, national rural missions have all contributed towards it and are very positive change agents. The more the women are educated and the more they are empowered economically the better it is. 

To be realistic, India also has one of the lowest female labour force participation, which is just 17 per cent. Out of 58 million entrepreneurs there are only 8.05 million are women entrepreneurs. This is a big gap, so it is important that voices go out more often. Social awareness and amplification of the message that Chambers like us can bring, must happen more. 

What is your advice to women entrepreneurs who are impacted by COVID-19?

My advice is--do not get disheartened by the pandemic. It is a whole new way of looking and maybe it is for the best 

For women entrepreneurs the first thing is that you have to hang in there. If you do not have that passion in your belly do not bother. You just have to re-invent. All our members at FLO have embraced technology so well. It is an exciting new time for entrepreneurship. 

E-commerce, online learning and training will happen more. I am getting an opportunity at FLO this time which would have been very difficult previously. I will be starting a series for women entrepreneurs of  The Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) countries. The first episode will go on board on the 12th June where I will be talking to Myanmar. This is to strengthen the database of women entrepreneurs in the FLO family. 

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