Business India ×
 Climate Change

Published on: Feb. 14, 2020, 12:03 p.m.
Cleantech-WIN and the role of women in climate and sustainability
  • Can women work in collaboration better than men? Source: Needpix

By Shefali Kothari. The author is a freelance strategist for clean energy startups

Innovation will be the driving force to combat climate change and to build a clean, equitable and diverse economy – to relook and reinvent the system – one built on abundance, not extraction.

The answer to this huge global overhaul will not be about small box solutions. While specialised and adapted innovations are needed, a holistic view will be required in their application. However, the climate change ecosystem tends to have a track-based vertical system, without much overlap to look at the big picture.

Bringing women to the table can bring together a currently fragmented sector that’s ready to take on the scale of the task. Studies have widely shown that women care about the collective, and lean into collaboration over the competition when solving a problematic situation. In doing so, women gain a global perspective of why and how a solution works.

Friends of the Earth, the largest grassroots environmental network in the world says, “women’s empowerment and gender equality is as important to saving the world as the widespread use of solar panels or electric bikes/cars and other green technologies.”

We need gender-equality to make use of every individual’s experiences, skills and competencies. Ensuring women are recognised and fully participate in the cleantech sector will have transformative effects on economic growth, social development and environmental progress.

India’s first network for women working to build a green economy promotes women’s empowerment as an essential and powerful strategy for climate action.

Cleantech-WIN (Women’s Innovation Network) is a member-driven group, born out of the conviction that when women are in cleantech, we all win.

The network’s strength is in its members coming together. Formed by women who were persistently told there were few other women in cleantech, they set out to first show that women were already providing high-level leadership to combat climate change. And that if more women were given a comfortable working environment, more women would join the space.

Something even bigger happened. By bringing together women shaping all aspects of the sector a new access centre has been co-created, which provides an opportunity to work together, is more horizontal, diverse and complete than the status quo.

“Women prefer to be collaborators to create more sustainable ideas over the long term. Networks like this, strengthen this collaborative instinct that we have,” says Feli Visco, Deputy Head of Energy, Industry and IT, Regional Economic Services at the Embassy of France in Delhi. Cleantech-WIN is the first of its kind in India and connects 150 highly accomplished women innovators, entrepreneurs, investors, philanthropists, policymakers, government officials, researchers, journalists and ecosystem builders across India.

It is an industry association to promote women’s participation, growth, leadership, and success and brings together their collective strength and resources to create an enabling environment for women to work and innovate for a sustainable planet.

For its members, it serves as a platform for women from across roles in energy, water, agriculture, waste management, efficiency, mobility, logistics, policy and finance to access the best people, resources, capital and opportunities to build successful cleantech businesses and careers.

Members connect on and offline, with local networking events, WhatsApp groups, LinkedIn and soon-to-launch webinars to help them connect across geographies. 

Many members have over 10 years of relevant experience, in top organisations like Asha Impact, ANDE, UNIDO and CEEW, and are running some of the most innovative companies combating climate change, like Saahas Zero Waste, a waste management company.

And yet it takes only a quick review of investor teams, national delegations, conference speakers, mentoring committees, leadership start-up teams, organisational boards or grassroots networks to see women are still under-represented in the cleantech sector.

Ruchi Sankrit, a consultant in the cleantech sector says, “I got a chance to review the team members among impact investors and see that women are so few in numbers in these organisations. There are hardly any women decision-makers. Not only do more women need to be in the sector but the technologies also need to be designed or re-designed to address women’s issues.” If Cleantech-WIN was able to identify and connect women with a simple strategy of intent, by paying attention to who was leading the charge, why are these women not always top of mind and visibly part of the decision-making process.


The typical explanation for the dearth in gender diversity is that the cleantech sector is male-dominated and that there are few women skilled or interested to rise in the ranks. However, the network’s database has debunked the pipeline myth. Women can be found across every area and level of the sector in India, implying that the lack of female representation is more a problem of recognition and retention.

The Cleantech-WIN members are winning and rising to the top, but it hasn’t been without its societal, family and organisational barriers. Bias, unconscious or not, is still holding women back.

The challenge for women to be taken seriously by investors, to not have their priorities challenged or to be perceived as technically knowledgeable is felt and also reflected in data. For example, Harvard Business Review says fewer than 5 per cent of all VC-funded firms have women on their executive teams, and only 2.7 per cent had a female CEO.

On the other hand, “a big chunk of women said they needed no special treatment for being a woman. They just wanted to be treated as equals when it came to solving problems, raising funding, and hiring people,” as per a recent survey by Your Story Media. The data should urge the ecosystem to do so.

Sucharita Kamath, the India Chapter Manager for Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE), the largest global network of organisations that builds representative entrepreneurship ecosystems in emerging markets says, “Women have been carrying the baggage of generations of stereotypes in almost every field and sector; women founders are rarely in a room full of peers. ANDE has observed, through our own networks and research that while women who co-run businesses outperform their male-only counterparts, not enough investors bet on them. Our focus is to build representative entrepreneurship ecosystems so we keep a close track of these metrics and are proud to support Cleantech-WIN, which is working to level the playing field.”

Riya Saxena, of Asha Impact, an award-winning impact investment fund says, “In our experience with female-run companies, we have seen a balanced view and a different perspective that adds value.”

Extensive data and analysis can further quantify these experiences. Currently, women’s economic contribution is at just 17 per cent of India’s GDP, less than half the global average, and compares unfavourably to the 40 per cent in China, for instance. India could boost its growth by 1.5 percentage points to 9 per cent per year if around 50 per cent of women could join the workforce.

To dramatically uplift these macro-economic levels, we need to build the most successful innovation companies to fuel the economy. There is a solid business case for gender-inclusive companies. Companies with a female founder perform 63 per cent better than investments with all-male founding teams and yield higher stock prices. Women boards have returned a compound 3.7 per cent a year over those with no women. Women in leadership show a higher return on equity, higher valuations, higher payout ratios, to name only a few high-performance metrics.

Cleantech-WIN takes these insights seriously. The members enter into a social contract to co-create a culture to amplify the work of individual women while advancing the sector. Since women often have to be over-prepared and work harder to be taken seriously, asking for help can induce doubt and judgement on capacity.

“The Cleantech-WIN network is a safe space for women who are like-minded individuals working on and facing similar challenges. Through informal events and online platforms, they get a chance to exchange ideas, to exchange notes with a small trusted community,” says Riya Saxena of UNDP’s India Finance Facility.

Sucharita continues, “Women-only spaces – like Cleantech-WIN – help its members learn, offer support, and share opportunities with the ultimate objective of uplifting each other and increasing representation in the larger ecosystem.” Because there can be no solution to climate change without women’s empowerment, Cleantech-WIN is a call to action for women, for everyone, to build a more inclusive, equitable economy.

“We’re working together to build a large database and a community of knowledge. It’s a resource for conference organisers, researchers, investors, employers or anyone in the ecosystem looking to increase gender diversity in their work,” says Kavita Kaur of Asia Clean Energy Partners.

As a network built by women and for women, Cleantech-WIN is volunteer-run.


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