This chapter—“Women Entrepreneurs Flourishing or Languishing at the Bottom of the Pyramid”—highlights not only the bright side of entrepreneurship (consistent with the previous chapters) but also the potential dark side of entrepreneurship training and venture creation. In particular, this chapter focuses on women entrepreneurs at the base of the pyramid. In this context, entrepreneurship can be a means for families to escape poverty and a route for countries to foster economic development. However, we show that despite successful venture creation, some women entrepreneurs flourish while others languish. Women entrepreneurs who flourish tend to set realistic expectations for their entrepreneurial endeavors and modify them throughout the entrepreneurial journey. Moreover, flourishing women entrepreneurs often benefit from their prior work experience and family support. On the other hand, women entrepreneurs who languish tend to lack prior work experience outside the home and set more unrealistic expectations for their work and lives. They also generally lack family support and thus have little psychological capital for entrepreneurship training and venture creation. Thus, this chapter offers new insights into some limitations of entrepreneurship programs (training and venture creation) for some women entrepreneurs in patriarchal societies at the base of the pyramid.
- Venture Creation
Ira Chatterjee joins us as a co-author of this chapter (Chatterjee, Shepherd, Wincent, and Parida). She is also the first author of the underlying source article of this chapter. Readers interested in a deeper literature review and discussion of the sample, research method, and analysis can refer to Chatterjee et al. (2022).
Entrepreneurship can provide a pathway out of poverty and a means to cultivate economic development for communities at the “base of the pyramid” (BOP) (Bruton et al., 2013; Prahalad & Hart, 2002; Sutter et al., 2019)—that is, for those living in the poorest economic conditions of the human wealth pyramid. Due to their harsh living conditions, individuals at the BOP are often very resourceful in starting and building new businesses to lift themselves (Bruton et al., 2013; Sutter et al., 2019) and their families (see Chapter 2) out of poverty. Women’s entrepreneurship can play a vital role in these environments by stimulating economic activity, modernizing countries, and solving social problems. Indeed, compared to men, women are more likely to have social goals for their businesses, resulting in greater benefits for others and their communities (Minniti & Naudé, 2010). For instance, women entrepreneurs who live under poverty typically spend a greater percentage of their income on feeding, clothing, and educating their children compared to their male counterparts, who tend to spend more on clothes, recreation (including alcohol), and food for themselves (Nichter & Goldmark, 2009).
While women’s entrepreneurial endeavors have had significant positive effects in the poverty context, research into women’s entrepreneurship at the BOP is scarce. The sparse literature on entrepreneurship at the BOP has largely explored job creation, economic growth, and regional development (Terjesen & Amoros, 2010). Still, we lack a deeper understanding of the personal benefits that BOP entrepreneurs reap from their entrepreneurial action. Understanding the personal benefits that women at the BOP gain from entrepreneurship is especially salient because they appear to be driven by numerous motivations. Namely, although women in poorer countries often turn to entrepreneurship to earn income and overcome poverty, they also tend to be driven by the desire for independence and self-fulfillment (Gray & Finley-Hervey, 2005). For example, Unilever’s Shakti program—a widely acclaimed success story of creating employment opportunities for women in rural India—benefitted these women by imbuing “self-esteem, a sense of empowerment and a place in society” and thus conferring “dignity to the women entrepreneurs” (Unilever website, n.d.). As such, entrepreneurship can help satisfy people’s basic psychological needs and thereby contribute to their personal well-being (Williams & Shepherd, 2016).
At the firm level, such personal well-being is important because it engenders firm persistence and performance, but at the individual level, this personal well-being leads to a sense of agencyand empowerment in entrepreneurs themselves (Williams & Shepherd, 2016) with spillover effects for their familiesand communities (Lepeley et al., 2019). Accordingly, personal well-being is essential for women entrepreneurs at the BOP due to the adversity both they and their communities face. Thus, instead of presuming that financial gains and firm performance necessarily bring about personal well-being for BOP women entrepreneurs, it is important to explore how entrepreneurship influences these women’s personal well-being beyond the performance of their ventures.
In this chapter, we address these current research gaps by building theory based on the thoughts and feelings of BOP women who come from conventional patriarchalfamilies in rural environments of developing regions and who typically have limited education yet decide to enroll in training programs so they can take the plunge into entrepreneurship. In particular, we investigate how such entrepreneurship training and subsequent venture creation influence these women entrepreneurs’ personal well-being.
More specifically, we explore the experiences of women who participated in a social program in rural India. These women trained to become solar energy entrepreneurs and then set up ventures to provide their communities with solar power. Thus, the social program entails bothentrepreneurship trainingand venture creation. This distinction is important because while prior entrepreneurship research has demonstrated that entrepreneurship training can lead to new venture creation, it has generally assumed (often explicitly) that this new venture creation improves the lives of impoverished entrepreneurs. We explore this assumption directly, finding that consistent with prior research, some of the participants in our study benefited from the program in the form of enhanced personal well-being—that is, they flourished. Surprisingly, however, our findings also reveal that some women experienced diminished well-being—they languished—despite successfully completing entrepreneurship training and establishing new ventures. With this finding as the basis, we examine the different levels of well-being experienced by BOPwomen entrepreneurs who participated in the same training and venture-creation program.
Our theorizing and findings on the well-beingof BOPwomen entrepreneurs contribute to the entrepreneurship literature in three main ways. First, prior research on entrepreneurs’ well-being has mainly focused on mean levels of well-being, ignoring the variability in entrepreneurs’ mental health (Stephan, 2018). In this chapter and the underlying study, we extend this prior work by investigating the heterogeneity in women entrepreneurs’ experiences. We also provide insights into these women’s psychological development within and across various phases of the entrepreneurship process and demonstrate how expectations are critical drivers of their ensuring well-being.
Second, previous scholarly work has emphasized the outcomes of psychological capital but has tended to neglect its antecedents (Newman et al., 2014). Our study addresses this gap by highlighting factors associated with the development of psychological capital. Namely, we show how external work experienceand social support alter levels of psychological capital in women entrepreneurs and moderate their expectations.
Third, current theory centers around the positive effects of entrepreneurship training on ventures, communities, and economies instead of the psychological benefits for individual actors. Further, this theory is typically built upon Western philosophical foundations rather than a grounded understanding of the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of those living and working at the BOP (Minniti & Naudé, 2010; Sutter et al., 2019).
To bridge these gaps, we offer a process model of women’s entrepreneurship and personal well-being at the BOP and provide new insights into the varying levels of well-being experienced by women entrepreneurs after participating in an entrepreneurship program. The goal of entrepreneurship programs is to train people to acquire knowledge and skills that they can apply to create and manage a new venture. These programs are considered successful when participants start a new venture. In this chapter, we argue that it is equally important to define program success in terms of well-being and flourishing. Accordingly, training programs should add instruction and assessment features that help develop entrepreneurs’ psychological capital as well as provide them the tools they need to handle the demands arising from entrepreneurship more generally and from gender-related issues more specifically.
Women’s Entrepreneurship at the Base of the Pyramid
Entrepreneurship is an important means for reducing poverty and facilitating the economic development of individuals at the BOP (Bruton et al., 2013). Prahalad and Hart (2002) originally coined the term BOP when selling to people who live at the lowest tier of the global income pyramid. However, they later stressed the importance of viewing these people as producers and “resilientand creative entrepreneurs” (Prahalad, 2012: 25). Indeed, many individuals at the BOP are local entrepreneurs who actively participate in their own socio-economic development, especially BOP women entrepreneurs standing at the “vanguard of social transformation” (Prahalad, 2005: 134).
In developing countries, women’s entrepreneurship can generate employment, economic activity, and societal benefits (Minniti & Naudé, 2010) as well as considerable personal benefits for women entrepreneurs, especially given their position as “the poorer and discriminated against gender” (Minniti & Naudé, 2010: 278). Indeed, entrepreneurship offers these women a path to economic security, a platform for self-expression and fulfillment, and a source of empowerment (Eddleston & Powell, 2008; Jamali, 2009). Women at the BOP, in particular, face numerous intersecting challenges and constraints due to their gender and economic status, so experiencing autonomy and empowerment can significantly enhance their lives. However, scholars have paid scant attention to how entrepreneurship influences these women’s well-being despite these potentially life-changing benefits.
When theorizing on entrepreneurs’ well-being, scholars have typically concentrated on economic criteria, such as business size and growth. They have implicitly assumed that strong venture performance leads to improved well-being for entrepreneurs (Cooper & Artz, 1995). However, this assumption may not hold for women entrepreneurs because compared to their male counterparts, women generally place greater value on subjective performance measures and measures that are not at the firm level of analysis. For instance, women tend to be attracted to entrepreneurship as a career because it provides high autonomy, self-fulfillment, and independence (Powell & Eddleston, 2008), whereas men tend to focus on financial gain and status. However, depending on their social, cultural, and economic contexts, many women still face discrimination even after creating a venture, leading to varying personal well-being outcomes for this group (Akobo, 2018). Accordingly, the positive relationship between incomeand empowerment found for women in the Western context may not pertain to women in developing countries where patriarchal and socio-cultural norms and values may obstruct the translation of income into empowerment (Al-Dajani & Marlow, 2013). Thus, entrepreneurship’s emancipation potential may continue to elude some women due to their specific contexts.
Prior research exploring women’s employment in developing countries has uncovered numerous constraints hindering women’s engagement in the workforce that are essentially outside their control, such as access to education, restrictions based on gender norms, social class rules, and access to employment opportunities (Erten & Keskin, 2018; Heath & Mobarak, 2015). Although scholars have made important contributions to understanding the external sources of such constraints for women, the internal constraints—namely, the “barriers within women’s own psychologies” (McKelway, 2018)—need more attention. Indeed, for entrepreneurship interventions to help women successfully overcome their current constraints and transform their lives, research needs to move past basic access to financial and human capital to explore women entrepreneurs’ psychological constraints.
Entrepreneurship Training and the Development of Psychological Capital
Compared to men, women tend to have lower self‐confidence in their abilities. This diminished self-confidence is especially prevalent among women at the BOP as they typically lack education and have few work-related opportunities to learn (Jamali, 2009). In this context, entrepreneurship training and venture-creation programs can be a particularly effective means to build women’s business competencies and entrepreneurial intentions (Dhaliwal, 2010). Indeed, a lack of business knowledge and low self-confidence hinders new venture creation and weakens venture performance for women at the BOP. Therefore, successful entrepreneurship training programs not only expand participants’ knowledge and skills but also develop their psychological capacities, such as their personal initiative, motivation, and self-confidence (Campos et al., 2017; Wilson et al., 2007). While research has shown that psychological strengths positively impact entrepreneurship more generally, insufficient attention has been paid to the psychological capacities of women in developing countries (Santoro et al., 2020). Such scholarly disregard is surprising since BOP women entrepreneurs seem likely to benefit more from positive psychological capital than BOP men, given the additional constraints these women face.
The notion of psychological capital was conceptualized by Luthans and colleagues (2007: viii) to capture “positively oriented human resource strengths and psychological capacities.” Psychological capital comprises four dimensions: (self-) efficacy, optimism, hope, and resilience. The first dimension—efficacy—refers to “beliefs in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the course of action required to produce given attainments” (Bandura, 1977: 3). This dimension is positively associated with entrepreneurial intentions, venture creation, and persistence more generally. Santoro and colleagues (2020) recently found that self-efficacy is connected to entrepreneurial success in underprivileged entrepreneurs more specifically. However, women tend to have lower entrepreneurial self-efficacy compared to men (Wilson et al., 2007), a difference that is heightened in developing regions where women have limited access to female role models and where strict gender norms result in low literacy and education, few employment opportunities, and decreased mobility for women (McKelway, 2018). While entrepreneurship training programs are known to build entrepreneurial self-efficacy, it is unclear whether self-efficacy cultivated through training can counteract low self-efficacy stemming from external sources (i.e., outside training).
The second dimension of psychological capital—optimism—refers to individuals’ generalized expectation that they will achieve positive outcomes (Scheier et al., 2001). Relevant to the context we explore, optimism often leads individuals to select and implement effective strategies to cope with stressors (Fraser & Greene, 2006; Hmieleski & Baron, 2009). Thus, optimism can help BOPwomen entrepreneurspersist under adversity and build extensive social networks (Greve & Salaff, 2003; Markman et al., 2005), which are especially important when confronting difficult circumstances. However, when entrepreneurs have unrealistic expectations, optimism can result in diminished venture performance, thereby leading to poor decision making and higher failure rates for these entrepreneurs (Hmieleski & Baron, 2009). Entrepreneurs can overcome this optimism bias by learning from experience, which provides insights to reduce uncertainty over their knowledge, skills, and talent (Fraser & Greene, 2006). However, as mentioned, women at the BOP have limited employment and education opportunities and thus typically lack previous work experience outside the home. This lack of experience can ultimately result in unrealistic optimism about the future benefits of one’s entrepreneurial endeavors.
Hope, the third dimension of psychological capital, refers to individuals’ ability to formulate goals and find the means and drive to achieve these goals (Snyder et al., 2003). Indeed, entrepreneurship starts with a vision, so hope serves as a critical psychological resource that enables entrepreneurs to envision exciting yet reachable goals that can lead to higher satisfaction and success in business ownership (Luthans & Jensen, 2002). However, “false hope” can lead individuals to establish goals based on illusion instead of reality, setting them up for discouragement and grief if they fail to realize these goals. Accordingly, Snyder (2002) argued that people with false hope are effectively low in hope since they tend to set goals outside existing boundaries and fail to alter those goals when faced with challenges. Thus, in our context, BOPwomen entrepreneurs likely need to develop hope-related resources to achieve agency and purpose, facilitate goal setting, find routes to realize their goals, and seek alternatives when faced with obstacles. On the other hand, they need to avoid false hope due to the negative consequences described above.
The last dimension of psychological capital—resilience—refers to individuals’ ability to sustain performance when faced with adversity to ultimately achieve success. Resilience is an adaptive capacity that enables individuals to maintain (or quickly re-establish) positive functioning when facing difficulty. It can lead to persistence, hardiness, and success in the entrepreneurial context (Shepherd et al., 2020b). Moreover, resilience influences and interacts with the other dimensions of psychological capital, thereby strengthening the effects of each. For example, under stressful circumstances, resilience helps people remain optimistic and form positive expectations for the future despite any hardships (Carver et al., 2010). It also enables them to envision a desired image of the future—that is, to have hope. Likewise, in the context of disadvantaged entrepreneurs, self-efficacy and resilience appear to be complementary (Santoro et al., 2020).
Importantly, these four dimensions of psychological capital can be adapted and developed. Thus, since the various elements of psychological capital help individuals deal with the pressures of day-to-day life while maintaining a positive mindset about the future, changes in their psychological capital likely influence their personal well-being, to which we now turn.
Psychological Capital and Well-Being
Most scholars define well-being in terms of subjective and psychological well-being. Subjective well-being entails feelings of happiness, lack of pain, and overall satisfaction with life (Diener et al., 1999). In contrast, psychological well-being refers to a sense of purpose and optimal functioning (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Following Wiklund and colleagues (2019: 579), we define entrepreneurial well-being as “the experience of satisfaction, positive affect, infrequent negative affect, and psychological functioning about developing, starting, growing, and running an entrepreneurial venture.”
This personal well-being can be facilitated by psychological capital. Indeed, psychological capital is positively related to job satisfaction, work performance, reduced depressive symptoms, and lower job burnout and psychological distress (Avey et al., 2010; Leon-Perez et al., 2016), and in the entrepreneurial context specifically, self-efficacyand autonomy are vital to individuals’ well-being (Baron et al., 2016). Although scholars have examined the drivers of well-being, little work has shed light on why some entrepreneurs experience increased well-being from their entrepreneurial endeavors while others experience decreased well-being. In this regard, Keyes (2002) argued that well-being is a matter of degree and can be viewed along a continuum of relatively lower quality of life to relatively higher quality of life. Thus, in this chapter, we investigate howentrepreneurship trainingand venture creationinfluence the personal well-beingof women entrepreneursatthe BOP.
To answer this question, we chose a social program involving both entrepreneurship trainingand venture creation as our research context. In particular, this social program was designed to provide women training in entrepreneurial skills and support the creation of new ventures (i.e., solar power businesses) to decrease poverty, empower women, and aid rural communities. Our study was situated among women subjected to intersectional discrimination—namely, impoverished women in a deeply patriarchalculture in rural Rajasthan, India. Although poverty in Rajasthan has declined in recent years, the area is still classified as a “low-income state” even in India, with approximately 10 million people (i.e., 15% of the state’s population) living in poverty (earning less than USD 1.90 per day in 2011 purchasing power) (World Bank Report: India States Briefs, 2012). Besides their harsh living conditions, these women must also function within a patriarchal system that greatly discriminates against them. Many of the women we spoke to, for instance, wore heavy veils to conceal their faces and were reluctant to speak when men were present. As such, the woman on this chapter’s authorship team met with these women in their homes to interview them privately. Furthermore, due to their gender, these women had little to no education and were all married at a young age, signaling the intersectional dynamics.
We interviewed participants in a residential program at RajiUFootnote 1 that trains rural women from developing countries to become solar energy entrepreneurs. In particular, RajiU, a community-based organization, recruits “illiterate or semi-literate grandmothers” under the belief that these women have strong community roots and will thus return to their villages after their training to “bring sustainable electricity to remote, inaccessible villages” (“It starts with the sun,” 2020). Once they are admitted to the program, participants go to the training center and remain in residence for six months. It is important to note that this program is a major life event for these women as they are required to leave their families, travel (great distances for some), and live in an unfamiliar environment for six months. Indeed, before the program, most participants had only seldomly left their villages and had never resided outside of their marital/parental homes.
The program is structured as follows: the women spend the first month of the program meeting, interacting, and getting to know each other. They begin their formal training in the second month, learning about the solar photovoltaic panel lighting system, printed circuit boards, and electronic charge controllers. In the third month, the women participate in practical sessions to learn to make, repair, and maintain solar lanterns. In the fourth month, the women construct solar lanterns by themselves. In the fifth month, the women continue independently fabricating, testing, and repairing solar lamps. Finally, in the sixth month, the women learn practical skills to set up and run their ventures, such as opening a bank account and ordering spare parts. Upon program completion, the women commit to setting up solar energy ventures to bring electricity to their villages. In the underlying study of this chapter, we examined the motivations, experiences, and behaviors of a sample of these women before and during their entrepreneurship training and after venture creation.
All the women we interviewed had faced substantial adversity and social barriers due to the intersecting inequalities of their poverty, class, and gender. For example, most of the women practiced ghoonghat, wearing a veil to cover one’s head and often one’s face, and almost half engaged in purdah, a kind of seclusion that forbids women to interact with men who are not immediate family members. Furthermore, the women had minimal (if any) education and all but one were married before the age of 18. For more details on this study’s sample selection, research method, and analysis, please see Chatterjee et al. (2022).
According to our findings, when the entrepreneurship training program began, all the participants were enthusiastic and excited to learn, driven by the eagerness to improve their own status and their communities. For instance, Lalitha explained, “People respect you if you can read and write,” and Lakshmi felt the program was her “only chance to learn. My last chance.” Similarly, Fia noted her desire to help her community: “I feel I can help people in the village, especially the women.” To our surprise, however, although all the participants completed the training program and set up viable solar energy ventures, not everyone achieved personal well-being—some flourished, whereas others seemed to languish. To ensure anonymity, we present those who flourished at the end of the program with “F” names and those who languished with “L” names.
Shared Trajectories Before Venture Creation
Our findings reveal that the women faced similar difficulties related to their socio-economic and gender statuses before the training, which is unsurprising given their similar situations and demographics. Regarding socio-economic constraints, for example, Fia described issues around earning income: “We have had a drought for the last three years and no income since we depend on agriculture and the rains.” Similarly, Lekha described her poor living conditions: “We do not even have a proper house. Every year in the rains, our house starts leaking, and we have to rebuild the place” (Lekha). As for gender-based (social) constraints, Fiza noted, “My brothers went to school, but my parents did not have enough money to send me.” Likewise, Leela reported, “My husband died when I was young, but because I am a woman, my sons now make decisions about my life,” and Fia told us, “I always wanted to learn something, to study, to go to school. In our time, it was not just that we did not have a chance, but we never even felt we should go. We just accepted it as a way of life.”
Thus, through interviews and interactions at the beginning of the entrepreneurship training program, we discovered that overall, the participants were highly motivated and enthusiastic about the program despite being somewhat nervous. For example, similar to many others we interviewed, Fia conveyed excitement about coming to the campus: “I have never traveled this far before. I was scared and at the same time excited to go to RajiU and be in a new place.” Freya was happy about the chance to meet other women and make new friends, explaining, “Going to the training was exciting and scary. I had never actually lived in another place with women from so many places.” Moreover, all the women were thankful for the opportunity to learn. Indeed, beyond the benefits from venture creation, the women seemed motivated to receive an education they had been denied in the past, as Lalitha indicated: “The one thing in life I wish I had been able to do was study. It is my biggest regret.”
Moreover, the atmosphere in the training center at the beginning of the program was cooperative and supportive and thus helped the women build their confidence. For example, we noticed that the women interacted with each other in an animated way when sharing stories, comparing notes, and discussing problems. Similarly, the women worked hard in the training workshops to learn technical terms and help each other, and they often stayed after class to ask questions and talk with the instructors. Acquiring new skills in this way gave many of the women their first hint of success, helping them build confidence in their skills and abilities. The program instructors and the program’s overall design also imbued confidence in the women as the instructors often celebrated the women’s achievements and referred to them as solar “engineers.” Because these instructors were primarily women, they also served as role models for the participants, encouraging them to believe in their ability to succeed. Corroborating the women’s newly found confidence and self-efficacy, RajiU’s founder explained, “With every month... the women grow in stature and self-confidence. They come as grandmothers and return as heroes to their villages” (Lankarani, 2011, para. 9).
In this way, the program was successful as all the women in our sample were proud of their achievements and felt galvanized by the technical nature of their work. Leena, for example, was delighted after successfully putting her first solar lamp together, telling us, “Everyone clapped. I was so excited.” Falguni was proud of her new designation, noting, “Who would have thought that I could become a solar engineer?” Additionally, Falak believed she was finally on par with men: “Even the men in my village don’t know these things.”
Developing self-confidence, interacting with strong role models, and being allowed to start a new venture instilled hope in the women. Many began discussing their goals for both their businesses and the future more generally. Some of the women wanted to improve their children’s lives, as Fenny mentioned: “I will first open a bank account in my own name as soon as I go back so I can save money for my children.” Others hoped to improve their communities, such as Farah: “I think everyone in the village needs these solar lights, so I want to start soon.” Still, other participants wanted to maximize their own potential in life and voiced optimism about the future. For instance, Lakshmi reported, “I hope I can learn even more now,” and Leena explained, “I think now I can do anything; I can change my life.”
In addition to the women’s pride and self-confidence from acquiring new knowledge and skills and their hopes for the future, the participants seemed to particularly enjoy connecting with other women during the six-month program. Indeed, most of the women had led isolated lives due to the social barriers they faced, so meeting and interacting with other women was an especially important program benefit. For instance, Lalitha told us that she had observed the custom of purdah before the program, a common practice among higher-caste women in villages. She explained how, as a result, she had never interacted with women from other communities and castes and was only now realizing what she had been missing. The women all agreed that the training program was one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives, and many seemed wistful at the notion of it ending.
Upon considering their previous seclusion, the women expressed discontent with their lives. Many began realizing that their past circumstances had limited their lives in many ways, making them feel incapable of doing anything “technical,” restricting their ability to travel and have new experiences, and denying them access to finance. For example, Lata told us, “I do all the work at home and also look after the animals, but after milking the cows, it is my husband who takes the milk to the collection center and collects the payment. He handles all money matters.” Together with their newly acquired confidence, the women’s dissatisfaction kindled new expectations for their lives and crystallized their hopesabout venture creation.
Thus, overall, the entrepreneurship training program helped the women understand the “bigger picture” of their lives, enabling them to acknowledge the negative aspects of their previous circumstances and imagine new aspirations for the future.
An Entrepreneurship Program and Flourishing
We draw on models of personal well-being to define flourishing as the state in which an individual has positive psychological and social functioning (Keyes, 2002). The women we categorized as flourishing described positive feelings and high levels of well-being, and they demonstrated empowerment, optimism, and resilience.
First, after they created ventures, the flourishing women felt, exhibited, and discussed empowerment. For these women, empowerment meant they were now able to take on jobs that only men could do in the past, such as handling finances and using technology. They were able to play more significant roles in their communities. The women’s increased feelings of empowerment were also reflected in practical issues related to working in their ventures, as Fiza indicated: “It is difficult to wear a veil and repair solar lamps. Before, I used to be shy, but now, I just remove my veil when I have to work.” Moreover, the women felt they received more recognition in their communities due to their work, with some even participating in council elections and taking on advisor roles for other women. Consistent with these sentiments, an NGO representative who worked with these women described them as “strong,” explaining, “They can do anything” and are “confident to say what is on [their] mind.” We also noted a notable example of the women’s increased sense of empowerment in our fieldnotes following an interaction between male NGO representatives and one of the flourishing entrepreneurs, Freena. Not only did Freena lead the discussion, requesting longer-lasting fuses for her clients (because the local NGO provides spare parts), but she also did not cover her face and looked the men directly in the eye as she spoke thus significantly departing from local practices. More noteworthy, the NGO representatives showed her a great deal of respect, with one even sitting on a lower step than Freena—another major deviation from local conventions (field notes).
Second, the flourishing women were more generally optimistic about the future and their lives. This optimism was particularly apparent in their plans for the future, which entailed ideas related to building houses; expanding their ventures; furthering their professional development; and investing in their businesses, such as buying new technology (e.g., a computer and a mobile phone, as in the case of Freya). For instance, Fia explained that she planned to put her earnings toward building a pucca house, which would be more durable than her current home. Falguni mentioned that she planned to establish a training center to teach other women to become solar energy entrepreneurs. During home visits, the flourishing women also frequently told stories about their children going to school and their hopes for their careers, indicating optimism about their children’s futures. Thus, as we recorded in our field notes, the flourishing women were “positive about the future,” felt “in control of their lives,” and believed “good things will happen.”
Finally, the flourishing women demonstrated resilience. The women not only repeatedly showed that they could overcome significant difficulties, but they were also “cheerful and determined when faced with problems” (field notes). Moreover, instead of giving up when faced with adversity, they attempted to change the statusquo. For example, when Freena explained how she found the hot summer temperatures (from plus 35 degrees Celsius [95 degrees Fahrenheit] to plus 48 degrees Celsius [118 degrees Fahrenheit]) to be taxing because she traveled on foot to see customers, she smiled and shrugged to indicate it was just part of her work. Fia showed resilience by remaining positive despite facing a drought for the third year in a row. Freena’s resilience entailed moving out of her family home to live alone after her husband died. Similarly, Falak built a hut for herself after her husband threw her out of their home, and she described how she fought to save her marriage after discovering she could not have children (field notes; some men in rural India take a second wife when the first cannot have children).
While the benefits the flourishing women achieved are similar to findings in the literature—namely, entrepreneurship and empowerment, optimism, and resilience (Al-Dajani & Marlow, 2013; Ayala & Manzano, 2014; Ucbasaran et al., 2010)—they starkly contrast the languishing women’s experience despite successful trainingand venture creation, to which we now turn.
An Entrepreneurship Program and Languishing
Languishing refers to the subjective experience of feeling stuck and believing that one is failing to progress (Spreitzer et al., 2005). Despite having similar venture outcomes as the women who flourished (e.g., number of solar units installed), the women who languished lacked positive feelings, demonstrated despair and resignation, and engaged in minor acts of rebellion.
First, the languishing women entrepreneurs believed they could not attain the life they desired, thereby resigning themselves to a life less lived. Because their expectationsfrom venture creation were unfulfilled, these women felt they were helpless and lacked control over their lives. They also believed their problems were impossible to solve, so they failed to better their situations and thus seemed defeated. Leena, for instance, commented, “I can only hope for a better life in my next birth.” The languishing women also exhibited a distinct change in their attitudes about the program: while they were excited about the training and the chance to start a business at the start of the program, they now appeared disheartened. For instance, Lalitha was initially eager to participate in the program and proud of her training accomplishments. However, after setting up a venture in her home village, she lamented, “Nothing will change here. I work hard, but there is no point. This is my fate.” Leena similarly told us, “This is the way things have been for years. Whatever I do, nothing will change my life.”
As recorded in our field notes, the languishing women felt their lives had changed little after the program and, as a result, felt deflated. We also noticed gestures of resignation among these women, such as shrugging their shoulders or drifting into silence when asked about their circumstances as if talking about their problems was futile. Some women seemed especially resigned, speaking of how the program had been their last opportunity to better their lives at their older age and how their hard work had failed to materialize into the change they had envisioned. For example, Lakshmi told us that she never thought she would be allowed to study, so she initially pinned all her hopes on the program. However, despite participating in entrepreneurship training and creating a venture, she felt her life had not improved.
Second, the women who languished after the entrepreneurship trainingand venture creation displayed despair. This despair came in different forms, including despair from being a woman (Lata), from family members’ treatment (Lalitha), and a “palpable sense of sadness” (field notes). These women’s despair was most evident in informal interactions and observations, with some women appearing listless and lacking enthusiasm for life. For instance, when we visited Leela in her home, we noticed that she typically looked downward and rarely smiled. Compared to Freena, a flourishing entrepreneur who was also widowed, Leela seemingly failed to realize how extraordinary her achievements were. Instead, she told us how she felt stuck in her current circumstances:
When my husband died, I thought I could start a new life by becoming an entrepreneur. My sons did not want me to do this, but I insisted and went for the training. Now, they are ashamed of me and do not want me to work. I like working, but now I want to run away from here and leave all this behind.
The shame Leela’s sons felt needs to be understood about the importance of status in determining labor-force participation in rural India—namely, when “family incomes rise, women stay home and vice versa” (Sorsa, 2015: 22). Moreover, although some of the languishing women entrepreneurs still engaged in their work to a degree, at least two felt they had to continue interacting with customers even though they did not enjoy it after losing their initial enthusiasm. These women felt that entrepreneurship had improved their financial situations but had failed to deliver expected improvements in other parts of their lives.
Finally, some of the languishing women entrepreneurs engaged in minor acts of rebellion, defying norms and practices in trivial ways without caring about the ramifications. For instance, during an interview with community members to discuss the changes that had occurred after solar electrification, Lekha flung off her face veil in front of the men (a rebellious act) while explaining, “I have nothing to lose.” Lekha’s resignation and despair appeared to drive her engagement in such minor rebellious acts because she felt she had already hit rock bottom and believed her situation could not get any worse. Likewise, Lalitha told us about another minor rebellious act:
I have moved into another section of the family home. My in-laws live in a separate section. I have not spoken to my mother-in-law in months. Last month, my father-in-law threw his [tea] cup on the ground. I ignored him and left the broken cup on the floor.
While this act may seem innocuous, in the context of the traditional “joint” Indian family, patriarchal norms require the daughter-in-law to do all the housework. Indeed, the men of the family do not even enter the kitchen. In addition, the father-in-law is the head of the household, meaning that his authority is absolute and he owns the family’s property. Overall, the languishing women’s rebellious acts were unusual, particularly compared to the behavior of the flourishing women, who appeared to connect to their familiesand communities with more zeal after participating in the program. In particular, while the flourishing women entrepreneurs took on larger roles in their families and communities, those languishing seemed to shy away from social engagement.
Diverging Trajectories After Venture Creation: The Nature of Expectations
Our findings reveal that the alignment between the women’s expectations after completing the training program but before starting a venture and their actual experiences after new venture creation separated those who flourished and began a positive trajectory and those who languished and began a negative trajectory. While all the women spoke of the positive benefits they expected to gain after creating a venture (e.g., enhanced status in their communities and increased income), we uncovered important differences between the women who flourished and those who languished.
First, the flourishing women typically had defined goals and plans, such as building a more durable house (Fia) and purchasing a computer (Freya), believing that such actions would better their lives. For example, building a more durable house would keep Fia’s family safer and happier, and purchasing a computer would help Freya’s son in his career. On the other hand, those languishing generally had less specific goals, such as having a better future (Leela) and being happy (Lakshmi). However, without clear routes to achieving these vaguer goals, the languishing women felt less in control and took fewer actions to achieve them. These women appeared to assume that after striving to become solar entrepreneurs and accomplishing what had once seemed impossible, venture creation would fill the voids in their lives and solve all their problems. For instance, Lakshmi told us how she had thought her life would change after the training:
I used to blame my problems on not having had an education. The training showed me that I am capable of doing so much more than I can, but my life is the same after all my knowledge of solar lamps. Sometimes I wonder if it is worth it for my daughter to even study. I hope I am not born a woman in my next life.
Second, we found that when the flourishingwomen entrepreneurs’ expectations went unmet, they tended to either alter these expectations or work harder to reach their goals. For example, Farida explained that she had initially expected to earn her community’s respect by simply becoming a solar engineer. When that expectation did not materialize, she decided to work in her community directly, installing solar lights in the temple and other areas. Only then did her community begin to value her. In contrast, the languishing women entrepreneurs seemed to give up when their expectations for their lives after venture creation went unfulfilled, using phrases like “nothing will change” and “it’s not in my destiny.” Lakshmi, for instance, told us the following:
I had made so many new friends during the training, but when I returned, I was again back in my old life. When I come here [her workplace], it is nice, but when I go back, nothing has changed. In fact, my husband and in-laws are often angry and suspicious. Yes, I earn money now, but it is not that much more. I don’t know if it is worth it.
Third, the flourishingwomen entrepreneurs’ expectations from their ventures frequently focused on community welfare, such as training other women (Falguni) and aiding their villages (Fia). However, the languishing women entrepreneurs’ expectations from venture creation tended to center on their own lives, such as improving their familyrelationships. Interestingly, none of the women in either group mentioned ambitions related to gender equality, instead appearing to accept the statusquo of gender inequality for themselves. However, some did talk about their daughters and future generations having more control over their own lives.
While we noticed these diverging trajectories among the women only after they had created their ventures, these varying levels of well-being could be explained by differences in the women’s initial expectationsfrom venture creation because success is not necessarily based on one’s absolute level of performance but performance compared one’s goals and expectations. Since their initial expectations went unmet, the languishing women entrepreneurs felt the entrepreneurship training had given them hope for a new life that they were now denied. They saw no other path to improve their lives, with which they were now even more dissatisfied. On the other hand, the flourishing women entrepreneurs did not realize greater material rewards from their ventures than those languishing, but they had set more realistic and achievable expectations upfront. While RajiU applies common age, gender, and literacy criteria when selecting participants, upon closer inspection of our data, we found differences in participants’ background related to their prior work experienceand familysupport. These differences shed light on why some women entrepreneurs had realistic expectations while others did not.
Differences in Expectations: Work Experience and Family Support
One key differentiator between the two groups of women entrepreneurs appears to be prior work experience outside the home. All but one of the flourishing women had such experience before enrolling in the entrepreneurship program. For example, Fia and Falak had worked as casual laborers on construction sites near their villages, and Farah had run a small store in the corner of her house. This outside work experience reflected features of these women’s family environments (e.g., greater freedom at home). It gave them insights into the effort needed for and rewards from work, thus enabling them to form more realisticexpectations for their future as entrepreneurs. Freena, for instance, described how she knew it would take some time for people in her community to embrace her ideas for her solar venture since she had confronted similar skepticism when she took her first job.
Moreover, by working outside their homes, these women may have built confidence and formed positive self-beliefs before the training, thereby complementing the program’s work to develop psychological capital but in the real world. For instance, we observed Falguni as she spoke with a localNGO representative about the need to train people in her villageto care for their solar lamps and how she expected the partner NGO to help solve this problem. Prior work experience also allowed these women to develop resiliency when confronted with hardships, which helped them continue their solar ventures in the face of challenges (beyond those discussed in the entrepreneurship training). For instance, Falak reported that while visiting customers in the hot afternoons can be tiring, it is still easier than working on a construction site.
In contrast, none of the languishing women entrepreneurs had experience working outside their homes before creating their ventures. These women had led extremely restricted lives before the training. Some also seemed to be limited by their higher caste and the practice of purdah, both of which appeared to hinder their outside experience and social connections (although we lacked adequate data to make definitive conclusions). Indeed, according to one of the languishing women, the training program had presented a means to escape their current lives.
The flourishingwomen entrepreneurs also seemed to have supportive familiesand communities receptive to their entrepreneurial endeavors because they were used to women working outside the home. Freena, for example, had previously held a job as a manual laborer (a job her family had been displeased about) but was now a respected solar entrepreneur in her community. She was even asked to attend village council meetings because community members wanted her opinion on various issues.
In contrast, the languishing women entrepreneurs who lacked outside work experience did not have such support. Indeed, these women’s familiesand communities were unprepared for their breach of social norms, with some experiencing disapproval from their spouses, in-laws, and even their children. For example, for Lalitha, whose life before the training had been very restricted, the entrepreneurship program was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and she was resolved to learn despite lacking support from her husband and in-laws: “The only person in the whole household who supported me was my husband’s grandmother.” She had hoped that her husband would celebrate her accomplishments after she started her venture, but when we interacted with him, he seemed ashamed and told us he worried about what people would say about her work. Similarly, Lalitha’s mother-in-law thought Lalitha was “talking too much” after becoming a solar engineer.
Thus, while the languishing women entrepreneurs had initially established positive attitudes, skills, and self-beliefs during the entrepreneurship training program, these benefits emerged in a supportive yet artificial environment. For instance, the sessions were structured to ensure the women could concentrate on a specific part of a task, receive prompt positive feedback, and finish tasks as small victories. However, the women’s newly found attitudes, skills, and self-beliefs were put to a different test (vis-à-vis during training) when they confronted familyand community members who were unsupportive of their entrepreneurial endeavors as well as the strong patriarchal forces underlying their culture. In other words, these unsupportive actors weakened the psychological capital the women had cultivated during their training. Moreover, without input and advice about their ventures from family members, the languishing women entrepreneurs had difficulty adjusting their expectations. On the other hand, the flourishing women entrepreneurs had access to such support from their family members, which appeared to not only help them set more realistic expectations but also adjust them when faced with challenges and changing conditions. For instance, Fulki explained how her daughter assists in running her venture, often encouraging her mother to rest and take breaks.
Finally, while we did not formally explore how the women’s caste affected their well-being, we noticed that the lower castes had more freedom to engage in external work before the entrepreneurship program. In addition, some of the lower-caste women described how entrepreneurship had improved their social status in their villages. For example, before becoming entrepreneurs, these women were prohibited from interacting with individuals from higher castes; however, as solar energy providers, they were invited into people’s houses (to install and manage equipment). The higher-caste women, in contrast, were previously restricted from working outside their homes despite their poverty because societal norms indicated that such work was beneath their status. Accordingly, these women did not experience a boost in status from becoming an entrepreneur. Some even experiencing diminished status because many people still viewed their entrepreneurial roles as working outside the home, which they believed only lower-caste women should do. Overall, further research is needed to fully understand the role caste plays in entrepreneurship in general and women’s entrepreneurship specifically.
A Model of Women Entrepreneurs Flourishingor Languishing
Many commendable entrepreneurship programs offer people living in poverty entrepreneurship training and support for new venture creation, thereby helping transform these individuals’ lives and their communities. However, these programs can have varying outcomes. Indeed, while the women we studied had comparable backgrounds and all faced intersectional constraints related to their gender, life stage, and education, they experienced different levels of personal well-being after one such program, with some flourishing and others languishing. Through the training program, we found that all the participants developed the psychological capital components of self-efficacyand hope and, to a lesser extent, optimism and resiliency. In addition, the training program and related experiences drove the women to reflect on their lives, which brought up feelings of discontent. This crystallization of discontent and their enhanced self-confidence led the women to form expectations for a better life through their entrepreneurial action. The women who had supportive families and prior external work experience set more realistic expectations that they could fulfill, thereby strengthening and building their psychological capacities of empowerment, resiliency, and optimism. The women without such familysupport and external work experience, on the other hand, generally had unrealistic expectations and abstract goals that they were unable to realize. As a result, these women demonstrated diminished confidence and despair, resignation, and rebelliousness. Therefore, we found that the women’s expectations mediated the relationship between their psychological capital and personal well-being. Factors like family support and prior external work experience moderated the women’s expectations and helped them maintain their psychological capacities after venture creation. Based on these inductively generated findings, we developed a model of well-being for women entrepreneurs at the BOP (see Fig. 4.1).
According to most policymakers and scholars, entrepreneurship is a good thing, with benefits for firms translating into benefits for entrepreneurs. Moreover, rushing to connect productive women’s entrepreneurship at the BOP to benefits for disadvantaged communities and countries, prior research has often overlooked the implications of such entrepreneurial action for the women themselves. Thus, we investigated the personal well-beingof women entrepreneurs before, during, and after an entrepreneurship training and venture-creation program, ultimately finding that some of the women flourished after venture creation while others languished. Abstracting from our findings, we now turn to the drivers and mechanisms underlying this heterogeneity of personal well-being in women entrepreneurs at the BOP.
In line with the literature, our findings reveal that women at the BOP face complex intersecting challenges that often impede venture creation. Social entrepreneurship programs can help participants overcome these constraints and push them toward venture creation by developing their psychological capital capacities, especially self-efficacyand hope. At the same time, these types of programs can also produce a sense of discontent in participants by uncovering gaps in their previous and current lives. This crystallization of discontent, stemming from “links among a multitude of unpleasant, unsatisfactory, and otherwise negative features of one’s current life situation” (Baumeister, 1991: 281–282), can ultimately trigger change. Indeed, many individuals pursue an entrepreneurial career after feeling discontent to improve their mental healthand well-being (Haynie & Shepherd, 2011). As such, our study reveals that entrepreneurship training develops participants’ self-confidence and raises their hopes for the future. In particular, training programs and the environments in which they are situated can highlight the hardships in participants’ current lives while simultaneously helping them build confidence (self-efficacy) in their ability to alter their lives, thereby increasing their expectations.
As our study revealed, expectations from an entrepreneurship program can be key motivators that drive women at the BOP toward entrepreneurship trainingand venture creation. Notably, the women entrepreneurs we studied were not solely motivated by economic desires despite their disadvantaged circumstances (Renko et al., 2012), a finding that corroborates previous research. In particular, according to Vroom’s expectancy theory (1964), people are motivated to act and behave in certain ways based on the belief that their efforts will lead to expected outcomes that are important to them. Previous entrepreneurship studies applying this expectancy framework have shown that entrepreneurs who are confident in their abilities are driven to put forth the effort, engage in entrepreneurial action, and attain economic and non-economic outcomes (Wiklund et al., 2019; Zhao et al., 2005). Likewise, in our study, the flourishing women entrepreneurs were confident in their abilities and realized important outcomes. However, the women entrepreneurs who languished continued their ventures even though they doubted their abilities and could not realize their anticipated outcomes. This anomaly could be explained by Renko and colleagues’ (2012) finding that necessity entrepreneurs often maintain effort despite having low confidence in their abilities because they lack alternative opportunities.
Although successful in venture creation, the women whose expectations for entrepreneurship went unmet experienced low personal well-being—they languished. Accordingly, Parasuraman and Simmers (2001) argued that entrepreneurship might heighten work-family conflict for some women as “business ownership is not a panacea for balancing work and family role responsibilities” (p. 551). However, Porter and Steers (1973) note that individuals likely do not have to fulfill all their expectations to feel a sense of satisfaction. Therefore, since expectations appear to mediate well-being, training programs could help participants moderate their expectations and offer guidance for goal setting.
Relatedly, our findings also reveal that prior work experienceand familysupport are important factors that help women entrepreneurs at the BOPset realisticexpectations and develop and maintain psychological capital capacities, such as resilience. Indeed, Luthans et al. (2006) proposed that lacking a stable home, secure family environment, mentors, and other related factors can reduce individuals’ resilience. Other studies have also shown that supportive relationships can strengthen entrepreneurs’ resilience, helping them handle many of the difficulties associated with creating and operating a venture. Importantly, women in economically developing and developed countries are typically more reliant on their extended families for support than men (Justo & DeTienne, 2008); however, for many of the women entrepreneurs at the BOP who we studied, the family was the only source of social support available to them. The languishing women entrepreneurs who lacked such family support—namely, who lacked “encouragement, understanding, attention, and positive regard” from others (Powell & Eddleston, 2017: 3)—thus had reduced psychological capital endowments, especially self-efficacy, after the program. Such reduced psychological capital can negatively impact individuals’ ability to achieve their goals, ultimately leading to feelings of despair and resignation. On the other hand, the flourishing women entrepreneurs who had supportive families set realistic expectations and maintained high psychological capital, including the psychological capital they developed during the training.
With these findings, our study extends the theory on women’s entrepreneurship and well-being. Although scholars have increasingly explored entrepreneurship and mental well-being more generally, the well-being of women entrepreneurs has garnered scant attention, particularly in the context of developing countries. This scholarly disregard is surprising given the magnifying effect of women’s entrepreneurship on community development and social progress. Through our study, we highlight the heterogeneity in women entrepreneurs’ personal well-being outcomes, showing that some experience high levels of personal well-being and flourish after starting a venture. In contrast, others experience low levels of personal well-being and languish. In particular, we add to research on the association between psychological capital and well-being as well as work on the antecedents of entrepreneurs’ personal well-being (Stephan, 2018) by showing that entrepreneurs’ expectations mediate their psychological capital and personal well-being. Thereby, we also answer recent calls for more qualitative research in positive psychology and increased understanding of well-being (Hefferon et al., 2017; Wissing et al., 2019). Moreover, we contribute to and extend the growing literature on psychological capital and entrepreneurship. Although prior research has shown that psychological capital is positively related to job and life satisfaction (Bockorny & Youssef-Morgan, 2019; Hmieleski & Carr, 2007), the mechanisms underlying these relationships remain unclear. We uncover some potential mechanisms for women entrepreneurs at the BOP, demonstrating that prior work experienceand familysupport moderate their expectations and sustain their psychological capital, thereby influencing their personal well-being. These findings complement recent work showing that culture, specifically collectivism at the in-group/family level, can predict women’s business ownership and that spousal support moderates new venture ownership (Bullough et al., 2014; Werbel & Danes, 2010). Finally, we developed our theory in the context of women entrepreneurs at the BOP, thereby filling a void regarding entrepreneurship and personal well-being in this chronic, adverse context.
Our research also has implications for policymakers and practitioners working to improve economic development and empower women at the BOP. Specifically, our findings highlight the critical role entrepreneurship training programs can play in developing women entrepreneurs’ psychological capital capacities during and after venture creation. Indeed, as previous studies have shown, entrepreneurship training for women entrepreneurs at the BOP can lessen the effects of entrepreneurship-related constraints for women in such environments (Bischoff et al., 2020). In addition, training programs that consider participants’ unique needs due to their individual circumstances (e.g., familysupport and prior work experience) can offer guidance on goal setting and moderate participants’ expectations, thereby influencing their personal well-being.
As discussed throughout this book, people undertake entrepreneurial action for different reasons (Wiklund et al., 2019). For women entrepreneurs at the BOP, who are confronted with numerous constraints but few opportunities, entrepreneurship can be a route to increased personal well-being. Before our study, however, limited scholarly attention had been given to these vulnerable individuals’ personal well-being outcomes. In our study, we found that engaging in entrepreneurship enhanced the personal well-being of some women, who then flourished. Still, for others, it diminished their personal well-being, so they languished. We explored these differing experiences for participants of an entrepreneurship program involving both trainingand venture creation to offer new insights regarding why some women entrepreneurs at the BOP flourish while others do not.
The names of the participants and of the college have been changed to ensure anonymity.
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Shepherd, D.A., Parida, V., Wincent, J. (2022). Women Entrepreneurs Flourishing or Languishing at the Bottom of the Pyramid. In: Entrepreneurial Responses to Chronic Adversity. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-04884-5_4
Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, Cham
Print ISBN: 978-3-031-04883-8
Online ISBN: 978-3-031-04884-5