Women play a significant role in science and technology. Despite having little say in farm decision-making, women account for nearly half of the global agricultural workforce.
On this International Day of Women and Girls in Science, we asked Ms. Nidhi Pant, Co-Founder of Science For Society, or S4S Technologies, a few questions about the importance of women in science, her journey from chemical engineer to entrepreneur, and her advice for women entering the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) field.
What motivated you to pursue a career in science and become an entrepreneur, and what inspired the creation of S4S Technologies?
Nidhi: I was born into a farming family in Uttarakhand and raised in Bombay by scientist parents who believe that we can only rise by lifting others. My hometown experienced a severe drought in 2013, destroying many residents’ lives and forcing my family to relocate to another town. I was certain that I wanted to pursue a career in chemical technology, so I enrolled at the Institute of Chemical Technology Mumbai. I was eager to see how some of these scientific principles could be applied more practically to solve the problem. I co-founded S4S Technologies with college friends and was actively involved in rebuilding communities in rural areas devastated by
natural disasters. I wanted to use my background in Chemical Technology to provide scientific solutions to one of rural India’s most difficult problems.
How is S4S Technologies empowering women?
Nidhi: S4S Technologies empowers landless women farmers to become microentrepreneurs by providing them with the right combination of technology, market access, and financing. We provide women farmers with solar-based food processing equipment at the farmgate. Women farmers use technology to convert it from fresh produce to processed food, extending its shelf life without preservatives or chemicals. S4S collects this back and sells these to the large food and beverage industries as food ingredients. So, we help farmers earn an assured additional income and reduce wastage in the supply chain. The additional income enables these women entrepreneurs to become family decision-makers while providing them access to banking systems through separate bank accounts in their names.
Did you ever feel like you had to prove yourself as a woman all the time? If so, how did you overcome it?
Nidhi: In my opinion, men continue to dominate science and technology, and there is no level playing field. Women face enormous pressure to work harder, smarter, and faster than our male counterparts.
A successful person overcomes failures and uses them as experiences to grow. Standing up for yourself and others will contribute to a more inclusive environment for all. I am fortunate that I followed my ambition of contributing to society and co-founded S4S in 2015, applying my engineering skills to India’s farm economy.
The organization has worked with over 100,000 farmers to provide access to solar food-processing units and market access. In 2019, the start-up received $685,000 in funding from FactorE Ventures and angel investors. In 2019 I won the Unilever Young Entrepreneur Award by Unilever and the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership. I was also named “Emerging Innovator of the Year” at the inaugural edition of Economic Times Women Leadership Awards.
What would that message be if you were to summarize your message for girls and women in science and technology?
Nidhi: One way to accomplish this is to increase the number of women with science degrees and certifications. Education in science and technology is critical for both men and women because it accelerates the pace of change in the world. In addition, women must challenge their traditional roles as mothers, wives, and carers. There is no doubt that women are underrepresented in science and technology fields. We need to encourage more women to pursue careers in this field to create a more diverse and inclusive industry. You can overcome any obstacle with perseverance and determination. Take charge of your life and pursue your dreams!
Investing in women-owned businesses is another way to support women in business. When you invest in these companies, you are helping the industry grow while also empowering female entrepreneurs.
How can men assist women and girls in achieving success in STEM?
Nidhi: In the midst of all the gender disparity controversies, we are about to celebrate another International Women's Day on March 8. Women now work in all fields, but men continue to dominate the hard sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Many organizations work to empower women and girls all over the world.
Men play an important role in empowering and supporting women in STEM because men are currently the STEM field's leaders and managers. Men can begin by recognizing that encouraging women students or coworkers can go a long way. Next, men can mentor women in STEM and provide valuable feedback to help these women perform better at work. Finally, men in STEM leadership positions seek women to join their teams.
Now men have recognized women’s potential and believe they can add value to their teams. Awareness is growing, and more men in positions of power are using their influence to effect real change where it counts—in hiring and pay.
How does being part of WE4F benefit S4S Technologies and your work?
Nidhi: S4S Technologies, with WE4F support, provides a suite of solutions across the value chain to improve the way produce is graded, sorted, preserved, processed, and consumed by over one million people in India. The WE4F grant will be used to expand our network of rural women drying partners, expand their customer base for dehydrated products, and optimize their core business systems in preparation for future rapid growth.
Recently, my co-partner, Vaibhav Tidke, participated in the WE4F annual convening held in South Africa. It was a great opportunity to connect with global partners from Asia and South Africa, which will help us scale our model and build global networks. We are grateful to WE4F for providing us with this opportunity.
(Going forward) What are you and your team currently working on and what exciting developments do you hope to achieve in the future?
Nidhi: S4S Technologies works with over 100,000 farmers to produce 40,000 tons of food and save over 300,000 tons of CO2e from entering the environment. Our goal is to reduce food waste on farms while also lifting farmers out of poverty. So, working with these micro-entrepreneurs who do not have a steady source of income or are in poverty are always very debt-ridden to come out of poverty. So, we would like to provide an assured additional income of 6,500 to 10,000 rupees based on how much work they do and how much they process through our business model. So that is how we expand S4S to reach an increasing number of micro-entrepreneurs.
In a nutshell
Women in science have more potential than ever before to change the world. Until recently, women in science faced significant barriers to equal opportunities, but the situation is gradually improving, and women are increasingly participating in the field. Therefore, teachers, parents, men and society are expected to encourage and motivate girls to grow up to be proud women in science.