“We are the Amazon for rural India. We believe our platform allows us to be the voice of the rural consumer — and rural women.”
Jaipur-based Ajaita Shah had an ambitious goal: Use commerce technology to empower a new generation of women entrepreneurs in India’s vast Rajasthan region. In 2011, when she was just 26, and with less than $30,000 of her own money, Shah founded Frontier Markets, a company that now connects more than 10,000 women entrepreneurs to more than 700,000 customers. Shah’s breakthrough idea? Connect the cell phones of an army of women with Frontier Markets’s digital platform to overcome the “last mile” problem and deliver everything from environmentally sustainable home appliances to financial and educational services.
The first opportunity Shah saw was getting solar energy access to rural households in Rajasthan. “Lack of reliable electricity had a massive impact, not just from a safety and cost perspective, but a dignity, justice and productivity perspective,” she observes.
New green-energy solutions were an important early point of success for Frontier, but the venture really took off when the company began offering access to life-changing products and services that had been out of reach to many rural households. “We are the Amazon for rural India,” Shah says. “We believe our platform allows us to be the voice of the rural consumer — and rural women.”
Shah believes a just and equitable climate economy depends on reaching the isolated villages where much of the world’s population lives. “We’re offering innovative climate solutions to reduce the carbon footprint of three to four billion people,” she explains. “We are trying to create economies of scale that will drive social impact. These women have smartphones; they now have e-commerce solutions. Rural customers are downloading our app to place direct orders. We’re bringing power back to rural households.”