Aspirations, Access Agency : Women transforming lives with technology, a book by the Reliance Foundation and Observer Research Foundation, tells the stories of Indian women leaders from across the nation who have emerged as agents of technological change and socio-economic inclusion and are using information and communication technologies (ICTs) to help their communities build pathways to better futures. Written by Shoba Suri this excerpt shares the story of Nisha Ben.Over the last decade, there has been a significant rise in the number of women entrepreneurs in India. More and more women from different social backgrounds and age groups and with varied levels of education have turned to self-employment with the help of government schemes, much like 23-year-old Nisha Ben, an Udyami Sakhia with Self-Employed Womens Association (SEWA) Bharat.1 A resident of Kandara Village in Uttarakhands Rudraprayag district, Nisha has a degree in Home Science and Sanskrit and lives with her mother and younger brother. As her father lives and works in a nearby town, Nisha is responsible for her familys immediate needs.Although almost everyone in Kandara now has a mobile phone, only a few villagers are mobile-savvy or digitally literate. This is especially true for women in the Kandara, but things are slowly changing. Nisha, who got her first mobile phone when she was in the first year of college, believes that mobile phone access can help in terms of online learning and communication.As per the fifth round of the National Family Health Survey (2019-21), in Rudraprayag district, 56.4 percent women have completed 10 or more years of schooling, as compared to 52.1 percent in 2015-16.In 2021, Nisha learnt from her aunt, a SEWA member, about SEWA Bharats apprentice training programme to run homestays marketed through online platforms (Atithi). SEWA Atithi, a grassroots women-run enterprise in the hospitality sector, was formed in 2019 to help women diversify their income by promoting community-based tourism. Nisha underwent three months of training, after which she was formally inducted as an Udyami Sakhi for Atithi Homestays to handle its day-to-day functioning. The Udyami Sakhi programme has enabled women microentrepreneurs and women-run collective social enterprises to become resilient in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.Uttarakhand is primarily an agrarian state, but climate change and wildlife encroachment have made farming an unstable source of income,resulting in a need for diversified sources of income.Through SEWA Atithi, women farmers in the Almora and Rudraprayag districts began opening their homes to tourists who wanted to experienceUttarakhands rich local culture, heritage, and natural environment. Additionally, the state tourism department has launched various schemes to promote homestays in hilly areas by providing financial assistance under the Veer Chandra Singh Garhwal Yojana. This has not only accelerated tourism and family incomes, but has also reduced migration to other states in search of jobs. Homestay tourism is an emerging concept and provides an important opportunity to generate employment and economic gains. However, a lack of awareness of government schemes, skilled human resources, and the need for digital literacy, creativity, and entrepreneurial skills are some of the main challenges to running successful homestays in Uttarakhand.During her training, Nisha learnt to make online bookings through a web portal, to generate bills, photography and videography, and online marketing and promotion through social media (primarily, posting pictures and videos on websites, Facebook and YouTube). Earlier I used to take very amateurish pictures, but my training taught me about the importance of lighting, angle, backgrounds, and frames. Initially, it seemed difficult, but in three months I learnt these new techniques. I now apply what I learnt, and the marketing photographs have improved greatly as a result, she says.Nishas work now involves checking reservations on the portal (booking.com) for the homestays in Almora and Rudraprayag, and addressing queries from clients and potential customers. She coordinates with guests before and during their stay about their accommodation, food preferences, and itineraries. Nisha also manages the homestays digital payment systems. A key part of her role as a homestay manager involves creating appealing audio-visual content that can be used for marketing and promotional purposes on social media platforms. It makes me happy when guests are satisfied and give a good, positive feedback about their stay, she beams. Besides my experience of using technology, I think I have learnt a lot from the experience of interacting with our guests themselves.Nisha is a multitasker. Her days starts at around 4 AM; she helps her mother cook and clean, work on the farm and tend to the animals, after which shehandles work related to the homestays. Despite her hectic days, she is happy as her work allows her a certain flexibility that enables her to manage her personal obligations.Nisha is convinced that technology has made things simpler and brought newer opportunities to her at the click of a button. Indeed, digital tools are indispensable in her daily life. Not only has she now learnt certain hard skills (such as working on Google Drive, creating meeting links, and online banking), she has also acquired key soft skills, such as increased self-awareness, the ability to efficiently organise and manage time, and to confidently engage in conversations with others. Being the first and mostly only point of contact between clients and the women managing the homestays, Nishas learnings have also expanded to accommodate good people management skills and digital coordination.Through her work with SEWA Bharat, Nisha has been able to support her family and inspire many community members who were once unfamiliar with the organisations work but now want to join its ranks. Nisha feels that everyone, especially women, must be able to advance themselves by learning the uses of technology, and the Udyami Sakhi platform is one way to do so. Indeed, she hopes to introduce even more rural women into the Atithi Homestay business to encourage a greater recognition of the collective. What gives me greatest satisfaction is that I am able to help other women in the community, she says proudly.To read the inspiring stories of these women revolutionising ICT use across the length and breadth of India, click here.