Bengaluru, Karnataka, India:
The other day, when Prakash (the local istri-person) rang the doorbell, everyone was glad to see him. His dispirited demeanor and his sudden presence can often make people wonder where he had disappeared during lockdown. Upon enquiring, he shared that most of his time during the lockdown was consumed by attending to his COVID-infected relatives. He was also wandering around to get a job, as he was hardly getting any clothes for washing or ironing due to the lockdown. With almost a resigned look, he appealed to recommend him to friends/ relatives to either do their daily chores or give him clothes for washing and ironing. This is not just the story of Prakash but a vast world out there made of several such “Prakashs”. The paani-puri vendor, the tea seller, the dosa/ momo-seller, and many such others, who no longer participate conspicuously in the everyday city lives anymore and therefore are forgotten. This community of vyapaaris/ informal nano-entrepreneurs are one of the most adversely affected by the pandemic. The second wave has only made the situation worse for them.
“This forgotten community, employing close to a 100 mn people in India, is now reeling under a severe impact that is unimaginable. They need immediate relief, or we will see this segment falling apart. Many will retreat into poverty and debt traps that take decades to come out of,” urges Mekin Maheshwari, founder, and CEO, Udhyam Learning Foundation that works with informal nano entrepreneurs to develop an entrepreneurial mindset and empower them with interventions and products to scale their businesses.
The findings of a survey done by Udhyam Vyapaar reveals the plight of these vyapaaris in the wake of the recent lockdowns:
- 74% of vyapaaris polled have no source of income or any savings since the lockdown
- 67% dip in their average monthly income
- 88% of vyapaaris polled have requested some form of support for basic sustenance
- 65% felt that immediate emergency financial assistance should be given to them otherwise it would be difficult to survive
While rents and utility bills are predominant in their expenses, their existing loan payments come a close second followed by their children’s school fees. Women vyapaaris felt that children’s education and loan payment were both on priority.
“While we have managed to raise funds and do Direct Benefit Transfers of INR 5000 to a cohort of 500 vyapaaris, aimed at meeting their immediate needs, this is but a drop in the ocean, compared to the kind of support they actually require. Even the ration kits we have been able to distribute can only see them through for a limited period of time. There is a lot more that needs to be done and on priority,” quoted Menaka Menon, Lead, Udhyam Vyapaar.
These vyapaaris have endured a lot over the last year and a half. Pre-2020 a lot of their businesses were doing well and the vyapaaris had ambitions for themselves and their families: to give their children a good education, to grow their businesses, etc. The abrupt and complete lockdown of 2020 took all these nano businesses off the streets with no advance warning and little to no savings. Having made it through till June 2020, these vyapaaris began to slowly rebuild their businesses in the hope that the worst was behind them. But the second wave hit in early 2021 and caught them unawares and unprepared. Their dried-up savings on account of the first lockdown has left them with no option but to resort to the vicious cycle of debt by borrowing from local money lenders.
Udhyam Vyapaar’s initiatives have been a small contribution towards getting their lives back on track.
Udhyam is also working towards helping this community with their medical needs during this time. A team of volunteer doctors working with Udhyam Vyapaar is helping them, their families and friends access telemedical care to solve for both COVID and non-COVID issues. Udhyam Vyapaar has also curated content to dispel the misinformation around Covid 19 and address the vaccine hesitancy.
Uncertainty has always been and continues to be an inbuilt inherent part of the business structure of these informal nano entrepreneurs. The vyapaaris rely on being able to step out and do business every day to make ends meet. This right to livelihood has been taken away from them, many times over the pandemic season with numerous Covid restrictions and the extended periods of lockdown. Udhyam Vyapaar’s initiative is one step towards allowing them to rebuild their livelihoods and lives.
Udhyam Vyapaar works with informal nano entrepreneurs to maximize their business potential and success. Interventions and long-term mentoring programs are designed for them to scale and succeed using proven tools of business growth like technology, marketing, finance, and training. Udhyam Vyapaar has enabled vypaaris across states such as Karnataka, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Haryana, and others through various mentorship programs and product interventions.
About Udhyam Learning Foundation
Udhyam Learning Foundation (ULF) is a Bengaluru-based not-for-profit organization with a vision to co-create a caring world, where people fearlessly pursue their potential. We believe that every person has immense potential and entrepreneurial mindsets are a powerful way to achieve this potential. Entrepreneurship enables agency and allows an individual to work on his/her strengths while creating value for the world. Udhyam is working to unleash this potential.
ULF works in the Education and Livelihood spaces. Its work in education is branded Udhyam Shiksha (US) and in livelihood as Udhyam Vyapaar (UV). Its work spans across several states such as Delhi, Haryana, Kerala, Maharashtra, Assam, and others.