No one could predict the future that would unfold when the Janata curfew was imposed on the 22nd of March 2020. This sudden lockdown and the economic disruptions it triggered left lakhs of people jobless. Among those that were severely impacted by the pandemic were rural micro-enterprise owners.
During this period rural micro-entrepreneurs were particularly impacted by factors such as the complete halt in transportation, unavailability of raw materials, disturbances in supply chains, the prevalence of psychological stigma associated with Covid 19, lack of financial resources and the knowledge and skills to adopt e-marketing techniques and the lack of awareness about relief schemes. These factors severely impacted many micro-enterprises driving them into a state of deep crisis.
In order to address these challenges faced by rural micro-entrepreneurs and with an objective to restore their livelihoods, Traidcraft implemented a COVID response programme – “Building resilience and facilitate restoring of livelihoods amongst rural micro-entrepreneurs to combat COVID 19 through sensitization, capacity building, digital empowerment, market access in Mewat and Gurugram (rural) in Haryana” – with support from UNDP between July and December 2020.
The project was intended to:
- Identify and Train 40 Biz Sakhis (Community Cadres)
- Reach out to at least 2500 community members (existing and potential micro-entrepreneurs) and sensitize them with information about the evolving Covid 19 scenario, combating stigma and providing psychological support
- Build capacity of at least 1000 community members (existing and potential micro-entrepreneurs) on entrepreneurial skill, digital/ marketing skills, and build awareness on available entrepreneurial/ livelihood opportunities
- Provide intensive support to at least 200 community members (existing and potential micro-entrepreneurs) to restore/generate their livelihood opportunities by starting enterprises and creating market linkages.
The strategy and approach of the project was designed keeping in mind the context and nature of the project – including the challenges presented by the pandemic and the high targets that were set within a limited time-period (July to December 2020). Innovative approaches and strategies were used to reach out to target communities, to sensitise and train them. Some of these approaches have been listed below
- The Use of Community Radio Platforms such as Alfaz-E-Mewat and Radio Mewat in Mewat and Gurgaon ki Awaaz in Gurugram were extremely useful. Well-defined programmes and episodes were designed to reach the target population.
- Strategic Partnerships with the Haryana State Rural Livelihood Mission (HSRLM) in Mewat and Gurugram helped in identifying Community mentors (called Biz Sakhis under the project) and target communities.
- Collaborations with local NGOs and CBOs like Agrasar and Literacy India in Gurugram helped in identifying Biz Sakhis in Gurugram.
- The Development of self-learning material for selected micro-entrepreneurs to provide hand-holding support.
The results, both quantitative and qualitative have been encouraging. The innovative strategies used helped the project surpass its targets well within the short period of time allotted for the project. 44 Biz Sakhis (community cadres), against a target of 40, were identified and trained from Indri, Nuh, Punhana, Pinangwan and Tauru blocks of Mewat; and Gurugram and Pataudi blocks of Gurugram. The prior association of most of these Biz Sakhis with HSRLM was beneficial as they joined the project with a prior understanding of working with communities and particularly on micro-enterprises and related activities. Within a month i.e, by September 2020, the project reached out to 3016 community members through these Biz Sakhis, against the target of 2500 and sensitised them on Covid 19 protocols, combating stigma and providing psychological support.
Out of these 3016 individuals, 1254 micro-entrepreneurs (existing and potential) were selected based on a pre-defined criterion. These members were further trained on strengthening their enterprises through 10 radio episodes. To ensure that no one is left out the Biz Sakhis adopted different mechanisms such as informing them about the time of the broadcast, sharing recorded episodes through whatsapp as well as organising group listening sessions. Subsequently, by November 2020, we were able to identify 289 micro-entrepreneurs (against a target of 200) from the group of 1254 based on pre-defined criterion and provide them with further training – both radio based and class-room trainings to restore/generate and strengthen their enterprise.