Building businesses back in India
Jis Jose and Rajarajan
Jis Jose, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Officer and Rajarajan, Programme Manager from Cheshire Homes Coimbatore, reflect on the impact of the pandemic on livelihoods in India.
It’s no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected people with disabilities around the world. It’s created vulnerabilities and widened gaps. Not only threatening health and safety but also affecting livelihoods. This has particularly affected people who are self-employed and running small businesses. Lockdown has affected people’s ability to make an income.
How our work has changed during the pandemic
That’s why in India, we’ve been working to support people in dealing with these challenges. Through its Livelihood Resource Centre, Cheshire Homes Coimbatore (CHC) has been working through the pandemic to support people with disabilities in developing and growing their businesses back.
CHC has been working with people with disabilities in Coimbatore for the last five decades. And the Livelihood Resource Centre has been successfully implementing waged and self-employment training and support programs for people with disabilities for many years now.
During the pandemic, this network of contacts and connections with local government proved vital. With these connections, the project team were able to identify people who needed support after lockdown. Staff then assessed what each family needed to recover their losses. Including products and equipment that could get their businesses running again.
Who we're collaborating with
But the team didn’t do it alone. And collaboration was key to the success of the livelihood support programme. Robert Bosch Engineering Institute (RBEI), an Engineering & Software firm near Coimbatore, also played an important role. Their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme provided essential resources for customised livelihood kits to help people continue their employment. Occupations ranged from small retail shop owners to incense stick makers, mechanics and tailors. So the kits varied from person to person.
And with logistics and safety a priority during the pandemic, Leonard Cheshire also offered essential support. The charity helped with transportation and distribution costs for the kits. That way, beneficiaries from various locations could safely collect their kits. This meant 300 families were able to move forward with businesses and recover from the impact of the pandemic.
The impact of our work
Anuradha and her husband Selvaraj were extremely grateful for the support. They had been running a small food business from their home for five years. And also have three young children to support. Usually, Anuradha would prepare the food from their kitchen at home. And Selvaraj would travel to neighbouring areas to sell it. But when the lockdown happened, their options were limited.
“This is our only source of income. During the lockdown, we were on the brink of starvation. We could not venture out to sell food. I cannot explain to you how bad our situation was,” explained Anuradha. They were in dire straits for six months.
Expanding their business
Through the livelihoods support programme, Anuradha and Selvaraj received essential equipment to help them expand their business. This included gas stoves and additional cooking utensils. Previously, they had just been using the small stove in their home. This meant it took a long time to cook large quantities of food. And their customer base and sales prospects were affected as a result. This also meant they would work long hours with little sleep. The new equipment meant they were able to expand their offering – and also get more rest!
“We are now able to complete our cooking two hours earlier. And we have also expanded our menu to include healthy dosa options,” Anuradha said. “Our income has doubled! Before we would earn only Rs.500, today we are making around Rs.1000. Before, my husband would begin his sales only after 6pm. But now we are able to complete cooking at 4pm itself allowing us to increase the number of areas we can sell.”
Looking to the future
The pandemic certainly created many challenges. But it also created opportunities for organisations to work together. And by coming together, we were able to help support families build back their businesses and livelihoods. And create new opportunities for the future too!