“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
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.