The COVID-19 pandemic has been the biggest disruptor the world has seen in modern times. It has impacted health, lives and livelihoods of millions across the globe. While public health remains the immediate concern, rebuilding lives and livelihoods is also an important priority. According to the World Bank, global extreme poverty is expected to rise in 2020 for the first time in over 20 years as the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic compounds the forces of conflict and climate change.
The lockdown, imposed in the wake of the pandemic, affected the lives of people especially the daily wage earners, migrant workers, etc. The easing of the lockdown restrictions and the relief measures announced by the government have helped resuscitate the economy, however, recovery for businesses, especially the small ones, has been slow, for instance tourism, hospitality and beauty & wellness.
In the nine months since the start of the pandemic, some key lessons and strategies for re-building lives and livelihoods and investing in resilience have emerged.
Extending safety nets
Covid19 has thrown light on the urgent need for social protection and safety nets especially for marginalised and underprivileged communities. These cannot be a substitute for livelihoods, however, they provide a foundation to build on and complement livelihoods enhancement efforts, and also help people tide over crises, fluctuations in income and economic shocks. The role of the government, both centre and at the states, is important because it has the resources and mandate to extend the welfare net to the last mile.
For instance, the Board of Construction Welfare provides construction workers life insurance, accident insurance, health insurance, allowances to build homes, etc. However, these schemes often remain unutilised by their intended beneficiaries due to lack of awareness. Facilitating access for communities to unlock government welfare schemes should be the priority. The private sector has an important role to in this play both in terms of corporate philanthropy as well as within their extended value chains and ecosystems. Several corporates such as J P Morgan and EdelGive have already stepped up CSR efforts to address the underlying resilience of migrant families. Companies such as Forbes Marshall, Cummins, Thermax and Godrej have come together under Dasra’s Social Compact to run assessments on worker welfare within their ecosystems, create best practices that others can adopt. The idea is to address the needs for resilience and social safety nets, and benefit from the learnings and best practices.
The role of civil society is equally important, given they are closest to communities and are custodians of their trust. Non-profit Jan Sahas has set up the Migrants Resilience Collaborative, a grassroots-led multi-stakeholder collaborative focused on ensuring safety, security, and mobility for vulnerable migrant families, in 11 key states across India.
While extending the safety nets for is crucial, skilling to ensure employability especially in a post-Covid paradigm, has acquired renewed urgency. Responsible corporates and other organisations have swung into action to impart training and build capabilities suitable for a post-pandemic era.
One such initiative is Salon-I, the women-centric training programme run by Godrej Consumer Products Ltd (GCPL). The initiative trains women to acquire skills to make them employable or empowers them to start their own business in the beauty sector as ‘Beautypreneurs’. As part of the initiative, material support and training is provided for salon owners and women entrepreneurs to accelerate their business. In Gujarat, GCPL also conducted a pilot project to upskill barbers. While salons were closed and incomes dried up, it became imperative to work with Beautypreneurs to identify alternative, albeit small, sources of income. Investments were made in understanding their skills sets, providing online training on making masks, home-made beauty products that could be sold to erstwhile customers etc. As salons started reopening, Salon-i training included comprehensive modules of safety and hygiene, and hygiene starter kits were also sent to al Beautypreneurs.
Deepening digital access and ability
The pandemic has accelerated the shift from physical to digital. Acquiring digital capabilities to stay relevant has become imperative for all professionals and businesses. There has also been an unprecedented push for and uptake of digital learning and education. However, the deep divide and inequalities in access to digital have been equally highlighted. Pratham’s latest ASER report that only 8.1% of children in public schools were using online learning, demonstrating the imperative to ensure equitable, reliable and safe digital access and capacity building to ensure optimal use.
Hardware manufacturers have stepped in to fill the gap. Lenovo, for instance, is offering discounted tablets to young people to access digital learning. If education is considered a building block of employability, then democratizing digital medium can help extend the education net to create inclusive classrooms and improve student learning outcomes.
Partnering for social good
The pandemic is a clarion call for all — civil society, governments, nonprofits, corporates, etc — to come together and collaborate in ways they may not have done before. We have seen examples of this within very short time frames during the lockdowns and must strive to maintain the momentum. businesses can contribute towards this by helping build capacities and capabilities in their value chains.
And there are several examples from India and across the globe. British retailer Marks & Spencer has partnered the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and WWF to support sustainable cotton practices. Marico is helping coconut farmers in Kerala and Tamil Nadu increase yield and boost incomes.
Sahyadri Farmers Producer Company Ltd, based in Maharashtra’s Nashik district, not only purchases farm produce (like tomatoes and grapes) directly from small farmers by connecting with village level organisations and NGOs, but also provides quality inputs, knowledge, and technical support, which greatly benefits small farmers.
While Covid-19 has been a wake-up call for the pressing need for a better normal, it has this needs to be considered through lens of sustainability and shared prosperity. Climate change and persisting social inequities can provoke crises with far more severe impact, and it is on our best interest to solve for these before it is too late.
BY Gayatri Divecha, CSR Head at the Godrej Industries and Associate Companies, chalks out a roadmap for employability and ways to strengthen livelihoods and employment in the coming days.