Effective ecosystem through collaborative efforts for revival of livelihoods


Gauri, like many other women in the urban communities of Pune and Pimpri Chinchwad, learnt sewing and entrepreneurship skills and set up home based tailoring business. That is how she earned a living. Once the COVID-19 pandemic set in and the lockdown clamped the region, Gauri received no tailoring orders. The lockdown meant closure of her business like all other non-essential businesses. Reshma, a domestic worker, no longer had any jobs as none of her employers wanted her back as a precaution against the Pandemic. Several women who worked at play schools and other private schools were also hit by the shutdown of schools since March 2020. Similar were the stories of several other women!

In recent years, access to economic resources had become more equitable across genders but the Covid-19 pandemic wiped it off. Several workplaces, though diverse in nature, became victims. The pandemic hit the most vulnerable in the society, especially the daily wage earners, domestic workers and small businesses, worsening existing disparities. Oxfam India has estimated the economic loss during this pandemic at nearly $216 billion just from women losing their jobs.

Impact of Covid-19 on small businesses

Another section that received a major blow was ‘small businesses’ -- from ‘paan’ shops to roadside cycle-repair to readymade garment shops. Closure of all non-essential businesses for over two months meant no income to such small entrepreneurs. Loss of revenue and lack of working capital led to the collapse of small businesses.

In such difficult times, Development Support Team (DST) Pune, felt a need to transform these challenges into opportunities and explored areas for revival of women-led entrepreneurship. DST has been working on the Socio-Economic Empowerment of women through the Self Help Group(SHG)-Federation model over the last two decades. It has enabled thousands of urban and rural women to get doorstep access to safe savings and credit. ‘DigiShakti’, DST’s digital empowerment program, showed promise in providing solutions during the lockdown. Since 2018, DST conducted several training programmes to equip community women with digital skills and introduced them to use of digital platforms and services. DigiShakti ,which was a need when it started ,gained even more relevance now than ever before, and DST helped community women leverage these digital skills to overcome hardships faced during these unprecedented times.

DST-Parama Naturals: Collaborative Efforts for revival of livelihoods

DST, however, found that for the effective use of these newly acquired digital skills and  to explore new opportunities using digital platforms the women needed an effective ecosystem. This required collaboration with corporates through their CSR initiatives and successful entrepreneurs.

Geeta Prakash, the founder of a social enterprise “Parama Naturals”, also believes her work should lead to empowerment of women both at the micro-enterprise and grassroots levels. Parama Naturals, a venture focused on natural and sustainable skincare, believes in sustainability along its entire value chain. It works towards minimizing negative environmental impacts by sourcing their ingredients directly from farmers who follow natural farming methods.

Seeing an alignment of common goals with Parama Naturals, DST decided to partner with them on collaborative areas where the community women could contribute. Together they identified areas like new products, branding and providing marketing linkages for community-based women entrepreneurs. A beginning was in 2019 when Parama Naturals provided livelihood opportunities to community women by sourcing their paper bags and cloth pouches for Parama’s packaging. It was a win-win situation as the women got a fair price and Parama received hand-made packaging.

Meanwhile DST conducted a rapid survey of the community women entrepreneurs to assess possibilities of collaboration. The survey pointed out that close to 70% businesses were closed during lockdown and opportunities for collaboration identified.

Based on these findings, DST-Parama Naturals adopted a 4-step approach :

  • Identify the current market needs
  • Map existing skill sets to new opportunities
  • Design suitable products
  • Enable a digital presence to provide market linkages


Enabling a digital presence for women entrepreneurs

Diwali, the festival of lights, was a big opportunity to revive these businesses and the DST-Parama team made an action plan. The first in line was to provide a digital platform as the new leveller for the community women’s economic participation. The partnership with Parama Naturals enabled a digital presence for the community women entrepreneurs with access to digital platforms— their website, social media platforms etc. and community women’s participation at the virtual ‘Yellow Ribbon’ Fair organized by the Ishanya Foundation, Pune.

Parama Naturals designed the Diwali Gift collection, named “Parama-Prerna Abhyang Snana Pack”. It included Ayurvedic Face and Body Scrub, Turmeric Face & Body Oil - from Parama Naturals and hand painted diyas from the women of Prerna Mahila Vikas Sangh in Bopkhel. These gift-packs proved attractive as “Diwali Gifts” for corporate clients who were keen to help in revival of community businesses. More importantly, they served Parama’s idea of a social  enterprise and provided a livelihood for the women from Bopkhel.  

DST was thus successful in reviving livelihood opportunities for 10 community women. The women made hand-painted diyas, stitched cloth bags using eco-friendly material like chemical-free, microbial-free, hand dyed them using waste turmeric after oil extraction.  

Learnings from Revival of business

Appreciation and encouragement through this initiative helped community women build confidence and explore local markets too. Geeta and her daughters who hand painted 1500+ diyas for Parama, sold 500+ diyas in their community too. Mohini went ahead and made “Utna” and took orders for  making homemade snacks for Diwali. They used WhatsApp to share their products and also enabled digital payments. The women engaged in tailoring today are confident of exploring new avenues for income generation and have joined the advanced tailoring courses being conducted by the Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation.

Micro-enterprises led by women often need interventions and hand-holding. Training programmes like digital and financial literacy, hand-holding support for market linkages, and a community-based network of Self-Help-Groups (SHGs) provide a strong framework for community women entrepreneurs. Both in building their businesses or surviving through challenging times. More ‘for-profit-businesses’ should explore ways of engaging with community women-owned enterprises so that they can provide pathways for higher business turnover and sustainable growth!

About the Author:

Sonia Garcha's association with Development Support Team, Pune an NGO in Women's Empowerment initiatives with a specialization in CSR projects and monitoring and evaluation, and is part of the COVID 19 response team for Maharashtra. Sonia is a core committee member of the CSpathshala, ACM India initiative, and has made significant contribution to strategy development and implementation in bringing computational thinking to rural schools.

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