Entrepreneurial women kickstart rural economy after peak pandemic months

Entrepreneurial women kickstart rural economy after peak pandemic months

Entrepreneurial women kickstart rural economy after peak pandemic months

For representational purpose (Photo: Flickr/UN Women/Gaganjit Singh)

Bulandshahr in Uttar Pradesh provides a snapshot of how small businesses, many of them run by women, led rural India on a path of recovery, following the economic devastation caused by the Covid-19 outbreak

Uttar Pradesh: “My family had very little to survive on after the first wave of the pandemic, back in March 2020. My husband lost his job in Delhi, but we didn’t lose hope. With help from an NGO, our relatives and friends, we managed to buy an e-rickshaw in Delhi for him and also opened a grocery store in our village. My family is now financially secure,” said a proud Suneta, who adds to her family’s income by sewing clothes at her house in Uttar Pradesh’s Kamrao village.

It wasn’t much trouble for Suneta to increase her hours on her sewing machine because her two sons – students of Class 3 and Class 9 — helped her with the household chores. In fact, the financial support and encouragement her family received helped her become an entrepreneur.

The mother of two credited her success to the Pardada Pardadi Educational Society (PPES), a non-profit organisation based in Anupshahr in Bulandshahr district, which helped her arrange for funds to purchase the e-rickshaw for her husband. 

“My husband used to drive an autorickshaw a few years ago. So when he lost his job in Delhi, we decided that buying one now would help him continue to stay and earn money in the city,” Suneta explained. “When we approached PPES in June 2020 for aid, they helped us secure a collateral-free, low-interest loan from a bank. I’m also a member of the Avanti Bai Lodhi Self-Help Group. We help each other financially to a small extent.”

“Compared to our financial situation in the early days of the pandemic, we are doing better now. I earn through my tailoring work, and my husband, too, has a steady source of income. The situation in our house is stable now,” added Suneta, whose village is around 200 km away from Delhi.

(Left) Bhuriya Devi and (right) Mithalesh's son, proud entrepreneurs who achieved financial stability despite the pandemic (Photos: Kamruddin Khan)

In late 2020, a report highlighted that India ranked among the worst-performing major economies in the world, despite the government claiming to have opened up its coffers to soften the pandemic’s blow on the country’s economy. However, the severity of the damage caused by Covid-19 in India is evident from the sharp decline in employment numbers — an estimated 112 million workers lost their jobs in the country in April 2020.

Bhuriya Devi and her 11-member family in Kamrao village were among the many victims of the Covid-19 pandemic, having lost their source of livelihood to the evolving virus. 

Narrating their plight, she said: “I have three sons who used to work at a factory. When the coronavirus began to spread, we weren’t too worried. But as the days passed, we learnt that thousands of people were losing their jobs every day. Months into the pandemic, all three of my sons lost their jobs. This left my family devastated. We didn’t have any clue how we’d survive.”

“Our finances were in a dire state by mid-2020, and we had to look for alternative sources of income. So in June, my family and I decided to open a grocery store in our village. Since there was only one grocery store to cater to the entire village, we were hopeful that we’d make some profits from this business,” Devi added.

While it was no cakewalk to run a business, Devi thanked PPES for helping them get all required documents in order. 

“This made getting the bank loan processed easy, and we successfully opened the shop,” she said, proudly adding that her family now earned good money, after around a year and a half in business.

There are several women in Kamrao and other villages in and around Bulandshahr district who were ambitious and hoped to undertake their own businesses, said Kamruddin Khan, head of the Community Development Division of PPES.

“Around 5,400 women in more than a hundred villages in the district are connected with PPES,” he pointed out. “We conduct various training programmes to impart new skills and conduct reach-out programmes to encourage these women to become self-sufficient. This has helped many set up their own businesses.”

Mithalesh, a resident of Rood Bangar village in Bulandshahr, told 101Reporters, “The Covid-19 pandemic robbed my son of his job, leaving us in dire straits. We looked for work in our village and its neighbouring areas, but couldn’t find any.”

But she didn’t lose hope. With guidance from Pari Self-Help Group, she and her son opened a store to sell motorcycle spare parts in her village. 

“My son and I didn’t give up easily and opened our store in June 2020. Initially, we were a little skeptical about the success of such a shop in our village, but it turned out to be a profitable business. A year on, our family’s finances have improved,” Mithalesh said.

According to a World Bank survey — which analysed the effects of ‘Unlock 1.0’ on rural economic activity in May and July 2020 — India witnessed an uneven pattern of business growth in its rural regions, where self-employed individuals in the non-agriculture sector appeared to have driven most of the recovery. 

“This was possible because small stores were the first to resume business following the initial reopening mandate in June,” the survey explained.

Nirmala from Salagva village also opened her own general store after her family faced financial constraints in the wake of the pandemic. 

She said: “I realised that just sitting around worrying wouldn’t bring about any change. We faced financial difficulties and were uncertain how we’d survive. This was when I realised I should start a small business of my own. My family and I thought a general store would be a good idea, and in June 2020, we set up the store in the village.”

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