Updated: Aug 30, 2020
National Small Industry Day is one of the lesser-known days dedicated to a cause. Celebrated on 30th August annually, we pay homage to the small and medium industries that create opportunities for employment, aid the development of rural and semi-urban areas, and could prevent migration towards the bigger cities in search of livelihood opportunities.
This year, the observance of this day is all the more important. We are struggling to cope with the aftermath of a lockdown and trying to establish a semblance of normalcy while still being plagued by the pandemic. In India, we’ve seen the impact that the lockdown has had on small scale rural businesses. Weavers, tailors, fruit and vegetable vendors, craftspeople, woodworkers have had to face the financial drought created by the lockdown without any contingency plans. The large scale reverse migration that took place leaves rural pockets of the country ill-equipped to battle resource constraints and inadequate employment & income-generating opportunities.
We’ve seen a shift in attitude with the Prime Minister’s campaigns for ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ and ‘Go Vocal for Local’ - but will this help small industries based in rural areas? Many small businesses in urban cities have coped with the dramatic shift in consumer interactions by going online - setting up e-commerce platforms, initiating orders via WhatsApp, and other platforms like Instagram. Home delivery is now just a few taps away through apps like Dunzo, Uber, and Swiggy Genie.
But what about the small business owners of rural India? Entrepreneurs who have taken loans to run a small enterprise that caters to the needs of their village, and those nearby?
How do we integrate them into a market that is still struggling to find its own feet?
There are several schemes that have been launched by the government to encourage the growth of small industries - from those geared towards the development of khadi, village and coir industries, to technology upgradation and marketing promotion schemes. How accessible are these schemes to the citizens of rural India, and how helpful are they now?
Through the holistic development programs run by Mrida on the ground, we aim to not only skill villagers to be employable, but encourage them to be entrepreneurs: Laxmi Devi and her agarbatti business, the women of Aprajita Vikas Samuh, Munna Lal - these are a few of the Village Level Entrepreneurs (VLE’s) who have applied the skills they learned in training programs to create businesses that benefit their community, enhance their incomes and have scope of providing livelihood to others in their village. We support them in finding market linkages to ensure that their businesses are sustainable.
We faced our own challenges during and after the lockdown, with the primary concern being sustainable support to our VLE’s. Though we ran fundraising campaigns to provide financial support to keep the VLE’s businesses afloat, it is only a temporary fix to the larger challenge of ensuring a monthly income and access to sales channels. Our involvement with rural India during these difficult times must not end at philanthropy.
Several initiatives have sprouted since the lockdown eased up - volunteers and well-wishers collaborated with underserved artisans and business owners to showcase their goods on Instagram to generate orders. Hand-painted / hand-stitched masks being sold through the circulation of simple PDF’s on WhatsApp.
These innovative solutions have positively impacted several entrepreneurs across the country. While it would be easy to ask everyone to switch completely to local-made goods, products sourced ethically from their nearby farms, SHG’s or cooperatives - this is a gradual change that requires the stamina and commitment of consumers for it to be sustainable. We cannot let the movement die as soon as we find a way to live in the new normal world, but find a way to incorporate into our daily habits, from grocery shopping to gifting. One purchase makes a world of difference.
This National Small Industry Day, I urge you, as consumers and customers, to think about and action the small ways in which you can help small, rural enterprises and businesses thrive.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author.