• In India, the pandemic-induced recession has pushed 75 million more people below the poverty line.
  • Artisans, and others like them, face continued livelihood breakdown as well as the escalated health threats and dire lack of medical care.
  • Creative Dignity is a collaboration of over 2,000 organisations, focusing on relief, rehabilitation, and rejuvenation for India’s rural artisans.

COVID-19 has been disastrous for poverty rates in India. Having lifted 271 million people out of poverty between 2006 and 2016, the country has gone from having the world’s fastest-growing poverty reduction rate in 2019 to accounting for nearly 60% of the global increase in poverty in 2020.

The pandemic-induced recession has pushed 75 million more people below the poverty line (living below $1.90 a day) and even further away from access to health, education, gender equality and economic participation. And it’s those in the informal sector, which makes up 93% of the Indian economy, who have been hardest hit, says Neelam Chhiber, co-founder of the Industree Foundation, Industree Skills and Mother Earth and founding partner of Creative Dignity.

“It’s not as though everyone is getting compensation like in Europe or the US, nothing is happening here on the ground. So, we have to look, not only at relief, which is super critical, but also at how people are going to rebuild their livelihoods,” says Chhiber.

Formed in response to the first wave of the pandemic, Creative Dignity is a collaboration of over 2,000 organisations, focusing on relief, rehabilitation, and rejuvenation for India’s rural artisans.

“Artisans typically depend on piece-work rates, they depend on access to markets, exhibitions and stores – all this was stripped away from them overnight”, says Chhiber. “We believe that craft production, when reinterpreted as creative manufacturing, can be the basis for sustainable livelihoods and regenerative economies, so we had about 500 student volunteers helping artisans make e-commerce catalogues and connect to online sales channels to continue selling their produce.”

Chhiber was also closely involved in negotiating new terms for the collective with what she refers to as “super tanker organisations” – global retailers that play a critical role in buying the wares of Indian artisans and taking them to a global marketplace. In one instance these negotiations meant the stringently applied no-work-from-home policy for suppliers, in place to guard against child labour, was waived, securing the livelihoods of over 10,000 women confined to their homes during lockdown.

This chart shows the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases per day. This is shown as the seven-day rolling average.
This chart shows the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases per day. This is shown as the seven-day rolling average.
Image: Our World in Data

“I want to give full credit to organizations like Ikea who worked hand in hand with us. Everyone has come together, the private sector, donors, government, and social entrepreneurs, to really try and build solutions. This kind of impact is not possible alone – it is all about partnerships.”

Chhiber also pays tribute to Catalyst 2030 – a global movement of social entrepreneurs and social innovators who share the common goal of creating innovative, people-centric approaches to attain the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 – and the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs launched by World Economic Forum and hosted by the Schwab Foundation to pull together leaders in social entrepreneurship around the world to mobilise as much support as possible for social entrepreneurs on the front lines of the crisis. These kinds of collaborations were the inspiration behind Creative Dignity and other collaborative ventures now appearing in India such as the National Association of Social Entrepreneurs – a local branch of Catalyst 2030.

The pandemic has led to a growing realising that we can’t possibly begin to address the scale of the challenges confronting us without this kind of breakthrough collaboration, says Chhiber.

With India still in the grip of the pandemic, the power of the collaborative approach is once again being demonstrated. The ferocity of the second wave wreaked havoc, pushing those who were surviving precariously to breaking point.

Artisans, and others like them, face continued livelihood breakdown as well as the escalated health threats and dire lack of medical care – doctors, nurses, hospital beds, oxygen, medication. Chhiber and her collaborators have responded by upping their game to expand the success they experienced in the first wave.

“We need to shift from doing it with 10,000 to doing it with millions of women and so we have launched another alliance - because that's our strength. The Pandemic Response and Livelihoods Coalition will enable women to earn through the next five years, and allow us to take this to scale.”

What is the COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship?

The COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship is a coalition of 85 global leaders, hosted by the World Economic Forum. Its mission: Join hands in support of social entrepreneurs everywhere as vital first responders to the pandemic and as pioneers of a green, inclusive economic reality.

Its COVID Social Enterprise Action Agenda, outlines 25 concrete recommendations for key stakeholder groups, including funders and philanthropists, investors, government institutions, support organizations, and corporations. In January of 2021, its members launched its 2021 Roadmap through which its members will roll out an ambitious set of 21 action projects in 10 areas of work. Including corporate access and policy change in support of a social economy.

For more information see the Alliance website or its “impact story” here.

Again, partnership has proved invaluable with Ikea making a decision to increase their orders from the collective five-fold. “This means that in a period where millions of jobs are being lost in India, we are taking work to women at the village level. All this only happens when you're in partnership with a global giant,” says Chhiber.

This kind of approach, she believes will become part of the “new normal” and the sooner people start acknowledging this the better. “COVID is here to stay, I believe at least for the next five years or so. It is our job as social entrepreneurs to say it. It is our job to prepare for it and it is our job to find ways to work collaboratively with others to find creative solutions to build out livelihoods in a changed world.”

This is part of a series of articles published by the World Economic Forum’s COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs on the Indian response to the COVID-19 second wave. The Alliance is hosted by the Schwab Foundation and includes 86 leaders in social entrepreneurship, who collectively support an estimated 100,000 entrepreneurs. Catalyst 2030 is a member and strategic partner of the Alliance. Their COVID support page can be found here.