How this NGO is teaching informal workers nuances of business management

As meetings go, it was shambolic: Who brings toddlers to meetings to discuss career prospects? But this was career advancement of a different kind. Women dominated the audience, most of them belonged to low income communities and they were getting training in how to access capital to advance their business.

They were proud to introduce themselves as ‘self workers’. Most of them own businesses that are so tiny they’re probably not even micro. They have had little or no institutionalised backing and started work only when they realised there was no other way to feed themselves and their children. But they are all proud entrepreneurs and were brought on one platform by NGO Nidan. The organisation describes itself as a body that organises informal workers into legal entities such as associations, cooperatives, self-help groups, and small businesses, thus increasing and leveraging their bargaining power vis-à-vis the state and the private sector. Programmes launched by Nidan (founded 1995) have brought together more than 500,000 workers from the informal sector to date.

Chani Raj, analyst with the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), had to raise her voice above the incessant chattering and irate howls of small children to make herself heard. “An 80-year old artisan who used to make silver jewellery came to us for training via Nidan. We could not presume to teach him his craft — all we helped to do was teach him and his associates some basic social media skills. From earning Rs 25-300 per day, his earnings now touch Rs 2,500 a day. He told us he had been working for more than 60 years. ‘If I had learnt this earlier, I can’t even imagine where I would have been today’”, said Raj. There was loud applause. Everyone smiled. The children stopped crying.

Women dominated the audience, most of them belonged to low-income communities. One of the self-workers seen here narrating her experience
Biplov Mitra says proudly that he has a shop — Bengal Jewellers —in the low-income Madanpur Khadar village in a Delhi suburb. He specialises in very light gold and silver jewellery. He describes his pain during the demonetisation days and says things are getting a little bit better, but GST now hangs like a sword above his head — without a GSTN he can’t get credit, not even a Mudra loan. Nidan is helping him get through the paperwork.

Raj Tripathi handles Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for Oracle. The corporation supports Nidan and other such NGOs in over 20 plus states in India and he watched seriously as speakers explained how important management skills were, no matter how small the business. “A family came to us that had a business of making jooties (handmade shoes). They carried on their business for nearly 16 years, never realising that their costing was all wrong. They were actually subsidising the buyer! Price discovery is very important for your business,” explained Brijmohan Kandpal of Udyogini, another NGO that works with Nidan.

It is hard to say what self-workers took home that day. But the young girl who bounded up to Raj Tripathi and asked — “You’re from Oracle, right? I want to know more about Virtuoso” —was the highlight of the day.