The Covid-19 pandemic has been the biggest disruptor the world has seen in modern times. It has impacted health, lives and livelihoods of millions across the globe. While public health remains the immediate concern, rebuilding lives and livelihoods is also an important priority. According to the World Bank, global extreme poverty is expected to rise in 2021 for the first time in over 20 years as the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic compounds the forces of conflict and climate change.
The lockdown imposed in the wake of the pandemic affected the lives of people, especially the daily wage earners and migrant workers. The easing of the lockdown restrictions and the relief measures announced by the government have helped resuscitate the economy, however, recovery for businesses such as tourism, hospitality and beauty & wellness, has been slow.
In the nine months since the start of the pandemic, some key lessons and strategies for rebuilding livelihoods and investing in resilience have emerged.
Extending safety nets
Covid-19 has thrown light on the urgent need for social protection and safety nets, especially for marginalised and underprivileged communities. These cannot be a substitute for daily bread and butter, however, they provide a foundation to build on and complement livelihood enhancement efforts. Safety nets also help people tide over crises, fluctuations in income and economic shocks. The role of the government, both centre and states, is important because it has the resources and mandate to extend the welfare net to the last mile.
For instance, the Board of Construction Welfare provides construction workers life insurance, accident insurance, health insurance, allowances to build homes and more. However, these schemes often remain unutilised by their intended beneficiaries due to lack of awareness. Facilitating access for communities to unlock government welfare schemes should be the priority. The private sector has an important role to play both in terms of corporate philanthropy as well as within their extended value chains and ecosystems. Several corporates such as JP Morgan and EdelGive Foundation have already stepped up CSR (corporate social responsibility) efforts to address the underlying resilience of migrant families. Companies such as Forbes Marshall, Cummins, Thermax, and Godrej have come together under Dasra’s Social Compact to run assessments on worker welfare within their ecosystems and create best practices that others can adopt. The idea is to address the needs for resilience and social safety nets and benefit from the learnings and best practices.
The role of civil society is equally important, given they are closest to communities and are custodians of their trust. Non-profit Jan Sahas has set up the Migrants Resilience Collaborative—a grassroots-led multi-stakeholder collaborative focused on ensuring safety, security, and mobility for vulnerable migrant families—in 11 key states across India.
While extending the safety nets is crucial, skilling to ensure employability has acquired renewed urgency. Responsible corporates and other organisations have swung into action to impart training and build capabilities suitable for a post-pandemic era.
One such initiative is Salon-I, the women-centric training programme run by Godrej Consumer Products Ltd (GCPL). The initiative trains women to acquire skills to make them employable or empowers them to start their own business in the beauty sector as ‘Beautypreneurs’.
Deepening digital access and ability
Partnering for social good
The pandemic is a clarion call for all—society, governments, nonprofits, corporates, and others—to come together and collaborate in unprecedented ways. We have seen examples of this during the lockdowns and must strive to maintain the momentum. Businesses can contribute towards this by helping build capacities and capabilities in their value chains.
There are several examples from India and across the globe. British retailer Marks & Spencer has partnered with the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to support sustainable cotton practices. Marico is helping coconut farmers in Kerala and Tamil Nadu increase yield and boost incomes.
Sahyadri Farmers Producer Company Ltd, based in Maharashtra’s Nashik district buys farm produce (like tomatoes and grapes) directly from small farmers by connecting with village-level organisations and NGOs. It also provides quality inputs, knowledge and technical support, which greatly benefits small farmers.
Covid-19 has been a wake-up call for the pressing need for a better normal and it needs to be considered through the lenses of sustainability and shared prosperity. Climate change and persisting social inequities can provoke crises with far more severe impact and it is in our best interest to solve for these before it is too late.
The writer is CSR Head at the Godrej Industries and Associate Companies