Enabling Livelihoods during COVID-19: In Conversation with LabourNet Services Pvt. Ltd.

“It’s been so rich for me, with so many people volunteering time and energy to make things happen”- Gayathri Vasudevan, Chairperson, LabourNet Services Pvt. Ltd.

LabourNet Services is a social enterprise that enables sustainable livelihoods for disadvantaged men, women and youth in urban and rural areas. It facilitates financial inclusion and social security measures to workers. Team CAC spoke to Gayathri Vasudevan, Chairperson, LabourNet, to learn about their COVID-19 response.

 

 

What have been your key actions, initiatives and outcomes around the COVID-19 response?

LabourNet has had broadly five categories of response to the pandemic:

  • Relief: We provided food packets, cooked food, sanitization materials and other essential supplies to one lakh direct beneficiaries and three lakh indirect beneficiaries. Over 90% of the target groups for this initiative were migrant construction workers & truck drivers.
  • Hybridizing vocational training: We used the pandemic as an opportunity to accelerate the digitisation of our vocational training program. We built a stable, smart classroom on the cloud and piloted it before the COVID outbreak to improve student engagement. Once the pandemic hit, we quickly trained 100 trainers to use this synchronous learning modality and migrated 4000 students to the online smart classroom.
  • Rapid job creation: Our sister staffing company enabled the temporary staffing of delivery boys, pickers and packers. In just 3 months, in a setting where unemployment has been rampant, we gave jobs to 700 people during lockdown. These jobs spanned from manufacturing to manpower for major companies such as Apollo Pharma and Big Basket.
  • Launch of the Sanitation, Hygiene and Entrepreneur (SHE) program which originated from the simple idea that public vehicles (for the police, hospital & municipalities) need sanitisation. This program is looking at creating one lakh jobs and is an especially good source of revenue for women in rural areas.
  • Onsite training app for the construction sector: trains workers onsite even in the absence of a trainer.

What have been your biggest challenges?

Our biggest challenge during the onset of the lockdown in India was bringing our own people to safety- 200 construction trainers were stuck at training locations. We had to figure out how to focus on our own people and provide hope, while also having to make financial cuts. Moreover, our digitization initiatives to provide job training ironically reduced our need for manpower and limited our ability to provide jobs. Being a very people intensive organisation, we are finding this challenging to navigate.

 

Image: Raghavan, Front Line Worker

Did any learnings or stories emerge from the field?

One of our employees- a boy called Raghavan- was one of the first people to do relief work during the first lockdown- a time whenno one wanted to step out. This requires tremendous courage, personal sacrifice and 

selflessness. Several other employees went out of their way as well. To all the frontline workers who risked their lives and went out there- I have enormous gratitude and respect for you. 

I commend our staffing team which, at a time of immense despair and job insecurity, recruited and onboarded 700 people into full time jobs. I also applaud the 700 people who refused charity and adopted to work instead.

Finally, our biggest learning was how easily you can find people who want to help. We found  an enormous number of people who stepped up to volunteer. It’s been so rich for me, with so many people volunteering time and energy to make things happen.

                                                                                                                      

How did you leverage the #COVIDActionCollab? 

We leveraged the COVIDActionCollab for the conceptualization of our Sanitation, Hygiene and Entrepreneur (SHE) program. What started off as a simple idea to enable livelihoods, has truly evolved. With the help of CAC Partners, PCMH and Swasti, it now integrates Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for sanitation and hygiene. We also received support from another CAC Partner, Vihara Innovation Network, to design the logo and look at behavioral nudges for the program. Creating a cadre of hygiene related jobs is now a concept that not a single organisation, but a collective is pushing. No single organisation can create one lakh jobs and have a significant impact; but together, we can certainly create one lakh earners. With the CAC model, we may have just created the next Uber or Ola thought process- there is no yours or mine; we solve the problem together.

 

Written by Meghana Dwaraka.

Meghana is an international development consultant who leads the Monitoring Portfolio at Catalyst Management Services.

Copyright - ©️2020 Catalyst Management Services Pvt. Ltd.

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