Industree Foundation works to create livelihoods for our producers through formal work that keeps them as secure as possible, mentally and physically, on a daily basis, and this work has proven especially crucial during COVID-19. It is essential to bring farmers and producers who are doing informal work into the formal economy, as formal workforce participation provides workers with essential safety nets, including social security, health insurance, and job security.
India’s Informal Sector
Security in a crisis comes to formerly vulnerable communities when they are part of a larger caring organisation that aggregates and enables agency and makes vulnerable producers economic actors. The thousand plus artisans that have been aggregated by Industree have been in touch with each other and been supported by the businesses they are part of and have been secure during the shock of the COVID-19 crisis and the hard countermeasures governments have had to take across the world.
In India, 93% of the workforce are in the informal sector, undocumented, unacknowledged, lacking the assurance and security that the formal sector provides. As a result of the country-wide COVID-19 lockdown, millions of these workers have found themselves unemployed as MSME’s terminated their jobs, leaving them without essential safety nets, including social security and health insurance. These workers are extremely vulnerable without their livelihoods, and the threats of starvation and death are substantial.
Industree’s COVID Response
Industree, on the other hand, has moved thousands of producers from the informal sector to the formal sector and organized them into producer-owned cooperatives, with the majority of them being women. The heart of their pandemic response is protecting the lives and livelihoods of their producers, and creating a business model that will support them through life after COVID and keep them as secure as possible, both mentally and physically.
Supporting Artisans Lives
Industree engages in continuous weekly contact with over 1,100 of their producers, keeping them up to date on the latest safety guidelines about the virus and ensuring that we monitor their health. They have additionally provided them with rations of essential items, including staple food and personal hygiene products. Industree is committed to continuing to provide them with their income, which is vital for the survival of the producers and their families as many of the producers’ spouses have lost their source of income, leaving the financial burden of supporting the family solely on the shoulders of the women.
Protecting Artisans Livelihoods
While continued income provision is an essential component to the producer’s wellbeing, the producers take ownership over their work and feel a sense of dignity and empowerment from earning their income. In response to this, Industree is developing a dignity range of products which the producers will be able to create from home so that those in critical need will earn with Dignity, for their immediate welfare and those of their communities. These products would be collected and sold post lockdown’s lifting.
Developing Virtual Curriculum
Industree has also developed a working initiative where the producers have undergone virtual training to create face masks from the safety of their homes for personal and family use. Through conducting research, Industree found that less than 10% of producers had smartphones, while over 90% had feature phones. Accordingly, the team developed learning modules for mask creation for both types of phones, ensuring that all the producers are able to access the material. Furthermore, they were educated about making different types of masks, including unstitched, hand stitched, and machine stitched, so that producers were able to create masks regardless of their skill level and access to machinery.
Reopening the Production Units
As the lockdown in India begins to subside, Industree Foundation has started to reopen its production units. In Tamil Nadu, Industree incubated Greenkraft producer company units, supported by various partners including USAID, have reopened with restrictions and safety measures in accordance with government protocols. These include social distancing, cleaning and sanitation, compulsory safety materials including mask, gloves, and sanitizers, temperature checking before producers enter units, and capping unit attendance at 27 people on a rotating schedule. On any given day, only producers from the same village will be allowed in the unit, further preventing the potential spread of COVID into their communities.
In Karnataka, Industree incubated Ektha producer company units have opened with similar restrictions and safety measures, with the attendance cap at 15 producers who live close enough to the unit that they do not have to take public transportation, preventing the risk of infection. In both Greenkraft and Ektha units, producers are in the pilot phase of mask making for orders from large global enterprises including IKEA. A total of 68 producers have been chosen for the pilot phase due to their skills in hand and machine stitching. For the Greenkraft producer groups, as there is a rotating schedule and producers are not in the unit on a daily basis, the Industree team has been sending parcels with the required materials for mask through the mail to ensure continued working opportunities from home.
In Ethiopia, the producer owned fabric to fashion units trainee tailors have produced more than 50,000 masks and is currently producing full body PPE suits for the local administration’s front line health workers.
Life After COVID-19
Following the pandemic, Industree firmly believes that the way that business is conducted will be forever changed, and is adapting a model based on its existing theory of change labeled Business NOT as Usual. This model will increase the presence of distributed manufacturing, bringing formal work to rural areas with aggregated value chains that can mitigate the risk facing long global supply chains that are easily disrupted. It will also focus on an increase of creative enterprises with producer-ownership or cooperative models to provide vital stable income, health insurance, and social security for producers.
While Industree is able to provide for its producers’ mental and physical wellbeing throughout the pandemic, millions within the creative manufacturing community operate in the informal sector and are left without vital safety nets such as continued income, health insurance and social security. Industree Foundation has joined Creative Dignity, a movement initiated by India’s leading artisan skill-based development organizations and experts in the field designed to respond to the needs of the Indian artisan community, which is estimated to include 200 million people. The Creative Dignity team of volunteers is focussing on the rehabilitation of the sector, and providing market based solutions for artisans to earn crucial income during the time of the pandemic. Learn more about Creative Dignity here: http://creativedignity.org