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Sankalp: Academia and Government need to work together to untangle the livelihood puzzle

The Government of Uttarakhand has taken some noteworthy initiatives in the past couple of years to help the gig workers of Uttarakhand with livelihood options. One of these is the Integrated Livelihood Support Project (ILSP) — a ‘poverty alleviation program’ run across 11 districts of Uttarakhand. The objective of this project is “to enable rural households to take up sustainable livelihood opportunities integrated with the wider economy”.

Not including details, the broad functioning of the project is as follows: Under this scheme, a group of people in a community come together to run a business. The initial infrastructure, equipment, and manpower hiring support is provided by the Government. The members of the community become Board members of the cooperative and collectively decide what business they want to start as a group. Some of the collective business ideas that are operational under this scheme include food processing, poultry, fishing, growing and selling spices, jute bag production, handicrafts, producing confectionary, dairy and/or organic farming, tourism and manufacturing of cosmetics among others. The members of the community take all the crucial decisions of the business, manage the operational activities, and oversee the work done by government agents who essentially work towards selling the products.

Based on my understanding of the model and interactions with the various stakeholders involved in the livelihood project, it seems the project aims to ensure sustainable livelihood for the rural people of Uttarakhand (quite similar to my sample). However, the project is encountering numerous execution challenges which is very likely to happen during the initial phases. These challenges do not concern the fundamental viability of the offerings, but are more to do with their inability to scale up the base model. The approach to these issues must be fundamentally sustainable solutions that could emerge when academia, industry and Government partner together to understand them from a multiple perspective.

To undertake such a partnership, we will have to calculate the costs involved at every stage, enhance the appeal of the partnership as a brand, craft a unified marketing strategy, identify target market segments, and position natural produce appropriately and aesthetically. We believe that an online marketplace needs to be designed that not only ensures the quality of the products sold, but also ensures that the prices charged to the end-consumer are reasonable, and that a fair share of that price goes back to the gig workers.

Almost all of this can be accomplished if Sankalp — a project supported by Bharat Inclusion Initiative — based at IIM Kashipur Foundation for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development (FIED) and Uttarakhand Gramya Vikas Samiti (the body that is executing the Integrated Livelihood Support Project) come together to execute a market linking mechanism for the products made by our heroes up in the hills!

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