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Entrepreneurship in the time of COVID-19

COVID-19 has closed the door on many face-to-face entrepreneurship opportunities. In India, an ILO business programme has gone online to help small-scale entrepreneurs get businesses up and running.

Feature | India | 01 February 2021

India (ILO news) – Keeping a job during the COVID-19 pandemic can be hard. Krishnakumari’s husband lost his in Dubai, and had to return to his hometown of Pathanamthitta, Kerala, in March last year. Krishnakumari, a housewife and mother of two, desperately needed to do something.

“Finding a job during COVID-19 was difficult,” says Krishnakumari, 44.

“Luckily, I came across the online Start Your Business (SYB) course offered by the Industries Department of Government of Kerala, and enrolled without delay,” she added.

The ILO has been providing technical support to the Industries Department of the Kerala Government since 2015 through the Kerala Institute for Entrepreneurship Development (KIED).

ILO’s Start and Improve Your Business (SIYB) programme , offers practical guidance and tools for small-scale entrepreneurs to develop, improve and expand their businesses. During COVID-19, ILO invested in adapting the course into a virtual module.

Sudipta Bhadra, Senior Programme Officer with the office said, “Shorter and crisper modules were carved out from the main course content to suit online training requirements and ensure that the trainees remain engaged. Contents and strategies were also adapted to focus on business recovery and sustainability.”

C G Minimol, Deputy Director of the District Industries Centre, State Government of Kerala, Pathanamthitta, said, “The training based on ILO modules has become popular and is in demand because of its interactive and practical approach. Almost 30 percent of the participants started their business within a month of completing their course.”

This was the case with Krishnakumari.

“As instructed by the programme, I undertook a quick survey to identify business opportunities. I found that there was no flour mill within a four kilometer radius of our village. I knew that people wanted fresh flour delivered to their home during lockdown. I found my business ‘A-One Flour Mill’ within a month of completing the course,” said Krishnakumari.

She now has one employee and earns a stable income of Rs 1500 (approx. USD20) a day.

Another entrepreneur, Prem Kumar, 36, a designer by profession, was out of work during the COVID-19 lockdown. “I invested in taking over a slow performing pharmaceutical store in my community. The online SIYB course helped me to understand importance of budgeting and inventory management. Applying these strategies helped me to offer attractive prices to customers. Within no time I was able to develop a wide and regular customer base,” says Prem Kumar.

Minu, 32, is one other online SYB programme participant. She had registered her bakery business last year. Then, lockdown happened.

“I had found the courage to start my own business, then the lockdown happened. Fortunately I attended the online SYB course during that time. It helped me re-strategize my business plan and undertake digital marketing to promote my brand and products,” says Minu.

The course also helped existing businesses to assess their goals and adapt to the demands of the evolving markets. Fazal Rahman, 36, had successfully initiated his home automation and solar equipment business in 2018 after attending the SYB programme. However, the COVID-19 lockdown forced him to close his services for three months. “I had to let go my staff with no business and service calls during the lockdown,” says Fazal.

Through, Improve Your Business (IYB) programme offered during the lockdown, he was able to re-strategize his product catalogue and marketing strategies. He appointed a sales person and invested on online business marketing.

“I have added thermal scanners and visitor monitoring equipment to my portfolio now. I am expanding my customer base to temples, shops and office premises with these new products,” says Fazal.

Over the past five years, the ILO’s SIYB programme has reached out to over 8500 entrepreneurs from all 14 districts of Kerala State.

Since 2017, the programme has been scaled up to Kudumbashree, a poverty eradication and women empowerment programme implemented by the Government of Kerala.

Here, 16 trainers have supported over 250 women entrepreneurs to set up micro enterprises in the State.

Through Kudumbshree, Government of Kerala plans to support an additional 150 consultants on the SIYB module to be able to support over 7000 micro enterprises affected by COVID-19. In 2020, an estimated US$ 64 000 was earmarked under the Technology Management Development Programme (TMDP) of industries department and another US$ 20 000 under Kudumbashree for SIYB trainings.

Dagmar Walter, Director, ILO DWT/CO-New Delhi, says, “Sustainable enterprise development is a core pillar of decent work. SIYB generates new, and up-scales existing entrepreneurial projects, fostering greater resilience for the future. As in Kerala, we are working with other states and constituents to incentivize and facilitate online capacity development to generate livelihoods and economic recovery.”

About SIYB

The ILO SIYB training acts as a quick, simple and low cost global management training tool which helps small-scale entrepreneurs to start and grow their business. SIYB materials and training methods are designed especially for nano, small-scale entrepreneurs, who are especially in or at risk of being pulled into informal economy, and face pre-existing economic and financial barriers.
SIYB has four training packages or modules that respond to stages of business development – Generate Your Business (GYB), Start your business (SYB), Improve your Business (IYB), Expand Your Business (EYB).

For further information, please contact

Sudipta Bhadra
Senior Programme Officer
ILO DWT/CO-New Delhi
Email: bhadra@ilo.org