Covid and Lockdown has precipitated a health & economic crisis that is unprecedented and indefinite in nature. The damage done to poorest of the poor will be long lasting. Their livelihood, their savings, indeed their entire security is wiped out.

The lost livelihoods are unlikely to return any time soon. Thousands may be driven to the brink of starvation. This is the largest strata of our society that is crying out for help. They need help and aid from Civil Society. Much more is needed than what a hard pressed Government can possibly provide.

Without sustained private individual and organizational support from those who are more fortunately placed, Corona could turn into a human catastrophe reminiscent of the Great Bengal Famine.

 Calcutta Social Project’s response to the Lockdown of Corona is to start the fourth major initiative to help resolve this crisis:

Sambhav: Restoring Livelihood

The program is designed to counter the devastating economic effects of the pandemic and attendant lockdown on the poorest section of society  manifest in three primary areas

  • Loss of livelihood
  • Debt incurred at unsustainable interest burdens
  • Non financing of ongoing education as a result of the above two factors.
  1. Loss of Livelihood

In the course of interaction with Food Aid beneficiaries two highly illustrative cases came into sharp focus.

1) Shankar  Paswan  lived off  selling sindoor at a roadside stall pre lockdown in front of  Kalighat temple. Lockdown closed his business. He broke into his capital to survive April onwards. Now he has survives on CSP Food Aid rations. Customers are trickling back to some extent but Shankar is still out of business because he has nothing to sell having no capital to purchase. When asked him how much he needed to be back in business he said Rs 3000.

2) Siliya Debi, grandmother of Robi Majhi had an almost identical story but regarding her roadside tea stall. Capital involved is Rs 2000.

Both have been put back in business by CSP with seed capital required.

But it is clear there are countless cases of small independent people reduced to being destitute dependants on CSP  (or others)  charity losing their security, self-respect and sustainability.

1. Identifying beneficiaries Sambhav is going to try to identify such genuine cases and restore their businesses to them by arranging their capital, not as donation or grant  but as interest free seed money. This is to ensure that self-respecting vendors are not converted into parasites or dependants.

CSP methodology is not geared towards disbursing or recovering loans but in these extraordinary times, small entrepreneurs whose working capital has been eroded due to no fault of their own, have to be rescued. However, the rescue has to ensure that their values and ethics are not demeaned.

Therefore, the seed money for capital will have to be returned /repaid as per when they will say they shall be able to. But that commitment has to be made at the time of loan is disbursed.

The returned money will be re circulated into seed money for other affected tiny entrepreneurs in an ever widening circle.

This whole operation will be done for the small and tiny operators, at a level of Rs 2000 to Rs 7000.

The primary objective is to restore these people their livelihood.

The secondary objective is to do it in a way that keeps their self respect and integrity intact

Hence not grants but interest free seed money to be returned  

The apparatus for recirculation of the repaid money will follow the pattern that self -help groups follow .The mechanism will be set up with advice from extremely experienced professionals and pioneers in the field of micro finance.

  • Certain protocols will be followed as here under for selection and screening of beneficiaries:-

(i). Opening a separate account in CSP to receive & disburse funds. This will avoid commingling of funds for other programs & keep your books open for inspection if anyone wants.

(ii). Getting a young volunteer who is doing CA to manage the accounts for this program & keep proper records.

(iii). From the beneficiary getting the following:

  1. Two identification documents: Aadhar, Voters, Ration Card….
  2. Local & permanent address.
  3. A reference from the neighbourhood who has known the person for 5 years.
  4. Runs an ongoing business not start-up. Has track record of running it successfully. Business requires up to 10K to resume operations.
  5. Owns or rents place of business.
  6. Contact details: Phone, email, WhatsApp, Telegraph……
  7. Bank account details. Payment ideally directly to bank account & he/should repay to CSP nominated bank account of new beneficiary, not cash. Can use Paytm, Googlepay etc.
  8. Taking a Pro-note in English & Bengali which also has the date when he/she will return the money one shot or in monthly instalments. The Note will clarify that money will be returned to be applied for same objectives that were applied for him/her

(iv). Getting the beneficiary to pay directly to bank account.

  1. Getting details of donor including ID, home &/or office address.
  2. Getting specific instructions if any on how the donor wants funds deployed.
  3. Giving receipts to donor.
  4. Maintaining donor register.

 (v). Quarterly update to donor on how the beneficiary is progressing.  

The ongoing progress of the beneficiaries will be monitored by appointing ‘trackers’ from the neighbourhood or from CSP, whose job it will be to maintain constant  touch  with them and   look into their developing needs to make a success of their enterprise .

Trackers will also ensure committed recovery. One tracker may be appointed for 30 beneficiaries .The Trackers  job will also include mentoring  small traders in access to good trading and business practices including basic accounting and banking.

An advisory board will be set up within 15th October 2020 to assist in the setting up of operational modalities and re-application disciplines of recovered money.

Participation in the Sambhav initiative from the middle class & affluent individual and organizations can well trigger a “ Movement” of  philanthropic donors. CSP will constitute a committee to approve screening, checking the track record and reputation of the beneficiary. The repaid amounts will be recycled for fresh loans to new & existing beneficiaries.

2 . Debt at unsustainable interest burdens

Many affected by livelihood loss have survived on loans accessed from money lenders at the usurious rates of interest going up to 10% per month. This is liable to completely derail their business recovery.

 On a case by case basis, strictly monitored and investigated debt retirement seed money may be made available keeping all the parameters in operation. Such rehabilitation measures will be necessary to eliminate the cancer of unsustainable interest burdens.

Wherever deserving , and feasible,  the poor must be leveraged out of the Debt Trap situation. Rigorous verification and scrutiny will be applied with documentation of debt being retired.

  • Non financing of ongoing education as a result of the above two factors

CSP already runs a drop-out prevention program for slim and street children. This program ensures that under privileged children do not have to drop out of mainstream education for lack of financial ability of the parents to sustain it.

However thie present program will be different in the sense that the families who will be eligible for aid will be families that were previously sustaining the child’s education (tutorials, coaching, academic fees etc.)  from their own means but have presently fallen into a 4-6 month default from loss of livelihood and will find it impossible to restore that deficit

In these cases after careful screening and with due regard to the child’s recorded academic performance  CSP will provide a grant to ensure that the child is back in education irrespective of the status of livelihood of the family where he comes from . This will constitute,

  • if need be a one-time non-recurring grant to make up deficits incurred since March 2020 till date
  •  ongoing expenses to ensure that the child is not deprived of a future due to the pandemic economic devastation.

In conclusion , these, are the outlines of the help that will be extended to combat the economic catastrophe that is wreaked on the poor by the pandemic.

It is sincerely hoped that success of this initiative will lead to replication by many like- minded agencies, civil service groups, and individuals which is the only thing that can bring relief from the effects of a 24% contraction of the economy.