Becoming an all-rounder

Artisan: Salma Ben Rajanpur, Gujarat

Supported by STFC’s sewing training

44-year-old Salma Ben comes from the Rajanpur area of Gujarat. “I am an all-rounder,” she says when asked about her skill set that makes her a growing artisan and micro-entrepreneur. “I have my sewing, tailoring business that runs out of my house. I do all kinds of work – cutting, designing new patterns, stitching, tailoring, etc.”

Salma Ben has been associated with STFC for the past three years and it all began with the advent of COVID-19. “Everything was shut. My husband lost his job. We had no income to make ends meet,” says Salma, who is a mother of three daughters and two sons. “All my children have passed class 10th except one son who is still studying. None of them are working and so I was the only provider at that critical time,” she adds.
This kind of crisis was met by Salma after she was determined to find new work. “I was asking everyone if there was a way to find more work. And this is when through a relative, I was introduced to STFC. They instantly became my pillar of support as they pulled me into their tailoring training and the first thing I ever made for them were thousands of masks,” remembers Salma.

At that point when many households were struggling with basic income, STFC began running its training programs and onboarded women who could make masks, cloth bags, basket bags, etc. This training usually consists of about 25 women in each batch and continues for about 3 months totaling nearly 45 hours. “I feel so fortunate that STFC provided me with free training when it was most needed. Earlier, I was doing tailoring work but that didn’t amount to much income majorly because I was dependent on local orders, which would only come at festivals or weddings. Also, the sewing machine was an old one and it was only during the training that I was introduced to a better machine that helped me do all tasks without depending on others. I also learned very critical skills such as cutting, and pattern drawing/designing – which earlier, I had to get done from someone else thereby losing further money,” explains Salma.


The training was crucial in not only their support but also in providing raw materials and equipment at zero cost. “I had earlier taken private classes but since I had to purchase my raw material, I could not continue those classes for long. It became a super expensive affair,” she says. Adding to this, Salma ben was introduced to a pool of determined women just like hers who took charge of their households at such a crucial time. “I was in such awe to see so many neighboring women just like I come out of their houses and learn a skill and become an entrepreneur. My husband still makes very little income- about INR 3000/month and with the support of STFC, catering their orders alone amounts to INR 8000/month. Right now, without my support, we can’t run our family. And without STFC’s support, I couldn’t have reached here”.

Salma ben has not only been influenced by so many other women like her but has also inspired many other women who have joined the training courses and are determined to work towards raising their income levels. “During COVID, I used to work for 10-12 hours straight. But then I fell sick and could not sit for so long. I have trained my daughters and now they help me in finishing orders.”

While Salma ben has still not named her business, she is determined to reach an income of INR10,000-12,000/month by taking more orders through STFC.




Against All Odds

During these tough times  I was struggling, distressed and did not have any stable source of income. This is when the Returnable Grant came to my rescue.”

Fatima encountered many Pandemic induced ups and downs before she could conquer a state of being independent and having a reasonable growth in her business. She is a beauty entrepreneur based in Sangam Vihar of Delhi.

“People were scared to come to the parlour and instead started calling parlour services at home. And even when people started going out they were more comfortable taking parlour services at my home rather than visiting my parlour. And few who were coming to the parlour were getting their towels or band for their safety and hygiene,” says Fatima on the impact of COVID-19 on her business.  

Before the pandemic, she was also  conducting beauty training sessions and provided a 6-month training session with 2 hours of class every day and charge a fee of Rs 500 for each trainee. Everything was going on smoothly in her life until COVID-19 engulfed her in unexpected turmoil and havoc. She had to close her training centre because trainees stopped showing up for the sessions. As a result, a source of stable income began crippling. “Even if 4-5 children would take my session I could pay off my rent,” says Fatima. 

With reduced customers, the income started dangling and soon Fatima didn’t have enough to run her business. This is when she got in touch with Dhriiti, a social enterprise based in Delhi. It was here that she was provided a Returnable grant in the form of zero-interest loan with the intention of helping her to restart her lost business. 

Fatima used the money and training efficiently. She took advantage of this opportunity and started brushing up on her beautician skills through the training sessions conducted by Dhriiti. The returnable grant helped her reshape her business and also assisted her to venture into the business of cosmetics. “The process of procuring returnable grant was easy and comfortable as we had no such condition of providing a guarantor, no compulsion of visiting the bank, no fixed amount to pay back and zero-interest. There were no compulsions or boundations. This was of the best facility provided through returnable grant,” she adds.  

With the support that she received from Dhriiti, Fatima was able to take the first leap toward income stabalisation post pandemic. She opened a parlour near her home.  “My mentors at Dhriiti suggested that I open a beauty training centre as I was good at providing training and I had previously trained many young students,” recalls Fatima. “It’s a big parlour compared to my previous one, which was quite small. The previous one had no cosmetic business and could accommodate only one chair with a small counter,” she adds.

The bigger facility not only provided her with enough space to run her parlour but also supported her with apt space to conduct her training sessions. “My spacious parlour has definitely helped me increase my business”, Fatima happily remarks.  

Even though Fatima received a small returnable grant amount, she says it was sufficient enough for her to kickstart her life and business. It gave her the confidence and strength to stand on her feet and took her on the road of being financially independent. Since she had repaid the entire amount, her credit score has helped her enter the formal system of banking, and increased her awareness of banking and loan schemes. Fatima desires to train as many young students as she can and take her parlour to great heights.
The money that we received helped us in some way or another. The strength that ignited in us gave us the hope that we will be able to help and grow our business,” adds Fatima.

This story was editorialised by Avantika Seth

Driving Her Happiness

It’s almost like this rickshaw is currently our caretaker. It’s the sole reason we’re able to survive.”

When the pandemic hit, Usha ben was making sense of the losses she had incurred by setting up a roadside chow mien stall. With the lockdown in place, she had to stall her business. Her only resort was to make her rickshaw run. But with everything going downhill, the rickshaw, too, couldn’t support her much. In the middle of the lockdown, its battery drained. As there was no money even to get basic food on the table, repairing the vehicle was out of the question.

“It was one of the most painful times of my life,” recalls Usha ben. However, a ray of hope showed up when she got in touch with SEWA Bharat and understood that the returnable grant of INR 20,000 could help her get the rickshaw’s battery repaired to enter the market once again. She first came to the SEWA Bharat centre to get her younger daughter’s ‘janampatri’ made, and that’s how she continued to remain in touch with the centre. After three-four years, she applied for an account in the bank with the help of SEWA and that’s when their journey began.

Since 1999, the SEWA Delhi microfinance program has enabled women to be financially included and independent. The aim is to ensure that members have access to savings and loans, particularly for working capital, and are prevented from exploitation by moneylenders.

“I was very disappointed as my work had stopped. I was facing severe issues, my income dropped and our ration was finishing. I approached Dolly didi from SEWA Bharat and she guided me through the process of procuring an interest-free loan. It helped me get the rickshaw battery changed and I was back on the road,” adds Usha ben.

Usha used to make electrical seals at her home before working as an e-rickshaw driver. For 1000 pieces she would get Rs 50 and in a day she could only make 220-250 seals in spite of working for more than 12 hours. Therefore, her elder brother suggested that she should drive an e-rickshaw. Usha has fond memories attached to the vehicle. Her elder brother not only went along with her for the purchase but also taught her how to drive.


“At the beginning, I was quite scared of how to drive the rickshaw and was so nervous thinking what if I hit someone or something.  My brother sat beside me and taught me how to drive.  I am very happy every time when the people of the centre are my passengers,” she tells.

Today, she earns anywhere between INR 700-800 per day and can provide for the education of her two young girls. “I take care of this rickshaw more than anything else in my life right now. I make sure it is always in good shape, I make sure I don’t park it randomly and so the chances of theft reduce, basically I make sure it is up and working -because this is the whole and sole of our lives right now,” she further adds.

In the Returnable grant program by Samhita, 202 women micro-entrepreneurs were aimed to be supported in Delhi. They are from Jahagirpuri, Sundarnagri, Gokulpuri, New Ashok Nagar and Raghubir Nagar areas of Delhi and are associated with SEWA Delhi Trust and Delhi credit cooperative. These women are from the backward communities and informal sector who have lost their livelihood during COVID-19. Mostly women micro-entrepreneurs involved in some trades i.e Home Based worker, Vendor, Domestic Worker, Self Employed. Like Usha ben, most of them have set up their small business such as selling garments, jewellery or tie&dye dupattas. The Grant has helped them scale their reach and led to a consistent source of income.

Usha ben received the Returnable Grant in the first cycle, September 2021. With the help of her rickshaw business, she will complete the repayment of the loan (INR 6000) by July 2022.

“After all being your own boss is the best, isn’t it? I can drive this rickshaw as much on as many days as I feel. When I’m sick, I can just let it park. No one’s going to ask me questions on that, no? It’s a great feeling,” she concludes.

This story was editorialised by Avantika Seth

For His Family’s Happiness

Daud Shaikh, who loves his family and constantly travels across State lines to spend time with them, recently realised how identity documents can add value to his life

In 2011, Daud Shaikh, then an 18-year-old farmer, migrated from his village in Jharkhand to Mumbai. He managed to find work as a construction worker in the city. Ten years on, Daud works as a mason at the Shapoorji Pallonji construction site in Powai, Mumbai. 

Prior to his marriage, he used to stay in the city for one-two years at a stretch. Now a father of three, he shuttles between his village and the city every three-four months despite his economic compulsions. “I usually stay at home for a month or so. I do this for my family’s happiness,” explained Daud. 

Daud’s constant movement across state lines necessitates specific central identity documents like the PAN and Aadhar card to be in place. For a construction worker, a PAN card acts as a vital KYC (Know Your Customer) document and serves as the basis for Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT) from the government. It is also beneficial for processing other scheme applications.

As part of the REVIVE Alliance, the UNDP-funded information camp organised by Haqdarshak allowed him to recognise the value in having a PAN card. “I did not have a PAN card before. Other construction workers at my site had one, so I thought I should get one too,” said Daud. The REVIVE team helped facilitate Daud’s application.  

Additionally, the session also exposed Daud to the importance of an updated Aadhaar card, another critical document. His Aadhar card did not have a registered mobile number associated with it, which becomes necessary for any authentication service and serves as the basis for multiple government entitlements. 

The facilitators at the camp helped him with this as well. Even though a small change, an update in Aadhar details will lead to a significant value add for Daud in the future. With the two new linkages, Daud is better placed to access government benefits.

This story was editorialised by Raveena Joseph

The Dreams of an 18-Year-Old Migrant Worker

Ibrahim wants to earn more money, get a better job, and have a family, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made his goals harder to achieve.

Eldest of 8 siblings, Ibrahim moved from his hometown in Kathiya district in Bihar to Delhi, in February 2020. Fresh out of high school, he migrated to the big city hoping to earn money to supplement the income of his father, who works as a daily wager in Bihar. Soon after he managed to find a job as a construction worker at a site in Gurgaon, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and all construction activities were banned. Ibrahim, who was then barely 17, was thrown into unprecedented uncertainty. “We faced a lot of issues at that time. There was no work. Everything became costly. Food was an issue. After the lockdown, I lost work and had to go back home in a truck. It took me 6-7 days to reach home. I had no work or source of income for 3-4 months,” recounted Ibrahim. 

When he finally managed to return to his hometown, he realised that his situation was not unique. “People around me had similar experiences. My father also wasn’t called for work. Money was tight,” said Ibrahim. After 4 months, he finally returned to Haryana to resume work at the construction site. He typically works 8-hours a day doing hard labour, but worries if working this job and hoping the situation will improve is enough. “I want to earn more money, get a better job, get married and have a family. But I’m the only earning member in my family now, so I’m not sure if I’ll be able to achieve these goals,” said Ibrahim. 

Even though he had been working for over a year, Ibrahim didn’t have a bank account. He had heard about the government’s Jan Dhan Yojana but had no idea how to go about opening an account under the scheme. In February 2021, when a social protection scheme linkages camp for construction workers was conducted by the REVIVE Alliance, he understood the details of the scheme for the first time and realised the value of a zero-balance account. 

“The documentation process was easy. I got a PAN card and Jan Dhan account. I think this will be very beneficial in the long-run — I keep money in the bank account and can use the PAN card to get my KYC (Know Your Customer) done,” said Ibrahim, who is glad to have his salary now credited to his bank account directly.

With the support of REVIVE, Ibrahim is now part of the formal banking system. This will ensure he has access to financial services, and timely, adequate and low-cost credit when required. It will also contribute to helping this 18-year-old work towards his goals with greater support and resilience.

This story was editorialised by Raveena Joseph

Creating a PAN Card Creates Value For Us

Sudam Kumar, who recently received his PAN card, is looking forward to the benefits and support the identity document will provide construction workers like himself

Sudam Kumar, who used to be a farmer in Bihar, decided to leave his hometown with his family when he turned 18, so that he could find a better livelihood in the big city. He arrived in Noida in 2014 as a migrant worker, and eventually found work in the construction industry. When the COVID-19 lockdown was enforced in 2020, Sudam’s family moved back to their village. He stayed back in Uttar Pradesh to earn a livelihood and support the education of his son, who is continuing his schooling in Bihar.

As a construction worker working at an ATS Infrastructure Limited site, Sudam was missing a labour card that validated his employment in the construction industry for four years. A Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) card becomes a worker’s entry point to a multitude of government schemes that s/he could benefit from.

In early February 2021, the REVIVE Alliance team visited the ATS site where Sudam worked in Noida to facilitate social protection scheme linkages for construction workers. Sudam chose to apply not just for a labour card, but also a PAN card. “I realised that creating a PAN card creates value for us,” said Sudam.

Interactions with the REVIVE team contributed to his choice. Reflecting on those conversations, he said, “I realised that if I ever change my workplace, this form of identity documentation would be very helpful.” A PAN card, for a construction worker, acts as a critical KYC (Know Your Customer) document and serves as the basis for Direct Benefit Transfers (DBT) from the government. It is also very useful for processing other scheme applications.

“I’m so glad the REVIVE and ATS team took the effort to nudge me and my co-workers to apply for these documents. They will aid our development in the long-run,” says Sudam. He is one among countless migrant construction workers across the country — unlike Sudam, most of them are yet to gain access to basic identity documents. The REVIVE Alliance strives to bridge this gap through its holistic intervention tools for livelihood recovery.

This story was editorialised by Raveena Joseph

All For Her Daughter

Sonu Kumari, a single mother who works as a construction worker in Uttar Pradesh, discovered that understanding her government scheme entitlements will open up a world of opportunities

When Sonu Kumari’s marriage ended, she realized that she had to support herself and her daughter. She had never participated in market activities earlier and as a housewife, had only been engaged in unpaid domestic work. As a 27-year-old single mother and migrant living in Noida, she knew very little about the work ecosystem and opportunities available. She joined ATS Infrastructure Limited as a construction worker with the hope of earning enough to support herself and her daughter, who lived away from her, in their home village.

Every day, Sonu would spend eight hours at a developer site, engaged in brick-laying and other construction work. At the end of each work day, she would plan her finances to ensure that she was earning enough to support her daughter.

A resilient and hard-working single mother, Sonu won the respect of her peers over time. After five years working at the construction site, she was given supervisory responsibilities as well. But, Kumari lacked what is an integral necessity for every construction worker in India — a labour card.

“I didn’t know there were benefits to enrolling for a Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) card,” said Kumari, highlighting the information gaps on entitlements that exist among workers despite years of working within the infrastructure ecosystem. But why does this gap exist? “Ever since I started working in construction, I’ve noticed that people don’t even spare 10 minutes to talk,” she explained.

In February 2021, when the REVIVE Alliance team visited ATS to set up a social protection scheme linkage camp, they facilitated Sonu’s application for a BOCW card. “It was easy and quick to submit my application with the help of the ATS support staff. I feel like I know so much more about the government schemes I can avail now,” said Sonu.

Sonu is now formally registered as a construction worker in Uttar Pradesh. Due to the disruptions of the second wave that compounded her livelihood stressors, Sonu is still worried about how to make ends meet. Yet, she is so grateful to have gained access to multiple schemes through the BOCW card, which can help her support her daughter in the way she has always hoped. “I now understand that I am eligible for multiple schemes like medical claims and education support, and I want to use that to build a life for my daughter.”

This story was editorialised by Raveena Joseph

The Life-Saving Labour Card

Construction worker Kundan Prasad is thankful to have had a labour card before the onset of the pandemic, because it enabled him to sustain his family through the lockdowns even when he had no means to earn a livelihood.

Kundan Prasad is a 30-year-old construction labourer at a site in Noida. He moved to the National Capital Region in 2015, from the Latehar district in Jharkhand, in the hope of financially supporting his family of six. “I’ve been a construction worker for over 5 years, but I’ve never seen a ban on construction activity till the pandemic hit,” said Kundan. 

When the lockdown was announced, Kundan, like thousands of other migrants, had to walk back home. Worried about the lack of income and unable to find work back in the village, Kundan was losing hope. But the labour card came to his rescue. 

Kundan got his labour card, formally known as the Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) card — an official document that validates his employment in the construction industry and provides him access to a host of government schemes and benefits — when he joined the ATS construction site in Noida. During the tough months of the lockdown, he received a cash transfer of ₹2000 rupees for his sustenance expenses, thanks to his labour card. “This money was very useful when I had no source of income. My family and I survived on that money,” he said. 

When he returned to Delhi to resume work, he knew he had to get his labour card renewed for future Direct Benefit Transfers (DBTs). Luckily, Kundan was aware of this and was supported with his application. As part of the REVIVE Alliance, the UNDP-funded information session held by Haqdarshak served as a useful guide in renewing his BOCW card for another year. 

He had also lost his PAN card on his journey back home during the lockdown. The REVIVE team assisted him in getting a new PAN card, which acts as a critical KYC (Know Your Customer) document and serves as the basis for DBTs from the government. “Thanks to the renewed BOCW card and the PAN card, I’m less worried about the next lockdown,” said Kundan.

This story was editorialised by Raveena Joseph

In Pursuit Of A Better Life

Mahavir Rai, who works as a construction worker, recently understood how getting a BOCW card would help him secure a better future for his children.

35-year-old Mahavir Rai starts his day at 4 in the morning. He cooks breakfast and is ready to leave for work by 8 a.m. Mahavir works at the ATS construction site in Noida where he does shuttering work. “There are no fixed closing hours at work,” he said. 

What motivates Mahavir to do such hard manual labour day in and day out? “The hope for a better future. I want my four children, who are growing up in Begusarai (Bihar), to get access to quality education. I do not want them to do the kind of work I do. I want them to get a job when they grow up,” said Mahavir. 

As part of the REVIVE Alliance, Mahavir attended a UNDP-funded information session organised by Haqdarshak in early 2021, about the Building and Other Construction Workers (BOCW) card. The BOCW is a document that allows construction workers to access a host of welfare claims such as insurance, pension and medical assistance, among others — Mahavir quickly realised that having such an identity card would help him secure a better life for his children. 

“The session facilitators highlighted the benefits such a card can provide to the family members of construction workers in case of a mishap. It motivated me to get a labour card made,” said Mahavir. Typically, a worker needs to produce multiple documents (at least five) to get registered with the BOCW board. The complexity of the process itself forces many to not apply for the card. With end-to-end application and informational support provided during the camp, Mahavir said, “The documentation process was not cumbersome at all.” 

However, without this support, many workers from the construction sector are not aware of the card, the access to government schemes it provides or the process to apply for the same. “Unfortunately, most construction workers are not aware of the benefits they are entitled to.  I would urge all my fellow labourers who work in construction to get themselves a labour card so that in case of any adversity, their families can receive benefits like pension and insurance money,” said Mahavir.

This story was editorialised by Raveena Joseph

The Story of a Fighter

Meet Beautician Bano, a fiercely determined entrepreneur and mother of three, who rose above all odds from sweeping a beauty parlour to owning her own.

Since she was a child, Fairoza was fond of studying and learning new things; but due to familial constraints, she was unable to pursue her dreams of being educated. She was married at the age of 16.

Unfortunately, her marriage was not a happy one. For 12 years Fairoza’s husband, who worked as a rickshaw driver, subjected her to verbal and physical abuse. She described herself as being “treated like a slave”.

Pregnant with her third child and having had enough, she took her two children and packed her bags to leave her husband for good. When she went back to her parents, she did not receive the kind of support that she had hoped for or needed — they were struggling financially and could not afford to feed three more mouths.

When everything seemed to be stacked against her, Fairoza tapped into her inner strength and resolved to tide over the tough times. Only two months after delivering her youngest child, Fairzo started working as a sweeper to support her three children.

Soon, she found employment as housekeeping staff at a beauty parlour. Fairoza was fascinated by all the activities that unfolded in her new place of employment — intricate mehendi designs, precise eyebrow threading, manicures, pedicures and fancy hairstyling. Soon, Fairoza found herself nurturing a new dream — she wanted to own her own beauty parlour someday. In preparation, she would spend hours at the parlour observing the staff and absorbing everything she saw.

But there were many sceptics: How can a sweeper ever hope to learn the intricacies of the beauty business, they would say behind her back. But none of this deterred Fairoza; she was determined to prove them wrong.

She found her opportunity through the Godrej’s Salon-i program, where she not only learnt beauty skills but also other aspects of business management like customer relationship management, timely service delivery and maintaining hygiene standards. Armed with her new knowledge and skills, Fairoza began a beauty parlour in the premises of her house and nurtured a loyal customer base. With the income from her beauty parlour, she was financially self-sufficient, and able to provide for the education of her three children.

However, within a few months, in March 2020, a National lockdown induced by the COVID-19 pandemic forced her to shut down her parlour. Left without her only source of livelihood, Fairoza found herself in a rut yet again. This is when, through Godrej, she was introduced to the REVIVE Alliance.

Through REVIVE, Fairoza received a returnable grant — a no-interest, zero-collateral loan — that helped restart her business after months of economic inactivity. The grant allowed her to purchase resources and amp up her parlour’s hygiene measures to win customer confidence.

Now, she aptly introduces herself as “Beautician Bano” and aspires to start a second salon along with a new textile business. Learning from her own struggles and recognising those of other women like her, Fairoza dreams to provide free training to underprivileged women so that they can triumph over the setbacks in their lives. She aspires to create a path for others like herself to become strong and independent.

This story was editorialised by Raveena Joseph