By Akeel Khalid
The coronavirus has wreaked havoc all over the world and is causing large-scale loss of life and economic mayhem. The economic impact could be even worse than that of the Great Depression. The IMF expects the global GDP to fall by 3% in 2020. The WTO has warned that the volume of trade could shrink by upto 32 % while the ILO has indicated that 195 million jobs globally could be lost.
Pakistan will inevitably be impacted by both the global and domestic developments arising from the spread of the virus. Government in Pakistan has come up with an emergency response, including a lock-down and financial support packages for individuals and businesses. Apart from the health epidemic, Pakistan is also staring at an economic epidemic.
Pakistan is a land of diversity, villages, along with a treasure trove of arts and crafts. With each passing kilometre, you’ll find a variety of heritage it has gathered through centuries of existence.
Artisans, who work independently are immediately affected as exhibitions, craft bazaars have been cancelled. Summer season is approaching and loss of sales channels will affect sales. Home-based workers, across Pakistan, have reported that they have received no new work orders and this has resulted in an acute loss of income. Home-based workers are concerned that the situation is only going to get worse from here.
Artisans and Home-based workers have no access to raw material or markets and therefore have lost their only source of income. Self-employed weavers and artisans are dependent on seasonal retail sales and direct orders, they have received huge blows with the outbreak of the virus. Weavers and artisans face a plethora of issues, from possible cancellations of orders to lack of awareness about the disease.
We, at Vceela, believe that If we take the right steps and plan in the right direction, the signs of despondency for artisans will make way for resilience. Artisans will slowly adapt to the new normal and find positivity and new growth opportunities amid the crisis.
Our online sales at Vceela.com have been on a rise and we are getting an amazing response through digital channels. But since the future is unknown, we believe that there has to be a holistic strategy aimed at providing the work security for artisans across Pakistan.
We have been working closely with artisans from different product categories and different regions of Pakistan, and have devised a comprehensive 8 month plan with one aim — No one from our family of artisans goes out of work. Vceela is allocating Rs 10.4 million in support package to implement this plan and to ensure that these artisans are able to keep their small businesses afloat in these difficult times.
Salient Features of the Plan
The plan has been drawn up with one fundamental objective: No artisan goes out of work
Direct Cash Support:
We are giving direct cash support to artisans where required. Though we feel that most of the artisans would not be needing cash support if they are able to make and sell their products, yet the cash support is being provided in case there is no immediate business relief.
Direct Purchase of products:
Lock-downs and cancellation of exhibitions across Pakistan have severely affected sales for these artisans across different product categories. Many of these artisans prepare their stock for exhibitions. Retailers, wholesalers and fashions designers have also cancelled their orders. In this situation, we feel it is important to invest in purchasing the products directly from these artisans, so that they can continue with their work.
Digitalising the entire value chain:
Since digital is the only channel available for these artisans to sell their products in current circumstances, and the future is still unknown, team Vceela is working to get artisans across Pakistan to access digital channels. We have quadrupled our capacity for digitizing the products and processes for these artisans and are investing heavily to speed up the entire process.
Free marketing Support:
Realizing that many of these micro-entrepreneurs are not in a position to market their products, we are multiplying our efforts to get their brands and products in front of their target audience and are investing in helping them market their brands through various digital channels.
As a replacement for physical exhibitions, which have been a major source of earning for many of these artisans, we ‘ll be doing digital exhibitions and helping them sell their products to local and international consumers.
Access to raw material :
Artisans are finding it really difficult to access raw materials to manufacture their products. We are helping them in getting access to these raw materials through our partners.
Microfinance / Access to credit:
To purchase raw materials and to keep a minimum stock, we are giving these artisans access to small and microloans. We are also keeping credit history for these artisans so that they can access the funds to keep their businesses up and running, whenever they are in need of such funds.
Since many of these artisans do not have a legal identity, they are usually not included in different government schemes and programmes. We are starting a legal campaign to get them their legal identity as formal workers. Recognition of home-based workers, through policies and laws, will be key in protecting them during adverse situations like the coronavirus pandemic.
Partnerships for progress
There’s only so much we can do alone. We strongly believe that partnerships are key to helping us scale the impact of our solution. Therefore, we invite Government institutions, Mobile Network Operators, Microfinance institutions, Legal fraternity, Product designers, NGOs, Vocational Institutions, Multilateral Organisations and anyone who can relate to this cause, to join hands and become a part of our mission and help us scale the impact of our solution.
We would suggest that instead of giving cash handouts, the government should invest in the value-added products these artisans are making. This will keep their businesses up and running. The government will get the investment back when these products are sold.
It’ll be helpful in increasing the exports of Pakistan and putting Brand Pakistan on the map of the world. This will also help create thousands of new jobs and retain the old ones. Vceela can help in selling these products in local and international markets and give a data-based insight into the government for doing so.
For Microfinance institutions, this is the right time to invest in the skill of these artisans. Access to credit can go a long way in helping these artisans stand on their own feet. Mobile Network Operators can join hands with us to help us scale our movement aimed at rapid digitization of products and processes for these artisans.
One result of worldwide self-isolation will be a major increase in online buying instead of hands-on retail. Few craftspeople have the technical and economic resources or know-how to go online; those of us in the craft sector have to equip ourselves to help them.
NGOs and civil society initiatives will be able to absorb risks of slowdown, but for only some time. So, a holistic strategy is required to ensure that these artisans don’t go out of work
But, if this has to sustain, the ecosystem must act together. All the relevant stakeholders should come together to provide access to infrastructure, capacity building, providing liquidity and data intelligence to galvanize mass entrepreneurship and ensure that artisans do not go out of work.