The COVID-19 pandemic brought to light an important, but seemingly invisible, constituent that powers India’s growth story – the over 100 million migrant workers who make up the informal labour workforce and account for 10% of India’s GDP. They are the force behind high-growth sectors such as construction, manufacturing, brick kilns and urban services. The Covid-19 lockdown hit this community very hard and led to a mass exodus of workers from urban areas. They headed to the security of their homes in rural districts often by foot over thousands of miles. In the early stages of the lockdown, sample surveys by civil society organizations showed that over 90% of migrant workers had lost livelihoods within 3 weeks of the lockdown in April 2020 & 64% had less than Rs 100 available to spend.
At the time of this writing, nine months on, immediate subsistence and relief needs might have been somewhat addressed but there is an acute need for systemic changes to ensure the fundamental issue of dignity in livelihoods & in living conditions of workers who migrate to urban India.
Omidyar Network India, through its ReSolve Initiative, has attempted to address these needs by focussing on lighthouse investments over the next 12-24 months. The initiative focusses on two important issues: supporting migrant labour and empowering MSMEs. Investments in ReSolve Migration will:
1. Build evidence based narratives to inform public and policy,
2. Fund pilots relating to ethical employment practices, worker welfare, safety nets and inter-state collaboration,
3. Invest in pilots that focussed on increased ease of living for migrant workers (access to housing and civic services)
Our first ReSolve (Migrant Workers) investment is towards the Migrant Resilience Collaborative (MRC), anchored by Jan Sahas, an existing portfolio organization. MRC is envisaged as a central hub for the existing and future migration plans of 10 million vulnerable migrant families across India. This multi-year, multi-stakeholder platform involving the government, private sector, philanthropy and civil society partners aims to drive better socio-economic outcomes for these families by focussing on their safety, security, and mobility.
The core pillars of MRC’s work will be to ensure access to social benefits, to focus on ethical recruitment, to enhance worker protection by scaling a national helpline and migrant tracking system & to develop an ecosystem for migrant workers by training and partnering with 50+ community-based organization (CBO) partners.
Jan Sahas aims to achieve this over 3 years with a budget of 126 Crores, funded by ONI and other funders. Jan Sahas will do this through: a) leveraging their existing network to drive awareness and access for migrant workers in 100 districts b) mobilizing funding and a coalition of partners, c) facilitating data collection & rigorous research to inform policymakers, d) building essential infrastructure for government and other stakeholders (technology, tracking system), and e) government and private sector advocacy.
The MRC exemplifies all elements of the ON India investment playbook: a bold entrepreneur in Ashif Sheikh, who was recently awarded Social Innovator of the Year in 2020 by World Economic Forum, an ambition for scale in impacting 10 million workers, and a strong mission alignment to make the lives of millions of workers more meaningful. Our investment is aimed at supporting an exceptional and bold entrepreneur in crowding in capital towards a difficult space, and in turn, powering the core team and operations for delivering on an ambitious mandate.
We invested in Jan Sahas MRC as we believe that it is poised to be a critical platform for delivering welfare and social protection migrant workers in India, bringing in cross-sectoral expertise, leveraging multiple partners and stakeholders, and guided by a bold entrepreneur to drive impact at scale.