By Hrishikesh Bhatt
October 18, 2021
Mrs. Santosh Sharma, 37, runs a manufacturing business along with her husband Rajinder Sharma (both of them are orthopaedically challenged) from their home in Delhi. They manufacture and sell various types of hand-made and machine-made cotton wicks and other essential pooja items (festival products) via B2B and B2C channels, exhibitions, and online sales channels like Indiamart and Instamojo.
The establishment of their business in 2018 was closely tied with support from ATPAR (www.atpar.in), an organization that provides Entrepreneurship Development and Mentoring support to entrepreneurs with disabilities. They decided to start this home-based manufacturing enterprise after they attended an Entrepreneurship Development Training session conducted by ATPAR where they learned the manufacturing process. Santosh and Rajinder Sharma have grown to have three people under their employment in the time since, and have started getting international orders, while continuing to receive ATPAR’s mentoring and handholding support.
Their business, understandably, has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic; they’ve seen a dramatic drop in the number of orders they receive and the few customers who do place orders are not consistent. So, the couple has had to scale back the level of operations to a bare minimum. The cost of critical raw materials have also increased by up to 20%. Yet, they persevere and remain future-focused. “Customers are few and not consistent, but business is not a one-time activity — it is an on-going process. Everyday, you have to find a new customer and keep trying,” said Santosh.
The REVIVE Alliance partnered with ATPAR’s initiative NEDAR, a Network of Entrepreneurs with Disabilities, during the pandemic, for a couple of important reasons: 1. These entrepreneurs face several intersectional challenges with regards to disability and gender, and 2. They are vulnerable members of the informal sector. The Sharmas received a returnable grant from REVIVE for ₹40,000 (USD 538) in March 2021.
However, soon after, the devastating second wave of the pandemic affected their business. The couple had to adopt a conservative approach, spending only as much as the limited order pipeline allowed. REVIVE offered a deferment on repayments on the Returnable Grant at the onset of the second wave, which supported the couple in planning ahead. The success of the REVIVE program is incumbent upon the participants’ resilience and drive to get back to work. For instance, as their business recovered, the Sharmas increasingly planned to leverage online platforms such as Indiamart to sell their products. “Self-dependency or atmanirbhar means you don’t spoon feed people. They have to have the passion to be self-dependent. You have to decide you want to do this. Otherwise, people will continue to exploit you one way or another,” said Rajinder.