From job-seekers to job-givers
by Preeti Mehra; Courtesy TheHinduBusinessLine
Job creation has been repeatedly identified as the need of the hour in India, given its uncashed demographic dividend. Unemployment is seen as the key factor responsible for migration, socio-economic backwardness and economic imbalance.
While the UPA government did try to introduce large-scale skill development to remedy the situation, not enough happened. The Narendra Modi government, too, has zeroed in on this issue and has promised to put its might behind skilling and creating employment to address several development issues.
However, there is a section of industry that sees the problem in a different light. These are the chambers of commerce that represent marginalised communities in the country, such as the Dalit Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DICCI) and the Imamia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI). They see the answer in arming their youth so that they emerge as job-givers and not job-seekers.
Taking the right turn
This way, they believe, their role in nation-building will be more substantive. So, the DICCI has begun to organise itself in a way such that Dalit youth can step forward as independent entrepreneurs. Its counterpart from the Shia Muslim community, the ICCI, has a similar initiative.
Left out of the traditional mainstream, the 30-million strong Shias, a minority within the country’s largest minority community, find themselves at a crossroads. Roughly two-thirds of their population is aged under 30 years. Just like the DICCI, the drivers of the ICCI see a future where its youth emerge as entrepreneurs and not job-seekers dependent on others’ mercy.
These chambers of commerce are not just hard-nosed businessmen. Their primary aim is to make their clansmen self-reliant rather than seeking to curry favour with the powers that be to tweak government policy.
“Our country has the largest Shia concentration outside of Iran. Yet, most of our people are still not in the mainstream,” says Syed Safawi, a Delhi-based telecom industry professional who doubles up as the ICCI’s honorary founding president
Safawi and other prominent community business leaders see the chamber’s role as one that will handhold young entrepreneurs, help create product marketing opportunities, and upgrade their skills and business practices.
For instance, the new companies law that makes it possible for even starting one-person companies. Several budding entrepreneurs today are inept at handling even basic regulatory requirements for registering a business. “These are the kind of areas in which we can make appropriate interventions,” points out Safawi.
Historically, mainstream chambers of commerce in India have focused on policy and larger industry issues, going beyond nurturing aspiring entrepreneurs. Sir Manmohandas Ramji, the brain behind the Indian Merchants’ Chamber (IMC), the country’s first such body which was established in 1907, saw it as a way to lobby with the British rulers. In 1910, the chamber launched a campaign against the Great Indian Peninsular Railway’s wharfage rules and got them changed. In 1926, it persuaded the authorities to fix a favourable exchange rate for the rupee to augment the competitiveness of Indian industry.
The IMC was the precursor to the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), which also had Mahatma Gandhi as its patron.
The Confederation of Indian Industries’ (CII) origins similarly go back to the Engineering and Iron Trades Association, formed mainly to pressure the colonial rulers to place government orders for iron, steel and engineering goods with Indian companies. This at a time when there was a clear policy preference for procurement from British-based firms.
That’s how chambers of commerce worked in the past and continue to do so. Their advocacy is rarely at a micro-entrepreneurial level.
A different role
Community-based chambers, however, see themselves playing a totally different role. “Sixty per cent of our people are self-employed. What we want is to build on this and facilitate their access to micro loans and other benefits,” explains Safawi. He cites the example of the cluster around Lucknow that houses a large number of skilled chikan and zardosi embroidery workers, who are largely Shias. “We found they have no access to markets and the trade is controlled by intermediaries. The chamber is currently undertaking a research study to find ways to enhance their share in the trade,” said Safawi.
Likewise in Karnataka, a significant number of young Shia Muslims are educated, but lack career guidance. The ICCI is looking at ways to improve their skill sets and arrange customised solutions, including angel funding.
Milind Kamble, President of the DICCI is doing the same. “We nudge Dalit youth to start their own enterprises and project our members, who are well-established Dalit businessmen, as role models. Then we help them with human resource management, financial guidance, tax issues and latest marketing trends.”
Kamble feels the biggest obstacle for potential entrepreneurs is the country’s lending system.
“A lot of Dalits do not have assets and banks insist on a collateral. It is on our initiative that the National Schedule Caste Finance Corporation got set up. The new procurement policy for public sector companies, which is through MSMEs, should help SC/ST businesses; it’s almost a ₹24,000 crore market,” he says.
The Dalit chamber is very conscious of being tagged with taking scholarships and reserved seats in education, jobs and legislature.
“Yes, we do take these facilities. But then, we have been victims of social injustice for so long. Also, much of India has been built on Dalit labour, which is mostly underpaid and undervalued,” asserts Kamble.
According to the DICCI, while the actual contribution of Dalits to nation-building is ignored, becoming job-givers would be a way of ‘demonstrating’ the community’s commitment to giving back to society. Kamble feels Dalit Capitalism can play the same role as Black Capitalism did in galvanising the African-Americans, apart from changing perceptions about the community as one dependent on handouts.
The ICCI is equally emphatic on its community’s role as nation-builder: how to quickly become the national voice of the Imamia business community which will enable the transformation towards economic mainstreaming of the community and therefore nation-building.
It’s a difficult mission, but turning the youth of marginalised communities into job-giving entrepreneurs would go a long way in fortifying the nation, brick by diverse brick.
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