This husband-wife duo is providing employment to the differently-abled in Naxal-affected areas of Chhattisgarh
India has about 40 to 80 million persons with disability, according to the Planning Commission. Low literacy rate, fewer job opportunities, and widespread social stigma make the disabled among the most excluded in India.
According to a report by International Labour Organisation, nearly 72 percent of differently-abled people in India never get employed in their lifetime. Clearly, people with disabilities need to be better integrated into society, and disabled adults need to be empowered with employable skills.
While many organisations are makingefforts to help in cities, the situation is worse in Naxal-affected areas like Sukma and Jashpur in Chhattisgarh. It is are nearly impossible for native people from these remote areas to find employment.
To enhance the quality of life of differently-abled adults in the area by providing skills training and vocational support, Digiabled (digitally abled) was founded by Kunal Gupta (36) and Aditi Gupta (36) in December 2018. The organisation has till now successfully trained and employed over 35 differently-abled people, who are called Digiabled Associates.
They are being trained by a seven-member team to assemble basic electrical items like LED bulbs, solar lamps, and power banks.
Hailing from Chhattisgarh, Kunal didn’t have it easy in the beginning as he had a couple of bad experiences with several business ventures. But he didn’t give up, and went on experimenting. Over the course of time, he realised that education sector was something that needed to be addressed, especially in the remote areas of Chhattisgarh.
Speaking to SocialStory, Kunal says,
“I ventured into gold business with my dad, but it didn’t work out. In 2012, I decided to start Edu Ventures along with my wife, with a prime focus on training and skill development. So far, we have trained over 3,000 students in the area with different skills to help them find employment in the future.”
With a background in Information Technology (BSc IT), Kunal had some basic knowledge of electronics. He initially trained a couple of people with disability to earn a livelihood under Edu Ventures.
This was back in 2017. Kunal realised that more needed to be done as these differently-abled people under training had the necessary skills to repair mobiles, but didn’t have as many customers to earn income.
By December 2018, Kunal came up with the idea of enabling these people to earn a decent livelihood. Hence, Digiabled came into existence, which is now focusing on training people with disability and helping them get expertise on assembling raw materials into LED bulbs, solar lights, and power banks.
Making people with disability self-sustainable
After starting up, Kunal and Aditi had to make sure there was a constant supply of raw materials to meet demands. The duo started sourcing their raw materials like PCBs (Plastic Circuit Boards) and other lectronic equipments from New Delhi.
Kunal says, “We are completely bootstrapped. People from both the villages are on the front foot to work with us. Everyone here knows the importance of having a job as the area is remote and is quite difficult for people to find employability here.”
But the founders faced certain challenges in their journey as the beneficiaries weren’t ready to travel or move to other locations to work. The duo then to set up assembly facilities in Jashpur and Sukma districts.
Kunal shares, “The 2,000 sq. ft land was allocated by the district administrator in both the locations, which we are using for free.”
In terms of productivity, Kunal says, the differently abled are being trained by the team to assemble a 100 LED bulbs, 20 solar lanterns, and 10 power banks per day.
All the employees are paid per piece. An employee earns Rs 5 per LED bulb, Rs 30 per solar lantern, and Rs 40 for a power bank, which means they earn between Rs 500 and Rs 800 per day.
Once the assembling of various units is completed, the team also takes care of the marketing and sales. Quality inspection is done by a trainer, who is part of the team. The products are then sold both offline and online.
“We are not completely into online sales yet. As of now, we are selling our products with a 10-15 percent profit margin to locals and nearby markets. The seven-member team goes door to door, selling the products.”
The products sold also come with a personal touch from the Digiabled Associates. Every product has a card, showcasing the name of the associate who assembles it. Consumers can write a personal message and mail it to the given email address.
Unlike the usual assembly units, these Digiabled Associates work only for a week or two in a month, depending on the demand.
According to Kunal, the only problem they are now facing is in terms of logistics, which is a big challenge. He says the raw materials come from New Delhi to Raipur, Chhattisgarh, and from there have to be transported to the respective districts. This has some impact on the overall cost of products as well.
The path ahead
As of now, the duo has planned to steadily move towards the online platform through ecommerce marketplaces like Amazon.
Kunal says, “We are also planning to expand our business in Bengaluru, for which we have secured a GST number.”
Talking about the future, he says, “We want to expand our team as much as possible and provide a livelihood to all. Besides, we are soon venturing into other electronics like Bluetooth speakers, USB cables, power adapters, and car chargers too.”
(Edited by Megha Reddy)