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LabourNet -- Empowering Informal Workers Through Sustainable Social Enterprise

One of the challenges we at Global Communities face in empowering communities to lead their own development is how to ensure the sustainability of our work. Social enterprise—applying commercial strategies to meet the needs of human wellbeing—is one of the most effective ways of doing this. Social enterprises are mission-driven, but can make a profit to ensure they can continue in the long-term without donor funds. One example that has impressed me over the last few years is an Indian social enterprise called LabourNet.

Global Communities met in 2008 with the founders of this start-up social enterprise, and we immediately recognized the promise of their innovative business model. At the time, the LabourNet team was looking to organize poor informal workers in India and connect them with work in the marketplace by providing access to training, skill certification and services such as banking, health insurance and identification cards. Such services are often impossible to access for the estimated 400 million informal workers across India. To change this, LabourNet started a job placement agency in Bangalore that placed informal workers in short-term jobs in households, offices and construction sites, performing work such as plumbing, carpentry, and house cleaning services.

When Global Communities began working with LabourNet with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the start-up had registered about 3,000 workers; at the end of our four years of building their capacity, they had registered 44,000 workers. Our grant funding and technical support gave LabourNet the flexibility to take risks, fine tune their business model, and professionalize their systems to enable them to scale up. Today, LabourNet has opened 40 training centers across India, all of which operate on a fee-based sustainable enterprise model.

So it was a natural fit for Global Communities to partner with LabourNet again in 2012 when we began working with the John Deere Foundation to extend vocational training to villages around the John Deere factory. The communities in this peri-urban landscape, where almost 300 factories are now located, are experiencing a dramatic increase in manufacturing and industrial activity.

Global Communities, in partnership with the John Deere Foundation and the Confederation of Indian Industries, contracted LabourNet to set up a training center and provide vocational training to the villagers. LabourNet brings additional partnerships with reputable private companies like Schneider Electric and Godrej Consumer Products, who helped set up and certify their training materials.

2013-06-26-Sandhya_with_caption.jpgSandhya Vishal Ghatge, 22, is one of the villagers who graduated in April 2013 from the beauty and hair care course and from the electrician program. She lives with her husband and son in a nearby village; her husband works in a factory, and she had been searching for long-term employment to increase their family income. With the education she received, she now plans to start her own beauty parlor, but she also has training in another demand industry, giving her a diverse portfolio of skills and options. Sandhya and her 104 fellow graduates are shining examples of the power and social impact of a sustainable, effective social enterprise.

LabourNet's success demonstrates the impact that a social enterprise can have in developing a workforce and providing social benefits. It is both encouraging and instructive that India is having such great success by investing in a sustainable private sector model. By doing so, it is investing in its future. LabourNet plans to train 15,000 workers a year in demand industries. Given its success so far, there is no question that LabourNet will succeed, and we continue together as partners for good.