Finance

International Women’s Day: Biggest challenge for women entering logistics- Karina Bhasin, CEO, Even Cargo explains

Most workstations remain male dominant; there are few or no women managers who can ensure that gender-inclusive decisions are undertaken for the safety and well-being of women employees.

The Indian economy has shown substantial recovery and its growth has been promising for the coming years. However, the ground realities differ in the case of work participation of almost half of India’s population. India’s female work participation has been the lowest in South Asia at just 24%. While there are many reasons that restrict women from joining the workforce, lack of mobility and skills remain dominant. 

There are various opportunities for women in the logistics and transport sector that will not only increase income but also their social, cultural and educational outcomes. Social enterprises like Even Cargo, an all-women delivery platform, attempts to bring more women into unconventional professions like logistics while helping them reclaim their space in public. The enterprise trains women to drive two or three-wheelers, helps them acquire the vehicle and recruit them in leading e-commerce platforms as dispatch riders. FinancialExpress.com’s Tarun Bhardwaj speaks with Karina Bhasin, COO of Even Cargo on the challenges and opportunities of bringing women into the logistics and transport sector. Excerpts:  

What are the various challenges that women face or key barriers for women for entering the logistics sector?

Mobility is a major challenge for women in India who still continue to walk to work or depend on unsafe, unreliable forms of public transportation. The logistics sector has several roles but the most common role is of delivery agents that move packages between points and deliver goods on two-wheelers. Basic skills like driving a two or three-wheeler paves way for women to get into diverse roles in not just logistics but other sectors in the market.

Another entry barrier for women has been the ownership of vehicles — most dispatch riders who work with major e-commerce platforms have their own vehicles. Vehicle ownership for women is a challenge since they have relatively less source of income. Further, financial institutions remain ambivalent to invest in providing affordable loans for low-income communities. Often, the down-payment of such vehicles remain unaffordable for women. Acquisition of driving licenses is a huge roadblock for most women riders who lack the documents required to acquire licenses.

The biggest challenge for women entering logistics has been in the workplace itself. Warehouses and dispatch stations lack female washrooms, areas for resting and dim-lit public spaces that make it less conducive for women to work. Moreover, most workstations remain male dominant; there are few or no women managers who can ensure that gender-inclusive decisions are undertaken for the safety and well-being of women employees.

What is the business model of Even Cargo as an all-women third party logistic service? How does it help the women avail loans to purchase two-wheelers?

Even Cargo identifies women from resource-poor communities and conducts a need assessment based on which skill matrix of each prospective women rider is prepared.  They undergo various modules of training in driving, logistics, self-defense and employability skills. Post review, young women are then inducted into E-Commerce Companies as dispatch riders to deliver packages. The Even Cargo model provides women riders with flexible timings so they can balance their household work and responsibilities.

To ensure retention of women riders, Even Cargo also conducts specific programs that include regular meetings, professional development sessions and seminars on stress management and work-life balance. Moreover, there have been meaningful contributions by Even Cargo in building infrastructure that caters to female delivery associates. Through our efforts, dispatch warehouses are equipped with attached female washrooms, women warehouse managers, SOS buttons and CCTV cameras.

In terms of financing, the enterprise assists and supports women riders in each stage for the acquisition of bikes or scooters. Our primary motive has been that the women riders have complete ownership of vehicles. Initially, women riders earn income for one or two months on rented bikes provided by Even Cargo. Once they save enough money to pay for the down payment, Even Cargo provides a breakdown of vehicle leasing, renting and purchase with relevant costs and benefits of each provider.

The enterprise also connects women with vehicle financing options and institutions that demand less than 15% of the down payment of new vehicles and very minimal EMIs.It also ensures a stable job for the rider until the term of the loan is over.

To bridge the gap between women riders and credit providers, Even Cargo supports by becoming the guarantee or risk assurer for financial bodies while availing loans for women riders.

Karina Bhasin, COO of Even Cargo

What is the eligibility criteria of women who can become a part of Even Cargo to become delivery agents?

Any woman above the age of 18 who knows how to ride a bicycle can enroll in the training program to become a delivery agent. 

How does Even Cargo equip the women delivery agents with the required skill set knowledge to work in the logistic sector? 

Even Cargo provides women with four modules of training session that includes:

A) Two-wheeler training programmes

b) ‘Safety of Self’ program which includes self-defense sessions by trained and experienced instructors

c) Logistics specific training

d) Employability skills training: that includes session on communication and professional etiquettes

The training program lasts for over 30-45 days within which the enterprise also supports women in acquiring necessary documents, driving licenses and financing options for acquiring bikes or scooters.

Elaborate on the demography from where Even Cargo mobilizes women to join the logistic workforce? Is there a trust deficit that women have in joining a blue-collar workforce that is predominantly male? How does Even Cargo encourage or reassure the women and their family members? 

The demography of Even Cargo riders consists of women from low-income communities that reside in Tier-I and Tier-II cities.

Yes, there is definitely a trust deficit that women have while joining the blue-collar workforce. Most women feel intimidated by large swathes of male employees that often dominate such professions. Even Cargo helps women retain their confidence as dispatch riders by offering socio-economic packages that are designed for women who would like to enter the logistics sector. We understand the challenges and barriers of each woman that we recruit and provide support to them at an individual level. For their families, Even Cargo conducts parental and familial sessions with the rider’s family members to help them understand the need for gender parity at home and workplaces.

Are there any case studies of Even Cargo women who had to overcome personal challenges in order to build a stable career as dispatch riders? 

Each woman rider carries their own set of struggles and adversaries. One cannot discount the fact that women in low-income communities often remain burdened with household responsibilities coupled with an innate desire to lessen the economic burden of the family. Sweety, a Nagpur based Even Cargo rider was riddled with mountains of debt and challenges of a broken marriage. She decided not to be a victim and turn things around and take charge of her own life. With piling debt, monthly rents, grocery expenses, she was on a mission to find a way to support herself. Driven to excel, she approached Even Cargo in search of a job as a delivery partner. We provided her with all the necessary training and soon, things were set into motion. Today, Sweety is a self-made woman, even doubling up as a supervisor in Nagpur. She’s got the courage as well as the wheels to support herself to pave her journey through life. 

What are your future plans as an all-women social enterprise?

We look forward to materializing our mission to increase women’s workforce participation in India while enabling women to reclaim public spaces. We understand the significant role that women play in maintaining the environment and the ongoing EV revolution in the country. In support of that, Even Cargo is working towards building a women-only electric fleet this year. We are also in the process of expanding our operations and will be launching our fleet in full capacity in Mumbai and Hyderabad. To diversify our business, we will be venturing into delivering large shipments, food, and pharma deliveries. In fact, we are also planning to bring women e-rickshaw drivers on the road. We believe and are hopeful, this initiative will accelerate the progress of our mission of bringing more women into public spaces with equal access to dignified livelihoods.


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