Creating Employment Opportunities At the BoP: An Interview with Ajaya Mohapatra
Editor’s Note: In this post, Sriram Gutta shares an interview he recently conducted with Ajaya Mohapatra, managing director of Justrojgar India Private Limited – a for-profit venture bridging the demand-supply gap in informal sector jobs by sourcing, training and placing people at the BoP. In his career spanning over 20 years, Mohapatra has worked for organizations like Bhartiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BYST)–CII, WWF-India and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC-IC). Full disclosure: Upaya Social Ventures has invested in Justrojgar and Sriram currently sits on its board.
Sriram Gutta: After working with diverse organizations in the development space for over a decade, what led you to an entrepreneurial role?
Ajaya Mohapatra: In my experience I saw firsthand, year after year, that merely training and capacity building alone cannot provide the poor with sustainable livelihoods, nor help improve their quality of life. This kind of support can certainly create awareness amongst the poor of social issues such as health, education, nutrition, sanitation, etc. However, skills training must be backed by formal livelihoods and income generation activities in order for the poor to really benefit.
Aspects of my jobs in the past were frustrating. It was difficult to implement my vision and mission while working in organisations with different mandates; often the mandates would change according to the sponsor. Moreover, while working as a trainer, the poor would often say things like, “this new awareness is fine, but in order to improve our circumstances we need more money.” Their very next question was, “can you give us a job, or some way to earn an income?” I had no answer but to politely tell them that our mandate is only training, not promotion of sustainable livelihoods.
Their questions haunted me for quite a long time. I finally decided to plunge into this issue, and chase my dream as an entrepreneur that would create sustainable livelihoods for the people at the base of the pyramid. I felt most strongly that I would focus on creating jobs for women and under-educated and under-skilled youth through wage employment, self-employment and micro-enterprise development.
In order to achieve our goal of “facilitating one million jobs at the base of the pyramid,” a team of like minded-professionals from the social sector including me, registered a not-for-profit organization called ‘We The People’ in 2005. We The People allowed us to experiment with a few pilot programs and we learned a lot. Just this past fall, with Upaya’s help, we incorporated a for-profit social venture called Justrojgar India Pvt. Ltd. If we hope to create jobs at scale, we need to do it through a for-profit model.
We at Justrojgar believe that “Income is Development”. It’s funny, but there is still a strong notion that development entails only fixing the primary needs of poor people – better healthcare, nutrition, education, safe drinking water – but not addressing income. In reality, money is the primary means not only for the poor but also for any well-off individual to have access to the above vital resources. Social science research reveals that increase in income of poor households directly leads to augmented spending on a family’s health, food, nutrition, shelter, clothing, children’s education and further improvement in their quality of lives. Furthermore, sustained income is necessary so that the poor can maintain a better standard of living throughout their lives. These jobs must be built to last.
SG: Where did the idea for the business come from?
AM: It came from the lessons we learned through We The People. By directly working with women and local communities, as sponsored by several corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects, we realized that there was a huge demand-supply gap with regard to informal sector jobs. Employers find it difficult to source the right kind of manpower, and at the same time, job seekers are struggling to find the right employer who can ensure them a minimum wage, ESI, PF and other social security benefits.
As a result of these observations, we realized that being an intermediary organisation, we can play a pivotal role by bridging the demand-supply gap. We could leverage our internal strength of having on-the-ground field presence, working with the local community, and good networks and relationships with corporate organisations.
(Above: Ajaya Mohapatra talks to students undergoing tally training.)
Keeping this in mind, our team conducted thorough research on the entire value chain of informal sector jobs to understand and get deeper insights of how the sector works, issues, challenges and ways forward and then finally, a presentation was made to the Governing Board of We The People for getting the strategic direction. The Board liked our idea, but also asked us how we planned to reach critical mass in a cost effective manner at a much faster rate. Thus, the idea of creating a technology platform – to expedite job-matching – for the informal sector was conceptualized. We decided to combine our on-the-ground field activities with the technology platform.
The Board decided that a separate for-profit social venture should be created to promote this venture, which can be self-sustainable, scalable and replicable. Hence, the company was incorporated in 2009 as Techpeople Management services Pvt. Ltd. and later in December of 2012 we refined the model and changed the name to Justrojgar India Pvt. Ltd. Moreover, India’s first-ever integrated online employment exchange, www.justrojgar.com, was created to promote inclusive employability including skills training and placement of under-privileged women and youth into high quality jobs.
SG: Why did you select the name Justrojgar?
AM: We felt our name should be synonymous with the common man in India as far as employment is concerned. Moreover, the target segments we are operating in need no introduction about the word. Moreover, it should create a long lasting impact in the minds of the people living at the base of the pyramid.
The word “rojgar” means employment. Rojgar is synonymous with the common man (as we say “aam admi” in Hindi) for employment in India. The word “just” represents equity and equality. Besides, “just” also represents “only” and I hope it helps our team maintain its focus on job creation!
I hope the name “Justrojgar” can be easily remembered by the common man and that they can later own this brand which would be viewed as synonymous with employment in India.
SG: How do you see Justrojgar impacting the surrounding community?
AM: We envision that Justrojgar will create “rojgar” for people currently at the base of the pyramid that is just, equitable and upholds their dignity. Our mission is to facilitate jobs through skill development followed by job placement, or outsourcing this skilled work force under our payroll and ensuring minimum wages and statutory social benefits. We are also partnering with banks and insurance companies to offer financial inclusion services such as bank accounts, savings, credit, micro-insurance, and micro-pension services to our target segment. After all, if they are earning more money, they need a way to save and invest that money in a prudent manner to improve their socio-economic condition with our initial handholding support.
I think once people start to believe that their income is regular and reliable, they will automatically start to plan longer-term, and stop living only day-to-day. They may start improving the quality of their houses, and sending their children to school. They will start to purchase household assets for their homes, like fans, refrigerators, water filters / purifiers, etc. that will help them in improving quality of their lives. We want to collect evidence of these changes and with Upaya’s help, plan to track the impact of our interventions through social metrics.
SG: What do you hope Justrojgar’s legacy will be?
AM: Our vision is to create one million jobs for the people living at the base of the pyramid and qualify for an IPO at the Bombay Stock Exchange by 2022!