Summary prepared by Aishwarya Raman and Sreelakshmi R.
Ola Mobility Institute curated a webinar bringing together actors from the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 in India. These are platform companies and India’s gig workers who have had a significant role to play in public service delivery for tiding over the first impact of the pandemic-induced lockdown. Tejasvi Surya, Member of Parliament (MP), Bengaluru South; Abhay Mathur, SVP, Finance, Urban Company; Anand Subramanian, Head, Corporate Communications, Ola; Rajneesh Kumar, SVP and Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, Flipkart Group; and Udai Mehta, Deputy Executive Director, CUTS International discussed the many approaches adopted by the new economy businesses, i.e. platform companies, in their collaboration with the government, and the manner in which they are protecting India’s army of willing soldiers on the frontline — gig workers.
The Hon’ble MP, Tejasvi Surya noted how India’s financial infrastructure and gig economy have emerged as the country’s backbone and lifeline. The resilient platform economy has prepared India to handle the pandemic better than other countries.
The Jan Dhan — Aadhaar — Mobile (JAM) Trinity enabling and enabled by Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT), India Stack, and Unified Payments Interface (UPI) has helped provide financial relief (cash transfers) to over 30 crore (i.e. 300 million) vulnerable people in the country.
With the pandemic affecting the urban clusters the most, platforms like Ola, Urban Company, Big Basket, Zomato, Swiggy, Ninjacart have been very efficient in delivering essential goods and services to the affected populations. Nearly 30 startups and counting have shown and continue to show a tremendous sense of social responsibility. In collaboration with the South Bengaluru Coronavirus Task Force, Ola, for instance, is distributing over 5000 food packets everyday and ferrying passengers to hospitals for non-COVID medical emergencies. Zomato is delivering groceries in the affected areas. Logistics platforms like Blowhorn, Porter, LetsTransport etc. have made available their logistics infrastructure for the government to provide essential goods and services to citizens. The aforementioned platforms as well as Dunzo, Udaan, Practo, Cure.fit and others have quickly worked with the government to integrate their APIs, enable booking of essentials over the ubiquitous Whatsapp, and have made available their infrastructure for service delivery.
Truly, startups, typically powered by India’s youth, is shouldering social responsibility in this time of crisis. The goodness and capability of platforms — inherently scalable — can help serve multiple needs, all by using technology and ingenious thinking. No wonder, other cities are eager to replicate the Bengaluru model of protecting and leveraging the gig economy.
Urban Company’s Abhay Mathur spoke about leveraging technology to ensure safety and wellbeing of its employees and partners — service professionals such as beauticians, plumbers, electricians, et al. While its employees work from home, Urban Company is using its app and digital media to stay in touch with its partners and offer safety guidelines and mental health support. In order to secure the livelihoods of the micro-entrepreneurs on its platform — nearly 30,000 gig workers — Urban Company has extended business advances of INR 5,000 each as sustenance money. It has also set up a fund to support all its workers in addition to providing COVID-insurance (a healthcare cover) to workers and their families.
Rajneesh Kumar of Flipkart highlighted how the e-commerce platform is taking measures to secure the safety of its delivery personnel as well as the product across its numerous supply chains. Contactless delivery and communication about the safety measures being undertaken are crucial to win back the trust of the consumer. The agility of platforms is allowing for collaborations like never seen before. Today, Flipkart is building partnerships across the ecosystem including stakeholders such as the local kirana store, small and large FMCG companies, and cab aggregators, among others — so the consumer doesn’t face challenges because of disruptions to the supply chain. MSMEs and micro-entrepreneurs are affected by this unprecedented crisis. We need to evolve inclusive and efficient systems to protect them. Flipkart is providing over a million meals to those affected and one million masks and PPEs to healthcare workers in India.
Ola’s Anand Subramanian mentioned how the ride-hailing business’ approach to fighting COVID-19 and building resilience involved identifying interventions along the three pillars of the gig economy business: a) Network — driver-partners who are society’s frontline workers today, b) Ecosystem — all individuals associated with the mobility sector in India, and c) Platform — technology and operational capabilities of Ola. Accordingly, Ola has developed a holistic approach to protect the lives and livelihoods of the gig workers. 24 X 7 helpline, online/ on-call doctor consultations, waiving vehicle lease rentals, de-risking workers using COVID-19 medical insurance that covers driver-partners and their family members, extending interest-free loans/ micro-credit through ‘Ola Sahyog’, providing food and groceries (essential supplies) to not just driver-partners but everyone in the mobility ecosystem, providing financial support for non-COVID medical emergencies through Ola Foundation under the INR 50 crore ‘Drive the Driver Fund’ created by the platform are a slew of initiatives to support drivers. Leveraging its larger technology and operational capabilities and through partnerships with state and local governments, Ola has launched Ola Emergency as a new mobility category for non-COVID travel to and fro hospitals, and Ola CONNECTS as a turnkey solution, a real-time war room to manage mobility operations at scale.
Uday Mehta of CUTS International submitted that e-commerce is an integral part to fight the crisis at hand (as witnessed in the past few months) and in post-pandemic recovery. Digital platforms are using a hands-on approach as utilised by Ola, Flipkart etc. — leveraging the enabling environment created by the government. Simultaneously, the gig economy is adopting necessary contactless services to protect their partners and customers. Trust has to be re-established with both customers and gig workers as platforms return to business in the short-term, and the platform economy plans its recovery in the long-term. One thing is certain — citizen-centric policymaking, collaborations with governments, partnerships among platforms and supporting MSMEs wherever possible, all the while, putting a premium on safety is the way forward.
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