Lockdown Economy: Home to undiscovered small business stories from the pandemic

Article by Deepti Sharma

A lot happened in 2020 and overwhelmingly so. Beginning with a few servings of the bygone year. A mere trending discussion topic at the start of the year, COVID 19 soon turned into a once-in-a-century full-blown pandemic. Putting 2020 in a nutshell Collins dictionary named ‘Lockdown’ WOTY (word of the year). A still distant ‘digital future’ became the inevitable reality of the present leaving everyone scrambling for a strong WiFi. Stopping for none economies hit a speed breaker putting many lives & livelihoods at stake. On a lighter note, WFH finally got promoted as legit work.

In the midst of all these events unfolding, I found myself hoping to be a part of some agent of change, however small. But figuring out where to start tends to be the hardest part of all. Luckily enough an opportunity in the form of the Lockdown Economy presented itself. It was here that I came across gritty stories of all kinds and scales of enterprising minds: from “Mints on a mission” to a serene Salt Lake homestay nestled in Kolkata. The stories that every business owner, enthusiast, or anybody remotely related to the world of business needs to hear in 2021.

The brainchild of Julia Skupchenko, the founder of a sustainable development think tank AlterContacts, Lockdown Economy is a non-profit initiative that aims to help small businesses overcome the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Talking about her inspiration for the project on a recent TED Talk Julia shared:

“What got me back was a phrase I heard during the financial times online conference. The head of one of the key financial institutions got a question about support towards small business. To which she replied: “Surely they made savings during the good times”. But did they? It’s tough to run a business. It’s especially tough to do it on your own.”

-Julia Skupchenko, Founder AlterContacts and Lockdown Economy

Run by a community of volunteers and experts, Lockdown Economy has grown leaps and bounds from when it started back in May 2020. Since then it was recognized by the United Nations as a contributing effort towards five Sustainable Development Goals #SDGaction36773; earned “Hero of the Year 2020” Gold award; and most recently has been declared the national finalist from the Netherlands for the prestigious European Charlemagne Youth Prize 2021.

https://lockdowneconomy.org

Over the period of the last 10 months, there’s not a single type of enterprise that hasn’t featured on Lockdown Economy’s virtual interview series. Most importantly all the interviews are unfiltered and relatable at best. Spread across 31 countries our diverse team of local interview hosts, endeavors to bring the most real accounts of what different businesses near them have gone through; how they coped up with 2020; where do they stand now and what the future has in store for them.

A common thread running through all the interviews is three key areas these enterprises need help with. This simple question put to the guests in every one of over 300 interviews has created a powerful repository of knowledge for:

  • Small businesses seeking practical crisis management

Those who have had a hiccup in the tough times of the pandemic can benefit the most from what Lockdown Economy guests have to share. Whether you plan to launch an online clothing brand or you have a little baking paradise cut to a gas agency or a dairy farm, there’s a sea of tried and tested business solutions, case studies & ideas for everyone here. And it really helps to hear others speak about the challenges same as ours as well as how they conquered them.

We have so many small ventures around us replete with inspiration and amazement at how creative people can get when the going gets tougher.

Lockdown inspired culinary business

Talking of being amazed, Graeme Fox, the founder of Ravenous Fox left me impressed with his simple yet deliciously inventive idea of online cook-alongs inspired by the lockdown. Two things about Covid 19 lockdown- a.) Almost everybody seemed to be trying their hands at cooking b.) Sudden loss of human touch was a pain point for all. This prompted Graeme to start his cook-along sessions over a zoom call bringing colleagues, family and friends together for cooking & enjoying a relaxed afternoon meal while cooped up at their homes.

“I created a platform where we can cook along in a zoom session; it’s not a commercial kitchen at all, just a standard domestic kitchen. What we do is pick a dish that we all can cook together and the setup is very simple, it’s nothing that people wouldn’t have in their own kitchens at home. But, the setup is such that we can chat; have a laugh & at the end of the day we could all sit down and have something nice to eat at lunchtime.”

- Graeme Fox, Founder Ravenous Fox

2020 brought the travel industry to ground zero

With travel restrictions all around us and the fear of an invisible enemy out there on the loose, traveling was the last thing on people’s minds. But it’s heartening how Avi Mayank Sharma, the CEO of travel startup House of Travels, took time to think of the plight of marine officers stuck abroad in a sudden lockdown, even as he saw his own business drying up for straight 5 to 6 months.

Starting out with tributary discount packages for marine officers & armed forces, House of Travels soon found its feet again with university collaborations; safety implementations across their contracted hotels & partnerships with Covid testing labs.

Keeping the art of Pashmina alive

An important section of the society upended in the pandemic-caused mayhem is the unorganized sector comprising daily wage earners & artisans. For Siddharth Saigal — the owner of Delhi-based Wrap Studios which makes Charkha Pashmina — the bigger concern was: sustaining the skill & livelihood of the Pashmina artisans working with his family for 4 generations now.

“If we didn’t support these artisans, they could’ve switched from skilled work to some regular jobs. For me the bigger challenge was to support them during the crisis and keep their art intact, so they don’t forget the beautiful procedure they have been doing for generations”

-Siddharth Saigal, Owner Wrap Studios

While not an essential commodity, heritage products like Pashmina hold great experiential value given the manual effort which goes into creating them. That’s why Siddharth feels that social media — although an excellent marketing tool — lacks in conveying the actual feel of their high-quality handloom to the customers.

Emphasizing the importance of retail therapy in the times of eCommerce, Wrap Studios eventually found support from the corporate clients who consumed its products for their various events.

Lockdown Economy Academy

After 658 million vaccine doses already administered globally, we can surely claim some progress as compared to the same time last year. But a second wave raising its head again in many countries is a strong reminder for us to retain the lessons and character acquired from these testing times.

Besides empowering small businesses, Lockdown Economy envisions extending the benefits of its global reach to young people through Lockdown Economy Academy. A pilot of the academy hosted together with Anahuac Mayab University, Mexico in August 2020 is already a success. This three-week long MBA course — inspired by the insights gained from Lockdown Economy — saw five pairs of small business owners & student teams come together to propose, design & implement new-approach solutions to their then-current business problems.

In a bid to facilitate school to work transition, Lockdown Economy Challenge enables university students to study the interviews and interact with small business owners who have told their stories through the platform.

“From the conversation we had with the owner of the businesses we understood that at first things might seem difficult, but if you work hard and adapt to changes in order to fulfil the needs then you are on the right path to success.”

- A student-participant of Lockdown Economy Challenge

Life often is considered a race to “access” and Lockdown Economy as a platform has unlocked so many of these accesses for people from all walks of life. No wonder young professionals and entrepreneurs across the world are embracing this opportunity wholeheartedly.

The UN-registered nonprofit social initiative that helps small businesses and self-employed professionals to overcome the challenges of the pandemic.