Some personal connect stories:
- My father was a very generous man. So generous that we used to hide money from him. And during his funeral, many people told stories about how he had helped them. And 11 days after his death, we launched “Chris Cross” during a Distinguished Gentlemen’s Ride, here in Chennai. The profits were given back to the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride
- During the start of my career, I was trained in Lean Sigma and my project was to reduce headcount in a team through an efficient process. I cracked it and told my mom about it, she said: “our family gives employment and doesn’t take it away.” I still remember those words.
- I spend a lot of time on the road. From industrial parks outside the cities to remote locations, I travel on two-wheels or four. During the most desperate times, it is the street vendors who have come to my aid. (Please read my personal blog from 2018: Journey Through A Cup Of Tea, where I mention two such incidents).
Across our country, street vendors are found everywhere. Sometimes they are a menace (the crowd that they attract and the garbage that they generate) but most of the time, they are the angels. They are there when you need them the most. Some of us have a routine around them. About a decade ago, when I used to smoke, my routine involved parking my car in the office and walking across the road to that little roadside shop for a cigarette and a coffee before I started my shift.
In so many ways, street vendors are the backbone of the unorganized support structure of our country.
During the lockdown period, all these vendors disappeared. The streets had become quiet and deserted. As much as I enjoyed my peaceful morning walks, I soon realized that undocumented infrastructure and unknown “entrepreneurs” have vanished. They are not part of any forums and yet, all meetings (hobby clubs, office gossip clubs, etc.) met around them.
Let’s consider street vendors selling coffee and tea. Like any entrepreneur, they manage their shops. They need capital to invest in sugar, coffee powder and so on. Their cash flow has abruptly stopped. Their savings will not last more than 25 days because cash is always on “rotation” in their business. And with social distancing, we are not sure if their customers will return. They have no access to loans with a low rate of interest because they don’t have any collateral to offer as “security”. They borrow from loan sharks, which sort of makes them bonded labourers.
And most importantly, they are self-respecting business owners. Their idea was not to live a life dependent upon freebies from the government. They don’t want to beg because some of them employ helpers. Hence, they are employers as well.
Chris Cross isn’t a not-for-profit organization. We are trying to build a profit-making company with a strong foundation of values. And it is a hard road that we are committed to taking.
With Mask for a Cause, our goal is to (a) restore dignity and ensure that the self-respect of these street vendors is maintained, (b) provide that initial boost to “rotate” money and (c) have everyone wear a good quality entry-level mask.
We don’t offer money for free. We forward-pay and tell them to provide their products free to the homeless or someone in need. When they offer someone a free coffee/service, we are sure that it will generate kindness and hopefully, they will do their part too, keeping the cycle going!
A coffee vendor has to buy his ingredients from someone or some shop. Most often, it is from another small vendor who pedals his way to these shops and delivers them on a daily basis. Most often local bakers drop biscuits here. So, this money is reaching other small-time vendors and everyone has some business.
India is a hot country and it is very difficult to get people to even wear helmets. Rule or not, most don’t wear it because they sweat inside. Having said that, wearing any synthetic material isn’t comfortable. This double-layered cotton mask is comfortable and reusable. It may not offer protection like the N95 or surgical mask but this is a start.
How we are going about it:
All the profits from the sale of the mask are being earmarked for funding these street vendors. Currently, the value is small but we hope to make an impact with at least two vendors. We are selling in packs of 5pcs because it makes the economy of scale. More money saved by us results in better fund generation.
For now, we are approaching street vendors near our residence and office. Also, reaching out to friends and their families. It is a slow process but it is monitored to ensure that the right help is provided. One tea vendor wanted a dustbin to dispose of paper cups. One wanted to buy coal to start the clothes-ironing business. Their structure is loose but built on trust.
How you can help:
Indirectly: From the comfort of your home, you can order the mask. That’s a good start. We will do the footwork for you. Click here to buy
Directly: If hobby-based clubs can come together and contribute Rs. 50 per person to their respective clubs, you can drive over to your hangout spots and help the vendors there. Explain it to them. Assure them that they are going to get back on their feet. Remember, if each of us can help two vendors, we can do a lot more.
Please do not take pictures of distributing the goodies. They are not zoo animals. And this venture is not about publicity.
Our initiative has featured in Mid Day Newspaper. Read more.