In many cities, cycle rickshaws are a primary form of public transit. With few barriers to entry and little requirement of skill or capital, the occupation is one of the most common for recent migrants to urban centers who arrive in search of a better way of life. Despite providing cost-effective and “green” transportation, the eight million rickshaw drivers in urban India are some of the country’s most marginalized workers. Not only do rickshaw drivers make substandard wages doing laborious work that barely sustains their families, but they also remain indebted to vehicle owners who charge malicious daily rent and are routinely subjected to stigma, harassment by police and pressure to pay bribes. As recent migrants to cities, they lack legal residence and cannot access the basic services required to build a livelihood for their families – including opening a bank account or accessing credit.
The Rickshaw Sangh is changing the industry paradigm by promoting asset ownership of rickshaws and providing access to a suite of social benefits to dignify the profession and ensure a sustainable livelihood for rickshaw drivers and their families.
The Rickshaw Sangh secures an identity for individual rickshaw drivers through key social benefits – including an identity card, driver’s license, permit and uniform – and in turn mobilizes drivers into collectives and links them to commercial credit facilities to access formal credit and thus entry into the formal financial sector. Rickshaw collectives take joint responsibility for a group of loans, guaranteed by AIF, for which they can own their own vehicles through easy weekly repayments over a period of one year.
This life-changing asset creates a multiplier effect – by enabling economic freedom for drivers and by transforming their families. Joint spousal ownership of rickshaws, alongside newfound financial and social literacy skills, builds collective responsibility and entrepreneurialism that empowers spouses, drivers, and their children to create micro-enterprises of their own. The combination of asset ownership and social services not only have helped to formalize this industry as a whole, but also enhance drivers’ social standing and empower them with life skills and tools that have far-reaching impact. With their “new” identities, drivers can now access critical services such as education, healthcare, voter registration, and ration cards – and further credit from financial institutions for additional economic opportunities.