Surviving And Thriving Through India’s COVID-19 Lockdown: Social Business Stories From The Frontline

Surviving And Thriving Through India’s COVID-19 Lockdown

October 20, 2020

On 24 March this year, day-to-day business for a vast number of Indian organisations stopped abruptly. With a complete nationwide lockdown, any operations requiring physical attendance had to shut down overnight. Here’s how we helped one of the Indian social businesses in our portfolio to overcome the combined economic and health crises of COVID-19.

SMV Green is a lease-to-own e-rickshaw business on a mission to enable people to get out of poverty and reduce pollution in cities. For the drivers it works with, SMV Green provides e-rickshaws, connects them with third-party financing partners and - in the process - doubles the rickshaw drivers’ income. To date, SMV Green has worked with over 1,400 e-rickshaw drivers, shifting vehicle usage to become less carbon-intensive. In 2019 alone, it averted 2,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

However, COVID-19 lockdown represented an existential threat for the rickshaw drivers. From one day to the next, they were no longer able to carry out their jobs, meaning they lost 100% of their income. At Yunus Social Business, we contacted our portfolio social businesses globally early on to find out how we could support them.


Social businesses throughout the world faced two major challenges when lockdown hit. The first was immediate access to capital in order to survive the months where operations were legally impossible. The second was adapting their business models to cope with the new set of restrictions; finding a way to resume operations and continue to support the poor.

At Yunus Social Business, we acted quickly to address both of these challenges. We raised and disbursed close to 2 million USD in emergency relief funding for social businesses during the COVID-19 health and economic crisis. We also worked closely with those social businesses to make sure that the funding reached those most in need during this pandemic. SMV Green India was among those to receive this funding, and put it to good use in order to support its target beneficiaries.  

SMV Green innovated its product line to include a transparent sheet between passengers and drivers and sanitisers in every e-rickshaw. 1,000 of SMV Green’s drivers were granted COVID-19 Relief to transform their e-rickshaws into safe vehicles using the new product range. It also mobilised e-rickshaws drivers to deliver vegetable produce to urban homes. Those informal workers who would otherwise have lost their entire salary were able to maintain a steady source of income.  


In our outreach to social businesses, we discovered that we were often the first or only ones to reach out in order to understand how we could support them through COVID-19. As such, social businesses have come back with an overwhelming reaction to our support.

Priya Shah from our India team shared her insights:

Our portfolio companies in India, operating in sectors which were hit hard by COVID-19, such as education, e-mobility and waste management, were extremely grateful for the grant support provided by Yunus Social Business. This grant funding helped them cover key operational expenses for the crucial 3-4 months when liquidity was most needed, and allowed them to focus on pivoting their revenue models for the post-COVID environment.

Going forward, we are working to raise awareness for the support requirements of social businesses, especially during this pandemic. We have teamed up with the World Economic Forum to create the COVID Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs, where we have brought together 60 impact-first organisations. Together, the organisations support over 50,000 social enterprises across the world. Find out more.

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