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Even Cargo
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A NEW START

An Indian startup is trying to make scooter-riding delivery girls the new normal

By Maria Thomas

Heard of delivery boy, but delivery girl?

Visitors to the blog of Even Cargo, a New Delhi-based delivery service, are welcomed with this intriguing query.

Even Cargo trains and employs women from underprivileged backgrounds to work in logistics and ferry packages on scooters across India’s capital. Since it started out in May 2016, the company has trained nearly 100 women aged between 19 and 24, from various localities of Delhi. Most of them have only completed high school-level education and are from families with an average annual income of less than Rs1 lakh ($1,470).

Founder Yogesh Kumar wanted to do something tangible to help such women. “I thought that it’s important for them to first have some earnings source and then probably we can think of creating gender awareness,” he said.

A push for female labour

Kumar, 28, is an electrical engineer-turned-social entrepreneur. After quitting his job at a German multinational company, Kumar studied at Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences and spent a few years trying out different ventures to raise awareness about gender equality and gender-based violence.

However, after conducting several workshops, he realised that one of the biggest obstacles to gender equality in India was the lack of economic means among women, the result of a woefully low rate of female participation in the labour force.

His first idea to tackle the problem was a cab service with female drivers. The venture fizzled out despite training around 20 women because many of the drivers were apprehensive about investing big money in buying cars. So he switched to the delivery business, focusing on scooters instead.

Kumar used the money he won at the Singapore International Foundation’s 2015 Young Social Entrepreneurs competition as seed funding to establish Even Cargo. The company’s training process has four stages: a) two-wheeler driving lessons, provided by Honda and the Delhi traffic police, b) self-defence training, c) soft-skills workshops, and finally d) logistics industry-specific training, where the women are taught how to read parcel numbers and dockets, for instance.

However, of the women trained so far by Even Cargo, only 20 have completed all four stages and only 10 ultimately joined the organisation.

Given India’s pervasive patriarchy, which severely circumscribes women’s independence and access to public spaces, and the difficulties of navigating Delhi’s choked roads, many of the trained women found it tough to stick around. Today, just six of them work full-time.

“The attrition rate in this industry is very high so we have to keep training as many women as possible,” said Kumar.

Long road ahead

For now, the company only does daytime delivery and works with companies that deal in women’s apparel and accessories to limit male contact. This is a way to build confidence among the women and reassure their conservative families. According to Kumar, the women who have begun working have shown a real interest in sticking to the job, enjoying the independence that comes with finally having a little of their own money.

However, he recognises that there’s a long road ahead before India can become like, say, Singapore where women have much better access to public space, routinely driving buses and other public transport.

“The gender biases are very deep-rooted in our society and it’s a lot of time and resource investment that goes in to change the mindset,” Kumar said.