Indian youth can move from demanding employment to creating progress in a supported and established direct selling model that rewards diligence, dynamism and dedication, says Rishi Chandiok
India’s underemployment crisis is both a challenge and an opportunity. A report by the the International Labour Organisation predicted in 2018 that by 2019, over 18.9 million people in our country will be unemployed. A third of this figure will constitute the highly educated young people. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that India is set to be the world’s youngest nation by 2020 and is home to the world’s largest base of young job-seekers.
Alleviating the problem bestows a superpower status if India’s massive workforce is fully activated. Thus, we need to enable young India’s ambitious, tech-savvy and resourceful talent with access to entrepreneurship. We are fortunate that this demand has come when the country’s digital revolution is transforming the way people think about work and income. Modern professionals need more than money to be content with their career. They need autonomy, fairness, evolving challenges and fulfilment. This shift in mindset is also behind the rising popularity of an industry that has always intrinsically offered these benefits — direct selling.
Cornerstones of direct selling like independence, ownership and entrepreneurial experience, have become key motivations behind people’s occupations. Analysts predict that the Indian direct selling market will be valued at $8.96 billion, creating nearly 20 million jobs in just over five years. Direct selling has already substantially impacted employment in India, especially in the area of helping women re-enter the workforce.
Access to training, clear compensation plans and flexible working hours have always been central to the industry and these traits empower women and impart valuable skills to young entrepreneurs.
Unfortunately, in recent times, industry growth has been hampered due to misconceptions and false accusations. But this scenario is gradually changing. Several High Courts have consistently squashed allegations of malpractice and illegality against the industry. The focus is shifting to possibilities that direct selling affords distributors, consumers and the domestic economy. Gradually, the widespread legal support is creating a safe environment for direct selling and its distributors.
A crucial component of direct selling that combats the underemployment crisis is the democratisation of opportunity. Anyone can be a direct seller, irrespective of age, gender, experience, skill, race or education. Companies in this space are empowering aspiring entrepreneurs from all walks of life to start businesses by providing training and professional support. This model gives rise to millions of entrepreneurs, inspired by an opportunity to script their financial future through access to inventory, mentors, back office support and training programmes. Indian tech-savvy millennials, who are at the centre of the country’s digital transformation, are also waking up to the benefits of direct selling. The industry was seen as just an opportunity for home-makers and retirees looking to make a supplementary income but is fast becoming a mainstream choice for young Indians seeking autonomy and a fair chance over an uncertain journey up the corporate ladder.
Delivery is at the heart of the direct selling model and this is where India’s young and energetic workforce is best suited for the industry. Delivering high quality unique products to consumers at a fair price through word-of-mouth remains the central characteristic of all direct selling. For that reason, India must move beyond false stereotypes and understand that direct selling is not a foreign concept.
Every vegetable cart, street barber, or dhobi is an example of traditional direct selling. Modern direct selling uses technology to benefit distributors and consumers. Direct selling companies have integrated e-commerce into their platforms to offer entrepreneurs and small businesses a gateway to reach millions of people and explore untapped markets.
So what can India do to use direct selling to create jobs? It is imperative to implement comprehensive legislation that ensures diligent governance to drive modernisation and job growth. Grey areas in current policy have resulted in confusion and extensive reputational damage. The establishment of a dedicated industry body, committed to regulation, lobbying, advocacy and complaints will go a long way.
Gaps in the current system have resulted in cursory interventions with grave consequences, the administration of civil matters through criminal proceedings being an example. The global industry highly commends the Direct Selling Guidelines from the Department of Consumer Affairs in legitimising and validating the business model. However, it remains essential to institute a unified trade body. This body should be dedicated to monitoring and addressing issues in conjunction with a Government nodal authority. Law enforcement agencies must also be given factual clarity about the direct selling industry to avoid confusion. The failed attempts at applying the Prize Chits and Money Circulation Schemes (Banning) Act, created for lottery schemes, is an example of this confusion. Such interventions don’t belong in fair and legal business ventures or a modern economy. Legitimate and reputed direct selling businesses deal in products that have value. Marketing these products will create opportunities for millions of consumers and distributors.
Entrepreneurship is crucial to addressing India’s unemployment concerns and industries such as direct selling have a significant role to play. However, to do this effectively, the industry will need the support of strong governance and a legal mandate. I believe that the Indian youth can move from demanding employment to creating progress in a supported and established direct selling model that rewards diligence, dynamism and dedication.
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