Arbind Singh spent his early years in Katihar, a district in India’s northeast state of Bihar, which is a hub of first-generation migrants who came to the area in search of work. As a child, he was perplexed by the routine eviction of neighbourhood vendors. After studying sociology and law in New Delhi, he returned to Bihar in the early 1990s to work with vendors and has been active in the development sector for seventeen years. He started Nidan to support poor men, women and their children involved in the informal economy. Arbind was recognized by the Skoll Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship in 2012.
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- Hybrid Social Enterprise
- Cities and Urbanization; Human Rights
- Areas of Impact
- South Asia, India
Nidan builds profitable businesses and organizations led by workers from the informal sector, including waste workers, rag pickers, vegetable vendors, construction labourers, domestic helpers, farmers and street traders. It does this by tapping into the wealth of the poor, primarily their numerical strength, and then aggregates them into economies of scale. This process of “collectivizing” generates social capital, representation and a voice for the poor, which they then leverage to launch their own businesses.
Businesses launched by Nidan have brought together workers from the informal sector and positioned them as legitimate competitors in markets. Each group is a nascent enterprise to be mentored until it emerges as an independent identity and registers profit curves. Every enterprise is decentralized and independent, with growth and operations left entirely to shareholders. Most are large enough to affect significant policy shift. As an example, the Nidan-initiated National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI), with its 10,00,000 members across 25 states, has successfully lobbied for the passage of the Act for Urban Vendors, a first for the country.
Most significantly, Nidan is returning a culture of accountability and honest enterprise to underdeveloped states and organizations of informal workers. Its contracts are secured without bribes and at competitive market rates. This has solidified the confidence of the poorest in transparency and collective action. Nidan has also made forays into skill development and fortified food for preschool children.