SMV Wheels: A Social Enterprise Empowering Rickshaw Pullers

Manual Rickshaws are a significant means of conveyance in this country. According to a recent estimate, there are 10 million rickshaw pullers & 20 million push-cart vendors in India. Most of them are victims of exorbitant daily rentals and the mafia that doesn’t allow them to own the rickshaws. Many of them live on pavements – exploited by the police, municipal bodies and usurious money lenders.

SMV Wheels Pvt. Ltd. is an innovative social enterprise empowering rickshaw pullers.

Started in April 2010 in Varanasi, UP, SMV provides well-designed rickshaws to pullers in groups of five. These rickshaw pullers form their “garages” in different parts of the city to repair the rickshaws as well as update business records and collect repayments.

Repayments are collected on a weekly basis which include the cost of the rickshaw, accidental insurance premium, license, uniform , operating costs and post sales service.

SMV was started by Naveen Krishna, who spent 10 hours everyday in the last 5 years with the rickshaw pullers in 6 states across the country.

Here’s an interview with Naveen :

What were the biggest hurdles in starting SMV Wheels?

The mindset among some of the foreign and Indian funding agencies and NGOs that rickshaw pullers need charity rather than affordable means to own their rickshaw was a big hurdle in starting SMV. We are glad to have broken this myth. It is very satisfying for us that we are receiving a large pool of applications from the rickshaw pullers and the idea has shown successful results. Our 100% repayment rate and the smile of dignity on the face of our customers (rickshaw pullers) will certainly bring a change to the overall scenario of social development!

Personally, I had to decline a well-paying job offer, even after having our first new born baby. I moved my setup back from Delhi to Varanasi; I missed an opportunity to go to GSBI Class of 2010, US. These were some difficult personal hurdles to overcome.

Is the concept of giving Rickshaws in groups of five, similar to the joint liability group (JLG) model of microfinance institutions ? Reasons for having this kind of model?

While it does have some components of the JLG model but it’s not the same as JLG as we have a very rigorous checks of the puller and his background before delivering the rickshaw. We deliver rickshaws to a group of 3 to 5 pullers as it not only largely confirms the repayment but also fosters a sense of ‘us’ feeling among the group. Our major stream of revenue is not in interest earning on the rickshaw but it comes from selling advertisement space on the rickshaw to corporate and local businesses. In fact, we at SMV share 60 % of the advertisement revenue with the puller once he becomes the owner of his rickshaw. To be frank, we don’t want to push the puller in more debt and pile interest on that debt – that’s why we concentrate on other sources of revenue which can be earned from the rickshaw itself.

What has been the impact of the enterprise? Milestones achieved?

Within 3 months of operations we have delivered 40 rickshaws to the rickshaw pullers and more than 350 pullers are registered with us to hit the road soon.

How are you financing the project? What is the percentage of equity and loan component for a rickshaw puller?

The project is right now financed by (both equity and debt) the Board of Directors of the SMV. We are also meeting Angel Investors, Venture Capital Firms and Banks for further financing and the initial discussions seem positive. The rickshaw puller has to pay the same charge as he pays for the daily hire to the rickshaw merchants. He becomes the owner of his rickshaw in 52 weeks by paying the weekly purchase installments. SMV will soon have a federation of rickshaw pullers in the board with equity – the process is in progress.

Any collaboration that SMV has forged?

SMV has collaborated with many stakeholders successfully. These include municipal corporations, insurance companies, legal bodies, manufacturing partners etc. The rickshaw provided by SMV is safe for school going children (we do the safe-design bit) and is also more cost-effective than the traditional rickshaw. Schools can promote our rickshaws as they are safer than the existing ones. The rickshaw puller, the rickshaw and the passengers are insured as well. NGOs can partner with us to promote employment generation in their areas and also to promote ‘tourism on rickshaw’ which is very popular in the states of UP, Bihar, West Bengal and MP.

Future plans for SMV wheels?

We plan to benefit 1 lakh rickshaw pullers in the coming 5 years within the states of UP, Bihar, MP, Punjab and Delhi. The plan is to build credibility within the community by technological innovations, best-service delivery, unionization and identity to the profession. Overall, to change the face of slow-moving short distance transport in India and to create an example for other marginalized community that if a rickshaw puller can own something in life than all of you surely can.

For more info check out : www.smvwheels.com
Also check out a concise presentation here.

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