Yogesh Kumar started his company, Even Cargo, with the purpose of helping women into traditionally male-dominated jobs. Even Cargo is an e-commerce logistics company that hires only women from resource-poor communities and trains them on driving scooters, customer service, and self-defense. His goal is to empower women and generate employment for them by promoting gender equality and women’s safety in public spaces.
As a young engineer in Delhi in 2012, Yogesh recalls the incident that swept the nation in which a young woman became the victim of a fatal sexual assault on a bus by a group of men. Protests began across India, demanding action to be taken to make public spaces safe for women. The incident marked a tipping point for Yogesh, and he left his engineering career to earn a degree in social entrepreneurship with the goal of empowering women in low income communities.
Over the last three years, Yogesh has led gender initiatives across the Delhi region and, in 2016, started Even Cargo. Yogesh knew that giving underprivileged women access to a dignified livelihood will lift them out of poverty, but he wanted to empower them to take on jobs traditionally worked by men. “Gender is the at the core of our operations,” Yogesh told New Yorker. “Giving women a delivery job allows her to reclaim ‘her share of public space’.”
Even Cargo is a participating company in Upaya’s 2019 Livelihoods Accelerator Program. We asked Yogesh to elaborate on his motivation and vision for his social enterprise after Upaya’s India team visited Even Cargo.
Q: What problem are you trying to solve with your company?
A: “Having witnessed accelerated multi-sector growth and development in India, gender disparity continues to remain a social concern. The implications of such a disparity and resultant discriminatory practices have impacted women socially, psychologically, economically, and politically. And this has further handicapped our nation’s headway in multiple areas, inclusive of education, labor participation, political representation, economic productivity, and overall quality of life. In India, the female labor force participation rate has fallen from 35% in 1990 to 27% in 2016. Moreover, women in India contribute a mere 17% to India’s GDP compared to the global average of 37%. Despite the rapid growth and development that India has achieved in multiple spheres in past few years, gender equity continues to lag.
“An examination of job roles across the country has also revealed that there is an illogical gender divide across many professions for no reason aside from the fact that men have historically worked in those specific roles. Also, women comprise most of the informal economy, wherein workers are left vulnerable to exploitation, unfair wages, and little social protection. Even Cargo provides a reliable platform for formal employment to women who are prime candidates to join the formal economy.
“Lastly, for many women in India, due to overarching patriarchal norms, many public spaces are not accessible. That is, women, unlike their male counterparts are not free to move about in public environments without a fear of violence and/or harassment. This is a huge barrier for young women to access opportunities that may better their lives.
“Overall, Even Cargo is trying to solve many of the problems that plague the Indian society by empowering women especially in lower income communities who never had the opportunity to be trained or employed.”
Q. How did you become so passionate about this issue?
A: “I was an engineer by profession but a human by nature. I have always found myself as a person who is inclusive and loves diversity—diversity of caste, religion, class, gender. My belonging to a cosmopolitan city has only fueled my urge to build inclusive spaces.
“And as we know, it’s not all good in the societies that we live in. My experiences, not always good ones, have bothered me and made me feel uncomfortable about the surroundings that I am staying in. Gender-based discrimination concerns me the most. I observed that, unlike the crimes of the nature of killing and robbery, gender violence doesn’t surface enough for us to realize and observe until it gets manifested in crimes like molestation and rape.
“The journey of Even Cargo has been a very personal one… I am really influenced by ideology of Mahatma Gandhi and his ways of using non-violence as tool for activism. The most recent incident that made me go out on a street protest was the December 2012 rape case that happened in Delhi. It was the most horrific and shameless act of human kind in the recent time, where a young girl was gang-raped in a moving bus. I won’t say that this incident alone was responsible for my quitting my corporate job and joining the development sector to serve people. But yes, this incident was the tipping point.”
Q. What inspired to start your company?
A: “Inequality and disparity were responsible in my decision to start Even Cargo. Be it seeing a girl struggling to find a safe place in a crowded bus to protect herself from unwanted touch of fellow passengers, or witnessing unequal access to public spaces by women. Many of my experiences made me start this initiative. I would say it’s not the privilege but the shame that I, as a male, would live with everyday seeing the other gender struggling on day-to-day basis to lead a dignified life. I am doing my bit.
“We realized that for people who are finding it hard to make their ends meet, poverty is not allowing them to aspire, dream, and work for it. We decided to empower these women by skilling them and then generating employment for them.
“We purposely decided not to skill them on, say, stitching or cooking, which are associated with feminine gender generally. Not that workshops are not useful, but we wanted to make a statement through our action. The whole purpose of starting this venture was to empower women to reclaim their share of public space. So we started with Even Cargo, Logistics service.
Q. What has been your biggest challenge or learning so far?
A: “The biggest challenge that we still face is that of societal acceptance. The majority of people still feel uneasy seeing such initiatives. But we have seen a lot of support as well from the society. We have seen the mindset changing, however small it may be, but yes, we are seeing positive change in our environment.
“Another major challenge was to identify these girls and then instill confidence in them that yes, they can do it. Other obstacles too were to convince their parents to allow the girls to take up the job of a delivery girl. If we look at this problem in larger context, it’s the problem of mindset and attitude of people towards women. Which was and still is most difficult obstacle to deal with.”
Q. What is your vision for your company?
A: “It is our vision that every woman should have equal opportunity to livelihood. We are determined to change the narrative from ‘women empowerment’ to ‘women empower,’ by creating gender-equal and inclusive livelihood opportunities for them.”
Even Cargo is a social enterprise that employs women from resource-poor communities and trains them for employment opportunities with major e-commerce companies such as Amazon, Flipkart, Zomato, and more. Their focus is to overcome the barriers of unemployment through skill development to increase the participation of women in the Indian labor market, which is currently sitting at 17%.
Upaya has the privilege of working with so many passionate social entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs are our heroes, leading businesses that provide employment opportunities for people in some of the world’s most marginalized communities. We love learning and sharing what has inspired our partners and accelerator participants to take the leap into entrepreneurship.