Nestled in a busy street market in the Aurangabad district of Maharashtra, India, you can find Sarika Devi behind the counter of her small shop. Known locally as a kirana, Sarika’s convenience shop sells toffees, biscuits, chocolates, and other sundries. Sarika lives with her husband and their two sons just a few blocks from her store. Although Sarika’s husband also runs a business, his income was insufficient to cover the family’s expenses. So four years ago, Sarika decided to start her own business and opened her shop.
Like other micro, small, and medium enterprise (MSME) owners, Sarika endured daunting challenges when COVID-19 spread to her community. Just two years after getting her business off the ground, the shutdowns caused by the pandemic left her facing an uncertain future. As the pandemic progressed, she learned about the benefits of e-commerce platforms and saw how other small businesses with an online presence had advantages over those that did not. Online sales channels helped MSMEs sustain and grow their businesses despite the challenging circumstances of COVID-19. While Sarika has a smartphone, she sometimes needs her son’s help to use it. With a limited academic background and few resources, Sarika did not know how to take her small business online.
In December 2021, Sarika learned about Ovante, a self-training digital platform developed by Accion to help small business owners strengthen their managerial, financial, and digital capacities. The platform, recently launched in India, encourages real behavior change that helps build the necessary skills to increase their earning potential and grow their businesses — all accessible from smartphones in a user-friendly app.
With the help of one of Accion’s trainers, Sarika began using the Ovante platform and enrolled in the training course, “Buying and Selling Online.” After successfully completing her training, and with the help of her family, Sarika opened an online store through WhatsApp to sell her kirana items. “It helped me understand how I can use WhatsApp and social media to promote my business,” she said about the knowledge she gained from her Ovante training.
Sarika now takes orders through phone calls and WhatsApp, delivers the orders at the customer’s doorstep, and is learning how to incorporate online payments into her business. Sarika’s story highlights Indian MSME owners’ awareness of the changing business climate and the need to adopt digital tools to sustain businesses such as Sarika’s kirana store.
A key feature that Sarika and other MSMEs highlighted is the hands-on aspect of the platform. Sarika notes, “Most of the activities ask me to take some action, like partnering with another shop in my neighborhood or sending a WhatsApp message to one of my customers. Then I log the results of their activity in the Ovante app.” Sarika and other Indian MSME users benefitted from Ovante’s bite-sized lessons — quick enough to complete during a mid-day break — and enjoyed access to MSME experts from Accion who provided specialized business advice.
As of February 2022, over 1,400 MSMEs throughout 20 districts in India are registered on Ovante, of which 21 percent are women-owned businesses, including Sarika’s kirana store. To date, 24 percent of the registered users have completed at least one training topic offered through Ovante’s three key programs: “Make More Money,” “Buying and Selling Online,” and “Get Access to Credit.” Ovante makes a difference in the lives of small business owners, like Sarika, by helping them become stronger business owners, savvier digital users, and more credible financial clients. As Sarika uses her new skills to grow her business, she’s gaining financial independence and dreaming of a brighter future for her sons.
Contact us here to learn more about how Accion leverages digital tools like Ovante to help more entrepreneurs thrive. For more information on partnering with Accion to bring Ovante to more small business owners in India, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bryce Feibel contributed to this article.