Arbind Singh

Year founded: 

Nidan creates institutions and programmes aimed at economic and social development of India’s poorest and marginalized workers.

Focus: Labour and Employment, Enterprise Development, Waste Management
Geographic Area of Impact: India
Model: Hybrid Non-Profit
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 460,000 (2011)
Annual Budget: US$ 2,974,053 (2011)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 47.4%
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year, India, 2008

There are over 340 million workers, or roughly 92% of the country’s working population, in India’s informal sector. They contribute to about 60% of the national economic output. Despite their vast numbers and substantial contribution to the economy, they represent the poorest segments of the population. On average, these workers do not earn much more than US$ 1 per day and work is often seasonal. They do not belong to unions and are regularly exploited for their labour.

Innovation and Activities
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 400,000 workers from the informal sector and positioned them as legitimate competitors in markets opening up throughout the country.

As an entry point, Nidan moves into neighbourhoods to train and align individuals into profession-based groups. These groups quickly generate connections between individuals as they learn to link their personal struggles to the challenges of their occupational sectors. Once fragmented, traders and service providers now organize into broad-based occupational pressure groups; 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 300,000 members across 20 states, has successfully lobbied for the passage of the Act for Urban Vendors, a first for the country.

As entrepreneurs these informal workers are reporting income growths of 100% or more. Waste collectors, for example, have realized a 200% increase in their annual incomes. Secure and regular income growth has led to improved access to social security, education, childcare and legal aid. Some 100,000 children of Nidan members, who previously could not access education, now go to formal and community schools launched by Nidan in urban Patna and Samastipur districts in the India state of Bihar.

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 solar light production accessible to workers

The Entrepreneur
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 17 years. He started Nidan to support poor men, women and their children involved in the informal economy. Singh was named to the Skoll Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship in 2012.