Dharma Life’s Pivot: How a social enterprise is empowering women entrepreneurs and transforming its model in response to COVID-19

COVID-19 and Rural India

COVID-19 poses an immense threat to the people of rural India. This is the case both immediately as a health and wellbeing concern and in the longer term as development issues fail to progress due to a shift in focus and funding. Approximately 400 million people working in the informal economy in India are at risk of falling deeper into poverty due to this crisis. This devastating impact on livelihood could take the lives of more Indians than the disease itself.

Dharma Life’s COVID-19 Response

With a network of 16,000 rural Dharma Life Entrepreneurs (DLEs), 75% of whom are women, spread over 50,000 villages and 13 states, Dharma Life created the We for Village Alliance. Its immediate objective is to repurpose this robust network of DLEs into a crisis response network in order to address the above challenges. The We for Village Alliance pairs this network with a range of global partners to support the most vulnerable populations, giving them the ability to survive and thrive through the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond with a sustainable and scalable model. Dharma Life are excited to share the following developments:

  • Dharma Life Labs (Samvitti) is a new initiative launched in collaboration with Dharma Life, the Wheeler Institute and Siriti.  Dharma Life Labs is a rural innovation lab that seeks to drive inclusive progress. It leverages local relationships, digital connectedness and real-time insights to drive impact at scale. The insights from this work will be brought alive through a series of virtual roundtables – the “Voice of the Village” – which brings together the rural community with global partners.
  • The objective of the “Voice of the Village” roundtables is to create inclusive communities of practice to collaborate with villagers to lead themselves and their communities on the path of progress. The participants will include representatives of government, corporations, foundations, academia, NGOs, as well as relevant members of the rural community.  
  • The We-for-Village Alliance connects rural communities and international stakeholders digitally. The Alliance helps vulnerable groups – such as women, migrant workers, the elderly, and children – with critical information, essential goods and services, and life-altering skills.

The Wheeler Institute and Dharma Life

The Wheeler Institute has a long established relationship with Dharma Life and has been working closely with Dharma Life to carry out their COVID-19 response.  The Wheeler Institute has also helped develop new products and services to aid recovery from the pandemic and build resilience for a successful future.  As part of this collaboration, Professor Rajesh Chandy and a team of London Business School students working as Project Officers at the Wheeler Institute have supported Dharma Life over the last five months developing these initiatives. The team included Natalia Estupian MBA2021, Karishma Menon MBA2020 and your co-authors (Oliver Sloman MBA 2020 and Geric Dunford MBA2020). If you are interested in learning more about our work with Dharma Life please read here.

We will continue to update you on these initiatives.  In the meantime,  we encourage you to be part of the conversations that will create solutions and  join the Voice of the Village roundtable next Wednesday 23 September.


Oliver Sloman and Geric Dunford are both Project Officers at the Wheeler Institute and MBA 2020 alum at London Business School.

The Wheeler Institute, individual faculty and PhD students at London Business School, have been working with Dharma Life for nearly 10 years, almost since the inception of the organisation. The Wheeler Institute collaboration with Dharma Life, thanks to Gaurav Mehta(MBA2010) the founder and many others at Dharma Life, covers all three pillars of the Wheeler Institute:  conducting rigorous research, forging communities of practice and shaping business education.

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