Paradigm Shift: Bringing a local market to life online

Paradigm Shift

Ishaan Sudan grew up in a navy family in India. He describes the community he grew up in as a protected space, shielded from the injustices of the real world. In 2015, he left home for college and joined India’s National Service Scheme (NSS), a government program that introduces students to community service activities. Away from home and interacting with communities that he had never encountered before, Ishaan began to learn about the needs of vulnerable communities. “Had I not left my comfort zone, joined NSS and began interacting with the people in our community, I’d never have known where to begin my journey as a changemaker.” 

During his time at NSS, Ishaan traveled through Himachal Pradesh (a state in India home to the Dalai Lama), where he started to learn about Tibetan culture. He soon realized that while traveling had opened his eyes to new things, Tibetan culture was far closer than he expected. In fact, there was a Tibetan market near his college in Delhi, where local artisans who had come to India as refugees sold goods and services to support their families. Ishaan recalls spending most of his hours after college inside the Tibetan market, exploring Tibetan-influenced products and diving into the culture.

During the pandemic, when he wanted to purchase an item from the same merchants, he was not able to find any information online. He took to online shopping to find similar offerings but he couldn’t stop thinking about the merchants he had spent so much time with. How were they able to support their families in the midst of a global pandemic? Did they know how to shift their businesses online and survive their country’s lockdown?

The answer appeared to be no. Called to action, Ishaan gathered his team and started curating ideas on how to support the Tibetan market. Ishaan and his team developed “Paradigm Shift”, a project that provides digital and financial literacy skills to the business owners in the market. The digital and financial literacy skills included training on online payments, e-commerce and bank schemes for businesses. They began reaching out to vendors and trying to convince them to join the program. However, building rapport, especially with limited chances to interact in person proved to be quite challenging. 

But Ishaan and his team persevered. Peace First provided Ishaan with a $250 mini grant and, most importantly, a new way of looking at his project through a design thinking approach. With the mentorship from Peace First, the team designed a strategy that allowed them to convince 10 vendors to attend the training. They were also able to create a digital literacy handbook that allows vendors to keep a record of the lessons learned. “I think the biggest challenge we faced was to convince the shop owners about the benefits of adapting the e-commerce module. Most of them were extremely hesitant to trust us so we took some time, made them more familiar with us and finally convinced some of the businesses to join the training,” says Ishaan.

With some convincing and a training in the books, Ishaan realized that the community became better equipped to ensure their businesses survive the pandemic. After the project, not only were vendors selling online, some of them included online payment options in their physical shops! But training was only a first step and the team realized that they could not stop there. To date, they have a free consultancy service so that merchants who participated in the program can call Paradigm Shift team members and troubleshoot the issues their stores are facing. They are also teaching the merchants’ children financial literacy. In the future, Ishaan and his team look forward to packaging the project so it can be taught in more communities. They also look to complement their efforts by setting up broadbands and providing financial assistance to the vendors.

You can watch Ishaan talk about Paradigm Shift here.