Sustainable income for Gig workers - United Way India

Sustainable income for Gig workers

Sustainable income for Gig workers

An Overview

Project Istriwala (Ironing service providers): Promoting the adoption of LPG iron boxes among gig workers

Through Project Istriwala, United Way India strives to enhance the productivity and financial efficiency of workers and vendors in today’s gig economy, particularly ‘Istriwalas’ (ironing service providers). The project aims to provide Istriwalas with access to cleaner and more affordable energy options by replacing their expensive coal-based iron boxes with LPG-powered iron boxes, available at a subsidized cost. 

The Need

Throughout the country, COVID-19 had multiplier effects on health, livelihood opportunities, and education. While the pandemic wreaked havoc across the nation, many people lost their jobs, especially gig workers who depend on daily wages for their livelihood. Often, within an average family consisting of grandparents, parents, and children, all members are engaged in the unorganized sector for their livelihood. Despite this, the average household income remains at less than 2 lakhs per annum.

One of the gig working groups affected by the pandemic is the ‘Istriwalas (Ironers) ‘, who have been providing ironing services for generations in Chennai. These gig workers were significantly impacted by the COVID-19 lockdown. Due to the high usage of coal and extended waiting times for orders and deliveries, productivity and income levels declined during the pandemic. This situation prompted the need for an efficient solution to enhance productivity and income among gig workers, thereby improving their living conditions.

The Benefits

Benefits of adopting LPG-Based Iron Box:

  • Heats up in just 2 minutes compared to the 40 minutes required by coal boxes, leading to improved productivity and increased income.
  • Utilizes clean energy, leaving no residue or flammable materials emitted.
  • An eco-friendly alternative when compared to coal, with reduced exposure to harmful coal emissions.
  • A simple, self-serviceable, and all-weather-friendly device, resulting in low maintenance requirements.

The Intervention

The LPG iron box was introduced after thorough research as a solution to increase productivity and, consequently, the earning power of ironing vendors, or ‘istriwalas.’ Under this project, United Way India facilitated the adoption of clean, energy-efficient LPG iron boxes, impacting their lives and making them self-reliant. We have also been working to create a market for the product, aiming to improve yield and efficiency for the beneficiaries by providing the product at a subsidized cost, along with capacity building. The project also connects the beneficiaries with a formal credit system by integrating digital payment mechanisms and providing support.


Gig workers, persons who work temporary jobs typically in the service sector as an independent contractor, freelancer or on-demand worker. Under one of our projects for gig workers, the beneficiaries include population groups like Istriwala Vyaparis (people who iron clothes) who were severely affected due to COVID-19 lockdown in Chennai.

Impact Till Date

Project Istriwala (ironing service providers): Promoting adoption of LPG iron boxes among gig workers

United Way India made an impact by directly intervening with 250 istriwalas (ironers) in the first cohort in 2022 and later built an ecosystem for market transformation.

The project expanded its reach by supporting an additional 688 beneficiaries in 2023. In just 5 months, we enabled 688 ironers to transition to LPG iron boxes by providing easy access to the product.

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