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What if we could create a bridge which could bring these jobs closer to these underprivileged girls, for whom this could be a life changing opportunity?
“Do you have any girl in your family or in your community who is working in a formal sector- proper office job?” I asked Palak.
Palak, pursuing her second year of graduation from open school was the tenth one I was speaking to that day . Palak’s answer was no. Not different from most of the other girls I had been speaking to and usually interact with in my work.
Every year lakhs of girls pass out of class 12th from government schools. Talking about Delhi, this number would be close to 1.25 lakhs or so. From this cohort of girls from a not so privileged background, there is a huge percentage who are keen to get employed along with pursuing their graduation from an open school system. They need to financially support the families. Also, for many, financial independence is a way to evade from getting trapped into marriage immediately after class 12th.
What if we could enable role models from their communities whom the other girls could look up to and seek motivation, then a big part of a fight for empowering these young women would be won!
My work often makes me interact with less privileged girls who are at the bottommost of the pyramid in terms of family circumstances and performance in their secondary classes. Quite a good percentage join the humanities stream in their senior secondary, and pursue graduation from an open school post that. For many of them, pursuing open school graduation helps them join an upskilling course alongside to increase their job prospects.
There is immense calibre and dreams galore in this cohort! Unfortunately, due to the lack of a right environment around, there are several deterrents in their path.
In the past few years, the e-commerce sector has opened up a plethora of opportunities at the entry level roles with a promising career path. There are profiles as sales agent, customer service, warehouse operations, delivery, data analytics to name a few.
With the rising smartphone penetration and ease of accessing technology, the sector is expected to keep adding jobs at entry level, thus creating a strong pipeline offering credible entries to the formal sector with a promise of a career path and a trajectory.
Some of the key skills that the sector is looking for especially at the entry level include a mix of good spoken and written English communication, digital literacy, knack for sales and customer support – each in varying degrees based on the profile.
All of these could empower the girls financially and employ them in sustainable and meaningful careers. What if we could create a bridge which could bring these jobs closer to this cohort of girls, for whom this could be a life changing opportunity?
And that became the genesis of an idea.
In May this year, I envisaged a pilot to place this cohort of girls pursuing their open school graduation along with upskilling courses into entry-level jobs in the expanding e-commerce sector.
The idea was not to reinvent the wheel but to tap into the hard work being done by development sector leaders and organisations in this space and bridge the gap between the talent pool of girls and job opportunities being created in the sector.
As I started speaking with more and more girls being upskilled by various non-profit organisations in Delhi, I understood that it was an uphill task. I was trying to break some strong barriers here!
The girls had questions and apprehensions about travel, and concerns and assumptions about the workplaces/safety. While all of them wanted to get employed, the aspirations needed direction and a force of conviction, even while the calibre was immense.
Many of them needed to be pulled out from their comfort zones. They spoke about experiences they had heard of, and which weren’t great. There were concerns about travelling by public transport, about workplace safety and missing aggressive sales targets.
In parallel to the work of counselling girls, I also was reaching out to organisations in this space. While everyone welcomed the idea, a few business leaders also mobilised their teams to set up interviews with the girls. And that’s how we had the ball rolling.
During the course of the pilot, I also got introduced to the first batch of the Girl Champion Fellows at Protsahan India Foundation. I still remember my first interaction with the fellows, how so many of them were sceptical and only a few opted to apply for the jobs.
But after counselling and handholding them along with the wonderful team at Protsahan, they not only overcame their fears and came out of their shells, but also faced multiple rounds of interviews with confidence. There were rejections too but today as I write this, there are enough success stories; the many firsts of courage and conviction; and of breaking out.
Last week, witnessing them adorn the graduation hat and rejoicing in their special moment, was all emotional for me. We were witnessing life-changing breakthroughs as few of them made it to some of the best organisations in the space
The pilot is also an example of industry living up to the goal of diverse and inclusive work spaces.
I am grateful to the industry leaders who welcomed, engaged and helped give life to the idea by opening opportunities for the girls at their wonderful organisations. And now, as I receive some great feedback from them about the girls’ performance at their organisations, all I can see is my girls taking up bigger roles and aspiring for the new unexplored horizons.
Sharing these beautiful words from one of them will keep all of us motivated to push in this direction: “Thank you didi for guiding me on this path. Because of you, I am here. Now other girls in my community who had doubts earlier have got the courage and want to explore the path… ”
May the tribe increase and they inspire hundreds from their community!
Image source: Anjali G Sharma
Present - India Lead - Education, Charter for Compassion, Co-Author - Escape Velocity, Writer & Social Activist. Past - DU, Harvard, Telecoms-India and abroad read more...
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Rajshri Deshpande, who played the fiery protagonist in Trial by Fire along with Abhay Deol speaks of her journey and her social work.
Rajshri Deshpande as the protagonist in ‘Trial by Fire’, the recent Netflix show has received raving reviews along with the show itself for its sensitive portrayal of the Uphaar Cinema Hall fire tragedy, 1997 and its aftermath.
The limited series is based on the book by the same name written by Neelam and Shekhar Krishnamoorthy, who lost both their children in the tragedy. We got an opportunity to interview Rajshri Deshpande who played Neelam Krishnamoorthy, the woman who has been relentlessly crusading in the court for holding the owners responsible for the sheer negligence.
Rajshri Deshpande is more than an actor. She is also a social warrior, the rare celebrity from the film industry who has also gone back to her roots to give to poverty struck farming villages in her native Marathwada, with her NGO Nabhangan Foundation. Of course a chance to speak with her one on one was a must!
“What is a woman’s job, Ramesh? Taking care of parents-in-law, husband, children, home and things at work—all at the same time? She isn’t God or a superhuman."
The arrays of workstations were occupied by people peering into their computer screens. The clicks of keyboard keys were punctuated by the occasional footsteps moving around to brainstorm or collaborate with colleagues in their cubicles. Most employees went about their tasks without looking at the person seated on either side of their workstation. Meenakshi was one of them.
The thirty-one-year-old marketing manager in a leading eCommerce company in India sat straight in her seat, her eyes on the screen, her fingers punching furiously into the keys. She was in a flow and wanted to finish the report while the thoughts and words were coming effortlessly into her mind.
Natu-Natu. The mellifluous ringtone interrupted her thoughts. She frowned at her mobile phone with half a mind to keep it ringing until she noticed the caller’s name on the screen, making her pick up the phone immediately.
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