IIT alumni plan social fund

[News Source: Business Standard]

Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) alumni  plan to create a social fund aimed at supporting various projects that will create job opportunities for rural youth and transform India’s Industrial Training Institutes (ITIs).  PanIIT Alumni, which conducted the PanIIT 2008 Global Conference from 19-21 December, is working on three important projects in India – Indo-US collaboration for Engineering Education (IUCEE)IITians for ITIs, and Reach 4 India.

Quoting from the article about IITians for ITIs:

Ranjan Kumar, coordinator (India), IITians for ITIs project said the project was initiated by IIT alumni in association with Confederation of Indian Industry (CII’s) Southern Region and academia to push for sustainable excellence in technical/vocational training in India by creating institutions similar to the IITs, but focused on vocational education and highly-skilled workers.

As part of the phase I, over the next two years, around 40,000 students will be trained from around 300 government ITI institutes. It has also decided to set up a 24X7 call centre in one of the southern states to connect the workers with the experts and the industry.

This piece of news comes at a time when I have come across two interesting articles. One article published in Businessworld carried the byline “As IITians bring global glory, bright engineers from lesser-known institutes build the country.” Though the article was more about how engineers from “second-rung” colleges were the ones actually contributing to India’s infrastructure, it does bring questions related to contribution of IITians towards their nation’s growth. The second article is about a survey conducted by IIT alumni.

The brain drain has stemmed to a great extent, even leading to claims of reverse brain drain. I feel that the social entrepreneurship sector in India has just started gaining momentum and could benefit a lot by the entry of experienced IIT alumni and also of socially concious new passouts. In this context, I find initiatives like E4SI (Engineers For Social Impact) and MADD (Making A Difference Differently) trying to ensure that social development space gets the top talent it requires.

Aiming for 100 Million

Many people dream, but some people dream big.  Dr. Ashok Khosla is one of those that dream big – but also puts the dream into action.  As founder of Development Alternatives, Khosla plans to bring wide-scale employment to India’s rural areas.  IndiaWest reports:

“Poor people are seeing more products, but have little access to them. The poor do not have purchasing power,” said Khosla, the 2002 winner of the United Nations’ Sasakawa Environmental Prize, and the Schwab Foundation’s outstanding social entrepreneur award in 2004.

The Technology and Action for Rural Advancement (TARA), a partner of Development Alternatives, is a social enterprise focusing on standardizing “technology packages, which offer training, technical support, financing and marketing assistance to small enterprises.”  TARA’s products range from paper to textiles to cyber-kiosks.  Khosla aims to create 100 million jobs by 2018 through these micro-factories – no easy feat, considering that the organization claims to have created 3 million jobs in the last 15 years.

More importantly, the initiatives are created in a way that the villagers benefit above all.

In a typical model, the village will form a cooperative to purchase the equipment needed for the project, and determine wages for the workers, typically slightly above the area’s minimum wage. Development Alternatives’ social enterprise arm, Technology and Action for Rural Advancement, markets the products created by the villagers.

Tracking TARA’s progress in the next decade will be interesting and may provide further evidence of the impact of social enterprises and employment generating activities.

TC-I Tidbits

Your daily dose of headlines:

  • Energy: Four ultra mega (super duper?) power projects have been greenlit by the Indian government across the country.
  • Education: Microsoft is investing $20 million in education initiatives in India over the next five years. Along with their current programs which focus on resources and training, the company will partner with state governments to implement national programs.
  • Employment: For technology graduates, according to a study completed by Accenture, India is the place with the most job opportunities this year (with the US coming in second place).
  • Technology: Airtel and Nokia are working together to develop a regional language fonts keyboard. This will allow greater linkages with rural areas.
  • Environment: Concern India Foundation, a non-profit public charitable trust, plans to introduce cloth shopping bags in Bangalore’s major retail stores and shopping destinations. This is just one of the initiatives from the NGO, along with a “Kachra Kumar” competition for children to capture litterers on camera. [Source: Business Standard]

Breaking the First of Many Glass Ceilings

At the first national conference on rural BPOs, as mentioned previously by Santhosh, the real spotlight was on women. Business processing organizations all over the country are discovering that women are just as capable, if not more, than men in completing the tasks related to these jobs.

“We give the same entrance test for both boys and girls and have no gender discrimination in our intake policy. But somehow girls seem to be more successful in our test and 75 of our 125 people are girls,” said C S Gopinath, senior vice-president of HDFC Bank, who set up the bank’s first BPO at Nellore in Andhra Pradesh through its subsidiary Atlas Development Facilitators Company.

In a society where social stigma and family responsibilities are also interrelated factors, all-women BPOs offer an attractive solution.

“Many fathers do not like the idea of sending their daughters to work alongwith boys. And if perchance, any girl goes out with a boy for a movie, the social stigma is so high that the whole village will boycott us. So, it made sense to have a women-only BPO,” said Madhukar Rajagopal, CEO of JSoft.

Gaining a foothold to respectable and skilled jobs within BPOs is a major step forward for women and their employment outlook. As one door opens, many more are sure to follow…

TC-I Tidbits

Your daily dose of headlines:

  • Health: The pharmaceutical industry in India fears that one in five drugs sold in the country are fake. A study undertaken by the by the drug controller general will focus on this.
  • Transportation: India and France on Wednesday signed a Memorandum of Understanding for cooperation in railways, including constructing world class stations, signaling and telecom technologies.
  • Agriculture: The Government of India is planning to set up 30 mega food parks in all the states so that cold chain facilities are available in catchment areas comprising not more than three to four districts. [Source: iGovernment]
  • Employment: There is a mismatch between skills and available jobs, with 80 percent of jobs needing vocational training, and 90 percent of incoming job seekers lacking these skills. While the country needs 250 million skilled workers, only 700,000 have the proper skill sets.

Killing Two Birds with One Stone: Expand NREGA

Last month, we posted about the expansion of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) to all districts in India starting on April 1. Even though the government chose to expand this program, the scheme has its share of pros and cons. A recent article in The Economist highlights the strengths of NREGA as its ability to allow participants to self-select themselves, the fact that the majority of participants are from lower castes, and the impact of the scheme in mitigating migration to urban areas.

On the flip side, there are a number of problems that exist with the NREGA, such as corruption, as Prerna previously highlighted. The Centre for Science and Environment put forth a more detailed policy paper on NREGA, as well as a series of suggestions for improving on the program. CSE suggests not only viewing the Act as a means for employment generation, but also thinking about how this can be linked with local development and creating assets for communities. This is an interesting approach, as it recognizes that while the rural population needs employment, there are also a whole host of other issues that the population itself can help in addressing. NREGA can be expanded not just in numbers, but also in terms of what the program can achieve for the rural population of India.

Another problem that CSE brings attention to is the fact that while 769,582 projects are under progress, only 158,277, or about 21%, are actually completed. Read on for CSE’s recommendations.

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Great Story: The Smartest Unknown Indian Entrepreneur

This story is inspiring on two levels: 1) that contextually specific hiring practices that are counter the norm are not only possible but scalable and efficient and 2) that caring in know way hinders the ability for this company to be a competitive and viable business.

Originally published in Forbes, ThinkChange India picked up the article from The Indian Economy Blog:

In an interesting article on Forbes titled ‘The Smartest Unknown Indian Entrepreneur’ , Sramana Mitra profiles Sridhar Vembu, the founder and CEO of an Indian firm called AdventNet. The firm today, is a ‘100%, bootstrapped, $40-millio[n]-a-year revenue business that sends $ 1 million to the bank every month in profits’.

But beyond the mere profits of the company, it is its hiring practices that deserve the greatest praise.

“We hire young professionals whom others disregard,” Vembu says. “We don’t look at colleges, degrees or grades. Not everyone in India comes from a socio-economic background to get the opportunity to go to a top-ranking engineering school, but many are really smart regardless.

“We even go to poor high schools, and hire those kids who are bright but are not going to college due to pressure to start making money right away,” Vembu continues. “They need to support their families. We train them, and in nine months, they produce at the level of college grads. Their resumes are not as marketable, but I tell you, these kids can code just as well as the rest. Often, better.”