You can take the horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink. You can intimate people of the sordid details of the kind of hardship those around them undergo, but you can’t force them to be moved. Selflessness is not something one can inculcate in people through classes or workshops. Like aptitude, you’re either born with it or not. It’s not something you learn from people or from books. Volunteerism needs to hit home harder with the particular causes it supports before it can be absorbed better into our thinking, lifestyles and disciplines. The spirit of giving back and doing something for others can come only from within. And it can come only when you truly feel for issues, or if you have ever been directly affected by them. The only way volunteerism can be encouraged better is not by forcing it down people’s throats or by ensuring a certificate, but by making it an enriching experience. It needs to be something people look forward to, since in some ways, like leisure, it gives you time to introspect and think. It is also non academic or work related, and takes your mind off the stress surrounding everyday things. Organisations need to plan their framework better, as offering experiences both satisfactory and educative. Through regular and well planned activities, sessions and maybe trips, they need to make their volunteers believe that they’re doing something productive while supporting a cause. Volunteer schedules need to be better planned and more fun. They should challenge faculties, without stressing the volunteers out. Only then will people be motivated better. In our society where everyone is pressed for time and energy, volunteerism needs to emerge as something that throws a gauntlet at people while making it an experience they would cherish. Its pursuit needs to give one the opportunity to learn, discover and grow. Only when volunteerism develops into a space that is considered to do good for both its volunteers and those it supports will it be absorbed into our society. Volunteerism need not be taken as a task. It’s no classroom, there is no pressure and there are no deadlines to adhere to. It should give one the freedom to explore and seek new meanings for oneself. At the same time, it should help one discover those meanings by engaging with people and in discussions that stimulate our energies. Volunteerism has great potential. We need to break stereotypes of how only people who have nothing else to do go ahead to ‘change the world’. Volunteerism can be as much about you, as it is about the people and issues you work with. It also need not be something boring that you want to get over with. As and when organisations manage to redefine volunteerism and people learn to see volunteerism in its true enriching light, it’ll find itself better inculcated in our society. Post By : Lata Jha
Life is no bed of roses. It doesn’t give one too much reason to be happy, and consequently, kind to the world. Or so we at least feel. Which is why, empathy, solidarity, charity and volunteerism are dying arts today. I wouldn’t have the time or inclination to volunteer just to be able to ‘give back to the world’. It would have to do more than that for me. It would have to tap a side to me that I didn’t know of myself. Like any other experience in life, it would have to offer me fruit, not material, but valuable and enriching in some way.
Volunteerism needs to get over its ‘be the Good Samaritan’ policy. It needs to be a learning, educative experience. One would be motivated to try volunteering only if it offered new insights, ideas and the potential to discover. That it helps support a cause along the way would be an added incentive, something I’m sure no one would shy away from. A certificate, most can manage very easily. But experience comes the hard way and lasts for a lifetime.
Volunteerism needs to challenge people, like any other pursuit in life. It needs to make them feel like they have to constantly be on their toes. Volunteerism does not call for a laidback attitude, as one would think. And all this while distancing it completely from academic and job arenas in its approach, to make it fun and vocation oriented. That people have something completely different to look forward to in life at the end of the day, devoid of pressure or schedules, would be an incentive. It would help people de-stress without making them complacent.
On the other hand, volunteerism could often lead to career decisions, show one the way, help one find oneself. One could discover things one didn’t know about oneself, or one had no way of knowing.
Knowingly or unknowingly, volunteerism could also be therapeutic. It could serve as an opportunity for people to move away from things that life is forcibly or normatively encumbered under, and seek new beginnings. It could help them gain something truly priceless while giving back to the world. Volunteerism could also often be about imparting and sharing skills. Painting, singing, dancing, puppetry or gardening, there are so many things so many people want to learn and teach, but have not had the time or chance to. Volunteerism could end up making you feel better about yourself and help a few others, and give you an excuse to do something you love.
In other words, one expects volunteerism to have a purpose beyond the goodwill factor today. One expects value and experiences for one’s time. One expects challenges and lessons. It’s not about the selfishness that one would think is creeping into something as ‘noble’ as volunteering, but the fact that times, needs and attitudes have changed. Just like organisations require more involved, conscientious and enthusiastic volunteers, people themselves seek more constructive experiences while volunteering. You give some, you gain some.
By : Lata Jha
If selflessness were a human embodiment, it would be an honest, upright cop for sure. So difficult to find, you’d think their kind is almost extinct, except for the potboilers. Society today has long moved from its selfless instincts. Volunteering, from what I can guess, is a little more than getting a certificate. It is mandatory in certain places and that is the only reason people make an effort. And why would someone like you and me want to devote a substantial amount of time to something that hardly seems to reap anything for us? We are all already pressed for time. There’s enough stress already with school, college, work and commitments at home. Doing the good deed can always wait for a more convenient time. One doesn’t have to kill oneself for the good of the world is what most would think.
And even if life isn’t that stressful, one always has better things to do. Volunteering is not something one would give priority to, simply because it doesn’t tend to take us anywhere. We’re all for the uplift of the world, and we might even pledge our financial support. But our time and effort are not things we can promise.
What can be done to promote volunteerism?
- Charitable and non-profit organisations should today try and go beyond the do-good-be-good formula. They need to make it exciting and challenging for volunteers and for those they serve. Volunteerism doesn’t have to be about being good and selfless in a boring way. It should give as much of a chance to learn and discover as any other pursuit.
- Field trips could be an exercise. If it’s an NGO that works with kids, for instance, both the children and the volunteers would enjoy some time out. They should try to do something that is not gruelling or heavy on the pocket; a trek maybe? Or an excursion to some place little known. It would involve research, not much else.
- Organisations that promote creativity (in any form) should plan exhibitions, of paintings, photos. There should be constant activity involved. Interesting exercises would make volunteers feel both involved and upbeat. It would be something they look forward to after school/college/work. Their inputs should be taken, and considered. They should be made to feel part of the cause and endeavour, and not just people there with a purpose. Their selfish instincts should be curbed.
- Volunteers should be encouraged to feel strongly about issues. They should have sessions with the organisation as to how the concern on hand could be tackled in the long run. If for instance, it’s an organisation devoted towards sex workers suffering from HIV/AIDS, they should be encouraged to visit these people, talk to them, report on their experiences. Journals and blogs could be attempted, maybe even cultural programmes for them.
The drain on funds would be a problem for sure. NGOs could possibly join hands for this. They could take one step at a time, moving from community to city to country. The kinds of causes they espouse certainly deserve attention. And volunteerism should be a lot about feeling one with the cause, working for and towards it, and not just for the organisation.
Selflessness is hardly something you can hope to inculcate in people, especially people as strong and driven of our generation. The only way you can get them to join a movement is to make them feel like what they are doing for it counts. Their time counts, so does their effort. It is not something they can abandon and move on after the summer vacation is over. It’s a spirit they shall carry with themselves all their lives.
Post By: Lata Jha
A glance at the National Youth Policy Draft 2012 will tell you how poorly done is The Piece of Policy. With very little focus on enforcing other ministries working with the youth to implement their strategies and recognize different diversities of youth, or implement their programs, the policy formation process is at question. Does holding a bunch of consultations with organizations working with young people qualify for enough representation of the youth? I do not believe so. Moreover, most of the people involved in the consultation process for the formation of the policy come with their respective experience baggage and are not youth themselves – as per how the Indian Government defines young people.
There is a need for a deeper understanding of the needs of young people and a more cohesive process needs to be put into place for the formation of the national youth policy.
Below are 6 ways through which the Indian Government can form a better, more informed and more consultative National Youth Policy in India.
1) Urban youth outreach through social media: If the PMO can reach out to Twitter users for recommendations for a 5th year plan, and if the Justice Verma committee can make use of emails and Facebook for public recommendations on the rape law, the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs can definitely create channels through social media to seek mass recommendations from young people across the country through Facebook and Twitter. Putting out a series of questions that are simplified and put forth in layman language through a period of time can enable various sections of young people to engage with the Ministry and share opinions on what the needs of young people are.
2) Using volunteer forces to do offline consultations: If the Commonwealth Games can create a cohort of over 10,000 volunteers in Delhi alone, I am sure the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs can create a channel of at least a 1000 volunteers in 28 states, who target 100 young people each for a survey with multiple questions. The ministry can make use of Government colleges, Municipal schools and universities to create channels for these volunteers to engage with young people and seek recommendations from them.
3) A team of young researchers for data assessment: Once the data is collected through online and offline channels, a team of young and talented researches who come with the latest knowledge of data assessment can be put to use to analyse this data and come up with the top 20 recommendations that have been most talked about by a majority of young people. Once these recommendations are set in place, they can be worked upon from a policy level, and the National Youth Policy can have more specific expert consultations on these topics to finalize 10 to 15 final inclusions in the National Youth Policy, and put out the draft for review.
4) Regional review groups: Once the draft has been put out and the recommendations have been given to various ministries, central and state governments, the Government can make use of the same volunteer force, or recruit a small regional staff with more expertise who work on a state by state level to review whether the state governments are implementing the policy at their level or not. The sole task of this review group will be to monitor the functioning of the youth ministry cells at the state level and review and asses their performance on an yearly basis. At the end of every year, this group can file a review report to the Ministry of Youth and Sports Affairs about the situation in the respective states, and give suggested solutions to be implemented for a better functioning of the youth policy recommendations.
5) Awareness drive through national, regional and community media: Last but not the least, out of the funds that the Ministry of Sports and Youth Affairs receives, it should set out a chunk of it to invest in awareness drives through national media, regional media as well as community specific media to reach out to young people across the board and inform them about their rights, the facilities offered to them, and the recommendations by the Ministry, and generate interest in civic participation and various other aspects of the National Youth Policy. As is evident from the poll conducted by Youth Ki Awaaz here, nearly 80% young people have no clue that something like the National Youth Policy even exists.
6) Consult youth organizations on setting indicators: This is precisely where experienced youth organizations and NGOs can be consulted. The National Youth Policy needs to work on certain indicators and criteria for the survey, and the above 5 points should be used to collect the exact needs of young people against these indicators.
It’s high time young people are given opportunities and platforms to become better and more informed stakeholders in the way the democracy functions.
Post By: Anshul Tewari
As a citizen of the country I was amused to know that my government has a policy relevant to the youth – National Youth Policy of India. Naturally, I was intrigued to know more about it. To start with, I did a Google research on the policy. The results were varied and primarily related to the media coverage of unveiling of the NYP by Minister Ajay Maken a year back. There were few results about the change in the draft of the policy or related news. This was not to say that I couldn’t obtain a copy of the NYP 2012 from the Youth Affairs and Sports ministry website.
When you read the NYP 2012, in the very initial pages (it is just 27 page long policy) you will notice that it is a bit progressive as it acknowledges youth with diverse background and does not consider youth of the nation as a homogenous group. It clearly divides youth in three age brackets- 16 to 21 years, 21 to 25 years and 26 to 30 years. The earlier version broadly considered people in the age group of 13 to 35 years as youth- in some parts of the country father and son- both- could be part of the same ‘youth’-ful group. This is not the case in the present draft and it clearly acknowledges that people from different age groups have different problems to which the ministry needs to cater. It also acknowledges that urban youth has different needs when compared to rural youth, and similarly tribal youth will have different needs from the other two brackets. But that’s all it has to offer. There are hardly proper implementation policies suggested by the makers of NYP 2012.
It is important to note that although this policy states that it is consistent with other national policies and plans, it is difficult to believe as no other ministry recognises youth in the same manner. This policy does no good for the same as it hardly suggests any concrete plan to convey its fundamental values to other ministries. It has a few general ‘instructions’ but no plans. How do we expect the other ministries to treat the youth in a better way if they do not even acknowledge the soul of NYP 2012? We cannot have a good future with such oxymoron in the system.
Interestingly the ‘Thrust Areas’ section of the policy picks few interesting points but is not able to suggest proper implementation policy. For instance in section 7.1- titled ‘Promotion of National Values, Social Harmony and National Unity’-, it acknowledges that it is important to instil a feeling of security among people from different religious and social background. But in the ‘Policy Intervention’ section of the same it has practically no suggestion to make! It says,
a) Initiate affirmative and positive action to ensure that our cherished national values are regularly fostered in all young people, especially among members of the large youth volunteer force working under the aegis of leading youth development agencies of the country.
b) Take appropriate initiatives to prepare young people as crusaders of these values that are crucial not only for national harmony but also for instilling national identity. While macro-level action can set out broad policies and directions, it needs to be recognised that local level action can bring in better and more enduring results. Youth clubs and large volunteer force available with the youth development agencies can play a pivotal role in this endeavour.
With due respect to the makers of the policy, I want to ask one word question for both ‘a’ and ‘b’ of Policy Intervention: “How?”
Can using words like ‘initiate’ and ‘appropriate initiatives’ address serious issues of social inclusion, which also includes issues like ghettoization of different communities? How can one bring a young person from a ghetto area to the mainstream? It suggests ‘Youth Clubs’ can play a pivotal role. Shall I not consider this solution extremely ‘broad’ in its approach?
A proper solution demands proper research, which this policy lacks. For the same point it should have a detailed plan for different ministries (Ministry of Minority Affairs, Ministry of Tribal Affairs et cetera) to ‘initiate’ proper plans for the youth to join the mainstream. We cannot expect such a huge task to happen in vacuum, without the support of other ministries.
Another observation which one makes is for the focus areas it acknowledges. The NYP 2012 acknowledges, primarily, skill development and sports as its focus area. Not that I do not support sports, but I do not see any other more prominent issues given proper focus in the policy, although it talks about all the key issues concerning the youth of the country. But it is only to cover them for the heck of covering them as must be the customs of policy formations.
The policy, it seems, was made in haste. As a young citizen of the country I not only demand but deserve a better policy. I do not need 27 pages of theory alien to me. I need plans for my brethren across the country. I need a proper plan for Raju whom I met only once at my native village. I need a proper policy for Chotu and Aarif whom I have met numerous times. It’s high time we have issue driven policies in the country.
An, by the way, does any one of you know why the Youth Affairs minister has to be the Sports minister as well? Let me know if you have an answer.
Post By: Nihal Parashar
National Youth Policy of India is supposed to provide guidelines to different ministries and official bodies to initiate a process of inclusion of youth of the country from varied backgrounds to mainstream. Larger question which lies in front of us is if it has been able to do so? But before analysing its implementation we must also analyse the focus of the Policy.
The policy starts with a quote from Swami Vivekanand. The historic quote from one of Swami’s many lectures goes like this,
“Young men, my hope is in you. Will you respond to the call of your nation? Each one of you has a glorious future if you dare believe me. Have a tremendous faith in yourselves, like the faith I had when I was a child, and which I am working out now. Have that faith, each one of you, in yourself—that eternal power is lodged in every soul—and you will revive the whole of the country.”
This quote addresses the ‘men’ of the country, but shouldn’t it also be addressing the needs of women and the third gender of the country. Swami Vivekanand has his hope in the young men whom he rhetorically asks to respond to the ‘call of nation’. As a matter of fact, he spoke decades back in a different context. Quoting him here is certainly out of context. One cannot start a policy on youth with reference to men alone.
When we look at the undercurrents of the policy, we find the focus area of the policy is concentrated around skill development and sports. It talks about other focus areas too, but is unable to suggest proper policy intervention. For instance in section 7, titled Thrust Areas, it talks about various issues of grave concern. Section 7.9 talks about the evil practices in the society. It goes like this,
7.9 Social justice and action against unhealthy social practices
a) There exist certain unhealthy social practices like dowry child marriage, female infanticide and honour killings and decisions by Khap Panchayats which need to be addressed.
a) The task of rooting out long-embedded unhealthy social practices from the community requires concerted local action through a sustained programme of education of the community people and dialogue with leaders and elders. The role of voluntary organisations working in the community and officials of various related departments is also crucial and should be adhered to.
This section talks about serious issues which require proper planning and strong will to ensure implementation. But the policy sums up the intervention in just two sentences. The mention of voluntary organisations working in the community is too broad to give a crucial role to tackle the problem. These are deep-rooted problems that require an analysis to suggest a proper implementation policy for the same. It could have suggested a plan of creating its own body for the purpose or by creating a system which involves other ministries as well. This will certainly require hard work on part of Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, but complex problems require solutions that are practical.
India’s youth face numerous problems and education is a major concern. The age bracket of 16 to 30 years comprises of almost all the matriculation students, intermediate students, graduation and higher studies students. The policy does not discuss about the students in a detailed manner. There is a mention about the education scenario in the country, but with no proper planning. Given the dropout rates in school and colleges across the country it was important to have a detailed plan to seek assistance of relevant ministry to minimise the dropout rate of young students. For this proper budgeting is required. Infrastructure of academic institutions is of a major concern as well. NYP needs to have a detailed plan for the same as well.
It is surprising that the policy never discusses budgetary allocation for various plans it mentions. By reading the youth policy one wonders how we can achieve such a humongous task with no discussion of monetary transaction! It needs to give guidelines for budgetary allocation for not only for plans related to the education but also for various youth club it mentions which are required to bring together the youth from diverse background to mainstream. The youth club it mentions has no resources and it is difficult to even imagine how they can take care of tasks related to the youth across the country.
Towards the conclusion of the policy, you see a few mathematical equations being solved only to realise that it is Youth Development Index, YDI, which is based on the model of Human Development Index, HDI, with a few new components in order to cater to the needs of the youth. There is no way one can comment on the YDI as there is still time for it to prove its consequences. It aims at providing data to central government, different state governments and civil societies ‘to ascertain the status of youth vis-à-vis the systemic dimensions which influence their growth and empowerment’. The statistical equations are, it seems, too broad and generic in nature to give a clear picture of the development of youth pan India.
All this help us to analyse that the focus of NYP 2012 is quite defocused and there is an urgent need to rectify it. It becomes important to understand that there is a need of inclusion of civil bodies in the policy making process. By civil bodies I mean people who have worked hard with the youth of the country in different sectors. There can be sub-policies for the three age brackets NYP 2012 suggests. Accordingly different civil bodies need to work with respective age brackets. For instance, the age bracket of 16 to 21 years requires experts from secondary and higher secondary education background. Similarly the age brackets of 21 to 25 years and 26 to 30 years will require experts from University education, skill development sector and other relevant bodies who have been associated with the concerned youth for a long time.
A better system and society for youth of the nation will ensure a better future of the country. It is an urgent need for intervention by people of the country so that we have practical/implementable policies with better implementation strategies.
Post By: Nihal Parashar
In 2010, during one of my corporate film shoots in Delhi, I had come across a woman in a slum. She had six daughters and was trying to send one of them (who was 8-year-old) to the area known for prostitution. It was poverty that demanded this sacrifice, in order to feed five others. She was also pregnant. When I asked her, what about the little life breathing inside her, she had said, ‘If it is a girl again this time, I will strangle her the minute she is born.’
I remember; everything had changed for me after that incidence. I was turning 24 then.
Within 45 minutes, I decided to start a creative arts school for the sexually abused girls (even by their fathers in a nearby slum) in the area. I didn’t know about changing the world or zilch about the non-profit sector, but I could “at least start”. Thus, Protsahan India Foundation was born as a one-room creative arts centre for educating the girl child in the ghettos. Within a month, we got the organisation registered with the Govt. of India.
Now, each day as I walk past those slums in Delhi, it saddens me to see hundreds of neglected children, most without mothers, some sexually abused by their fathers, women who don’t understand the concept of sanitary napkins.
Start Up Challenges at Protsahan
It took me 8 months to decide on using arts as a curriculum for creative design based education. Rote learning/school education solely would have never made sense to a child raised in the street.
Today, when The World Bank, United Nations, Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), Indian Television Academy, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Australia India Youth Dialog and other organisations of national and international repute recognise us, we feel proud and see it as a beginning. The only thing that worked in my favour was conviction.
Evolution, Innovation and Growth
Our sole mission is to encourage creative education and skills development through creative design thinking approaches for at-risk/abused/special children for whom it could always be only a dream. So, we started using simple techniques, but with a difference. For example:
- We made a traditional Indian art form to be recreated using coffee powder for special and autistic children.
- We used creativity and design to work with survivors of trafficking and abuse.
- We used scrabble to teach them English, cartoons and photographs to keep the interests alive, game and art based education, digital storytelling to make teaching a fun process.
Scale or Empathy?
We want to work with every child, and so obviously I am asked about the scalability and replicability models. It is the process which is unique at Protsahan. Only when you have the learning to deal with one child, all inclusive, can you reach numbers in the right way. We see government schools all over. It’s replicable, right? But, where is the empathy, creativity and connect? I remember, how one social venture capitalist had expressed desire to ‘invest’ in Protsahan, and when we met, the first question he asked me was, what would be the ROI (return on investment) that Protsahan could give him when he ‘invested’ in a sexually abused child. I stood up, paid for my coffee bill and left. I was 25 then.
At the global level, it is highly unlikely that the millennium development goals will be achieved with the clichéd approaches and resting on only what the public sector has to offer. The governments, more often than not, have failed to deliver highly innovative solutions. They however can scale up approaches that work. We are a non-profit organisation and we count our revenue in terms of number of lives we have impacted and transformed for the better. I call it the gross happiness index.
It takes more than just grit and gumption to get an organisation up with strong fundamentals. It takes humility blended with some assertive passion. It takes missing out on those occasional tea sessions with your retired father, it takes you staring right in the eye of your own vulnerabilities, yet defying the world, getting judged and not being scared of what the world would think, taking decisions which you know are just and fair, unknowingly scaring the men you could date at 24 with your work. It takes too quick a growing up of that girl inside you. It takes learning what detachment truly is, because people come, add a bit to your dream and go. In the end you have: the credits, failures, learnings, laughter, the shirking of those slight tears when you see a young one you taught for 2 years being sexually tortured by her father. At times like those, you know that no matter what, your strength wouldn’t falter and the seeds of encouragement you once had sown would continue to nurture many generations to come.
Post by:Sonal Kapoor
When I was leaving school, my principal had written in my diary, “You will take the road less travelled and it will make all the difference”.Back then, I was moved to read that line written by her – a line from one of my favourite poems. Today, I understand the essence and significance of those words.
The road less travelled is intriguing, exciting, adventurous, and scary. While there are new discoveries, there is also a ruthless sort of restlessness that pushes you to go on. That, is the source of my energy. There is comfort in simplicity and gratefulness for life.
I have always listened to my heart. Most of the times it guided me right, and some few odd times, it put me in the most difficult of
situations. The decision to start Happy Hands too, was led by the heart, and in five years, I have faced all varieties of situations – difficult,humbling, and most importantly, inspiring.
I started at a time when efforts for reviving crafts was not an advisable (read lucrative) career option, and had little to do with Management- my field of study. With no formal education in Design, I felt myself drawn to the beauty and sheer magic of handcrafting a product. The first question most friends would ask me would be : “…but how will you do it…”. I did not know the answer then, and I do not know it now.
There was no ‘plan A or B or C’ – there was only a conviction, and the determination to change. Friends came forward to help, and I
continued to meet people who are our biggest support systems now. Fundraising was the biggest problem – how would we pay people,rentals..etc. but our artists understood it all too well. They were our initial supporters – we would make products together, and sell them together.
None of this was easy – while new relationships were formed, existing ones were put to test. The one thing about being an entrepreneur is,you realise who your true friends really are – the ones who share the happiness of success are few in number, the ones who understand the risk of failure, even fewer.
There are several choices one is constantly faced with, but being a woman makes it easier – we are naturally inclined towards multitasking.
In the course of running an organisation, I have learnt how to budget, recruit, design, travel on minimal resources, and how to function with no sleep, but occasional dreams. By most importantly, I have learnt about people and their traditions or cultures; I have learnt patience, and I have grown – not just as an entrepreneur but as a human being. It’s not crafts that I work to restore – I work to bring back the dignity in the
life of a craftsman/artist. I seek to enable our own countrymen to recognise and include the traditional arts of our nation into their lives, so craft can thrive again – so artists can feel ‘wanted’ again.
Time has played a strange game of sorts. While we have moved on to better technology, infrastructure and opportunities, our villages (most of them) remain without any proper access to Internet services even!
Today we have a larger team, and our programs and impact have only increased over the years. We have always been an all-girls
organisation. Not by plan, of course! We learnt to lift our own cartons, and manage our logistics. Yes, our parents have stayed up nights waiting for us, but we ourselves were never concerned about our safety. Somehow, work always came first.
It is the small experiences which have made us who we are – we continue to struggle, laugh at our mistakes, and then make some more.
Today, in retrospect, I am thankful to the people who supported us, and also to those who didn’t because they taught us some very
important lessons. The struggle continues, as does the madness – and I wouldn’t have had it any other way!
Post by: Medhavi Gandhi
“Social Entrepreneurs act as agents of change in society, creating interventions for betterment of society and women play a key role in the whole process. While gender differences might come into play where the magnitude and scale of enterprise is concerned, this is by no means an index of the success of the enterprise. Women entrepreneurs are equally successful and create big impact on society.
‘Skills for Social Enterprise’ is one of the key areas that British Council India is keen to embark upon. The Council has long showcased best of UK innovation and creativity in diverse areas through its programmes. What is now required is to inspire, support and develop next generation of women social entrepreneurs and through their systems and products, deliver wider benefits to the society. This week through Youth ki Awaaz, our partner in this campaign, we will focus on key challenges that young social entrepreneurs specifically women face in their journey…..”- Dr. G.S. Gujral, Head- Society (India), British Council.
Enterprise gains stage in strange ways. A guy who can’t afford a tea stall sets up a kettle and a dozen cups in the space that is a wall crack. Youngsters who can’t voice their opinions in the mainstream take up blogging, social networking and uploading their own videos. All it takes is courage and conviction, you’d think?
Easier said than done, though. If how you were and what you did were the only determinants to your success, no diligent student would ever sit down and cry with a paltry 85 per cent in his boards, no dancer would ever impair his limbs and no chef would ever burn his best tested recipe. There is a lot more to success that has to do with your destiny, the pressures around you, your lifestyle and circumstances, and the attitudes and mindsets you have to deal with in the race for that red ribbon.
Women social entrepreneurs around us are much lesser in number than one would wish for. Start ups are anyway a risky business idea. And women, most people think, are not meant for adventure. Theirs is the comfortable space, homemade snacks; teaching or embroidery classes are as ambitious as they can get about ‘doing their own thing’. Going beyond those would make men in their lives uncomfortable. It seems they are only well-suited for the parties and wedding, taking care of children and nursing their wounds. It is assumed that other things in her life can wait.
The firm strides women take towards empowering themselves are testimony to an evolving society at the heart of which are strongly unchanging, unwavering prejudices. Most jobs, including corporate ones, have a strong male bias and are structured to eulogise men and their superior status. A woman has to struggle twice as much to make it big in the same space. The frequent long working hours, the workload and the stress that often get to one are not considered a woman’s cup of tea.
As deep as we may search for answers to this, there is pretty much only one underlying reason. Our patriarchal system may give a woman the liberty to follow her dreams, but not the space to chase them. Unfortunately, there is nothing to keep her motivated. Top positions in corporate spaces are reserved for men (or so it seems). She isn’t seen as a leader or a role model. Also, most don’t like working under a woman boss, especially men whose ego would get bruised beyond imagination.
We don’t see too many women entrepreneurs, or at least, too many successful women entrepreneurs because somewhere while chasing their dreams, they’re pulled back and made to fulfil her duties even before she can get her plan to be a successful social entrepreneur in place. Work is always secondary, and when it happens, a woman is made to feel like it’s some rare gift she’s been blessed with. It is not banal, normal or even acceptable. It is not done when she starts to or desires to give it as much time and attention as her home and family.
The fact that apart from men, most women today themselves look down on other women who seem ‘too big for their boots’ is proof enough of the mindsets we grapple with.
Not that women haven’t already done it, but it would take a lot more women with passion and conviction to change this. From education to voting rights, we got it all for ourselves. We’ve always been multitaskers; we just need to fight a little harder to make our place. Remember: it’s never too late.
As an 18-year-old, Ritesh dropped out of college to focus on his startup. Amongst many challenges he faced, from deciding to drop out, to living away from his parents in a city nearly 12,000 kms away from his, he had to make tough choices early on. His courage and determination to start up and become a successful entrepreneur were unshaken, and I remember, every time I would meet him, he would be budding with some new idea to scale up his hospitality startup super fast. Soon after realising that he needed more funding, he also realised that investors doubted him for his age. They doubted him for the challenging decision he took of dropping out, and was made to face hardships in proving himself.
I remember going through a similar journey myself, starting out when I was 17. Walking into plush corporate offices and institutions, and being told that I was just a kid who they did not want to entertain or could not trust was not an end to my turbulent start. I was made fun of and told that my business idea was too naive. I remember a CEO of a reputed mobile company questioning my intentions as he believed that at 18, all that an Indian teenager with a business idea like mine wanted was to get rich quick.
India’s demography puts us in a brilliant spot. With over 60 per cent population falling in the bracket of youth, it gives us immense opportunity to follow our dreams and quite literally, reform the democracy with our ideas and passion. But ironically, this is the very demography that does not have a support systems in place to allow them to follow their entrepreneurial dreams. The lack of will to invest in young people, and being constantly told to follow safe career options, cripple the desire of young people to become enterprise leaders. As a young entrepreneur, you will hardly find people ready to invest in your idea or your vision, or give you any credibility for your work and efforts. Constructive criticism is one thing, discouraging is another, and many a times, discouragement was what I had to go through for the first four years of my journey as a young entrepreneur.
While Silicon Valley has a support system, and respect for entrepreneurs who follow their passion, the Indian enterprise ecosystem leaves very little or no space for a young person to pursue their entrepreneurial venture full time with support. There is immense family pressure to take up conventional careers and stay in the safer circle.
The need of the hour is to create better ecosystem for young people in India, allow more government backing and create stronger, more innovative incubation centers, which help the entrepreneur scale up, sustain and create great businesses that power our economy. Moreover, there is an immediate need for the society to embrace failure and treat it like an experience that was enriching in many ways. We need to be told to take risks, fail, learn, get ourselves back up and try again.
Ritesh had to struggle for a few years but his courage sailed him through. His startup is now a funded company, and he just became the first Indian to win the Thiel Fellowship of $1,00,000. We need better systems in place to make the journey as beautiful for every teenage entrepreneur.