Union Budget: a ‘Rubanomics’ promise on offer for entrepreneurs

It is heartening to see the Union Budget 2014-15, in many ways, being a ‘Rubanomics’ budget — addressing the needs of the new rural-urban India. The government has begun well in recognizing the importance of skill building, entrepreneurship and digital inclusion in driving economic progress, especially rural prosperity.

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In our seven year journey, working with unskilled rural youth in some of the remotest districts of Karnataka, we have come to believe that such interventions have a huge potential to transform and unlock the talents of ‘Rubans’ (our term for the new rural-urban). Today’s Rubans have raw talent, entrepreneurial spirit, aspirations and access to technology. We are very excited to find that many of the initiatives announced by the government are aligned with our own approach towards transforming Rubans and rural India.

The key directions in this budget include:

  • Plans to setup a new multi-skill training program called ‘Skill India’ that will emphasize on employability and entrepreneurial skills. It is heartening to note that entrepreneurial skills are being seen as a key employability trait. In our experience with skilling, we have found that over 20% of our rural trainees want to start their own ventures. Building entrepreneurial talent should become a key component of employability skilling, as India needs more job creators, not merely job seekers, to progress ahead. In fact, at Head Held High Services (H3S), we are fortunate to have the wise counsel of people like Prof. Saras Saraswathy, listed among the top entrepreneurship professors globally and currently the Jamuna Raghavan Chair Professor in Entrepreneurship at IIM-Bangalore, to help us create effective curriculum for teaching entrepreneurial thinking as a key employability skill.
  • Rs 100 crore for Employment Exchanges into Counselling Centers: Employment Exchanges might no longer be just traditional job-seeking centres but a single window to provide career counselling, placement services and apprenticeship to the youth. Our philosophy at H3S is that we help in career discovery and not just provide placements. We have a dedicated career services team which ensures that our Rubans have the right role-talent fit, and handhold them towards a growth path that will make them into better professionals. It is remarkable to see the government’s shift in focus from giving jobs to career discovery and growth.
  • Rs 100 crore to set up a ‘Startup Village Entrepreneurship Programme’ — a timely initiative that will encourage rural youth to become entrepreneurs and not just self-employed individuals. In a recent survey conducted by H3S, covering entrepreneurs in North Karnataka across sectors and products, we found that the biggest issues were around a lack of ecosystem to foster entrepreneurship – in terms of motivation, mentoring, ideating and access to markets. In fact, we have seen through our partnership with the Karnataka Government to build ‘AntarPrerana’ district-level rural entrepreneurs networks, how the government, banks and  other stakeholders can come together to strengthen the rural entrepreneurial ecosystem. So we believe that the Startup Village Entrepreneurship Programme should look closely at developing the ecosystem rather than just funding entrepreneurs. The proposed district level Incubation and Accelerator Programme can actually set-up physical incubators in rural taluks, to act as a support to accelerate entrepreneurship.
  • Rs. 200 crore allocation to create a technology centre framework that will promote innovation, entrepreneurship and agro-industry. Did you know that over 100,000 innovations have come from rural Indian school dropouts? A good majority of these brilliant ideas and products are yet to be recognised across the country. The National Innovation Foundation has taken the onus to bring to light a database of about 140,000 innovations mostly from uneducated innovators. These innovations address India’s myriad problems. Rubans are looking for the right platforms, education, networking opportunities as well as funding to realise their dream. We believe that with this step, the government should be able to provide the necessary support in this direction.
  • Rs.200 crore to encourage startups by youth of SC/ST. Though we follow a caste-neutral policy at Head Held High, we have observed that a large majority of our trainees and entrepreneurs requiring support are from SC/ST and other backward classes; this fund will go a long way in buffering the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem.
  • The Finance Minister announced the launch of a pan India programme called ‘Digital India’ to provide broadband connectivity and other IT facilities at the village level. The budget has earmarked Rs. 500 crore for a National Rural Internet and Technology Mission for services in villages and schools, training in IT skills and E-Kranti for government service delivery and governance. As a part of our Rubanomics framework, leveraging technology is a key component of eradicating poverty. We have just launched a Digital Inclusion program along with a leading handset manufacturer, an online marketplace and a few telecom operators in a few districts of Karnataka, where we are enabling entrepreneurs to provide inexpensive smartphones with data connections to rural consumers, and training them to use the handsets effectively for improving their lives and livelihoods. The initial feedback from the pilot has been good and we believe that digital connectivity can open up new avenues of knowledge-sharing and income generation for Rubans.
  • The BJP manifesto had talked about ‘Rurbanisation’ and creating Smart Cities, and now the budget has allocated Rs.7,060 crore to modernise mid-sized cities. We believe that there is tremendous potential to construct bridges between urban and rural – we call it as ‘RubanBridge’ to foster trade. We are also thrilled to see that Tumkur, which houses one of our ‘RubanHubs’ with a talent transformation centre and rural BPO, is one of the proposed pilots for the Smart City project.

Undoubtedly, this budget offers a lot to Rubans, and we are excited about the possibilities of truly energizing rural economy by leveraging the power of talent, entrepreneurial spirit and technology!

 

Madan Padaki

Madan Padaki

Madan Padaki is co-founder and CEO of Head Held High Services and previously co-founder of MeritTrac, India’s largest skills assessment company. Madan serves on the governing council of TiE Bangalore and earlier headed Strategy & Innovation for Manipal Global Education. He can be followed on Twitter at @MadanPadaki