A degree arms us with theoretical knowledge and often does not arm us with the skills to survive at the workplace. What if you were equipped to be a part of the economy, and had the skills to respond better and grow faster at the workplace?
Two women were driven by this thought were compelled to work in the field of secondary and higher education. They wanted to improve the current curriculum and get it to focus on life skills that help students to be better prepared when they enter the economy.
Archita Sisodia and Ashwini Krishnaprasad joined hands and started Superheroes Incorporated where they help people grow their potential to create a positive impact in the world. It is also helps them realize and appreciate their inner potential to do good for themselves.
The two have known each other for the past eight years, and share a deep bond. Both did a Gandhi Fellowship for two years, and upon their return to Bangalore, realized that their academic training had not prepared them for the workspace. It was a similar situation that students in rural areas, too, found themselves in.
When they put together their business idea as a whole, it got them to focus on 21st century life skills with ICT (Information, Communication and Technology) at the core of it.
“We strongly believe that we all have the potential to be heroes for ourselves and the world around us. We intend to transform the higher education system by focusing on the current curriculum around life skills for the 21st century,” says Ashwini.
One of the solutions they have come up with is an android app called Skill Up. It enables vocational training students to learn life skills essential for the 21 century. With 15 levels, each increasing in difficulty, it is in turn divided into three stages having 5 levels each. The first five levels are called the Garage Level, the next five are called the Small Scale Industry Level, and the final five levels are called the Silicon Valley Level.
The application focuses on building 6 essential life skills for living in the 21st century economy- flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, social and cross-cultural skills, productivity and accountability, leadership and responsibility, and global citizenship.
Born in Mangalore and brought up in Bangalore, Ashwini describes herself as an independent, curious and rebellious child.
I find it very hard to accept any societal value handed out to me as ‘this is how it is’,
she says. After her B.A. (Hons) in English from Christ University she chose to do the Gandhi Fellowship for two years in rural Rajasthan, in a village called Malasisar.
I remember landing there on the first day, being horrified to be in the back of beyond, and deciding to return back the same day. But the beauty of the havelis soon sank in and I decided to stay. My family has been very encouraging and supportive the whole time and not once did they ask me to reconsider my decision. It was only later that I was told how much my father cried after he saw where and how we lived.
Braving the desert heat without AC or coolers and dealing with the cold at night, she had a tough life. She travelled 60 kms and walked almost 12 kms everyday to reach the village where she had to negotiate with the school headmaster – to train him in leadership skills! “In these two years I learnt to negotiate, execute social interventions, design content, build rigor and excellence. It was like a hands-on MBA program.”
Diagnosed with severe anxiety, she experienced her first panic attack at the age of 15. “The simple question that led me there was what is the purpose of my life? I overcame it with the support of my family, teachers and friends. I also made changes to my life in terms of the effort I put into whatever I did by planning what I wanted from my life and how to get there.”
The toughest battle that Ashwini had on her hands before starting up was the battle in her mind. “This included insecurities and self-doubt over one’s ability, thoughts of success and failure, and even the lack of an MBA degree.”
She has ploughed on with her belief that, “Nothing is impossible. If I want something, I will figure out a way to get it.” She believes that as long as she does her work the stars will align in her favor. It is something she feels applies to everyone and not just her.
Archita hails from a traditional Marwari joint-family where along with their education girls are taught to make perfect rotis at a very young age. While in school Archita excelled in both extra-curricular activities and academics; and for two consecutive years she was the head girl. Having had her teachers’ support and appreciation, she says, “Having teachers who appreciated me and encouraged me made me a confident person. They believed that I was meant for something big.”
Armed with this confidence, Archita reached college only to realize that college was an extremely overwhelming and intimidating a place. “There were a hundred other Architas, much more talented, smart and active; and this made me feel small and insignificant.”
Despite her efforts she did not fit in. But she continued to hold on to the one thing that she loved – dance. She has continued with it all her life. She has been learning Kathak for the last six years and says, “It has added a lot of grace to my personality.”
The Fellowship was her first experience outside her comfort zone. “We were required to work with government school headmasters and develop leadership skills in them for the betterment of the school. I would say, for me, it was a journey within. There were experiences that would upset me immensely, for example: There was a 10 year old who lost her mother at a very young age. Her father worked at a construction site. She has 2 other siblings – one older to her by a year and another 7 years younger to her. For a 10 year old she was an extremely responsible girl who cooked, cleaned, and washed for her family. Was responsible enough to do her homework, and excelled at studies, too.”
I realised I couldn’t change her life; she had made peace with it happily. But it turned out to be a huge lesson for me. It made me more humble and appreciative, and grateful for everything my parents did. It taught me not to complain and crib but to persevere and keep doing what has to be done.
Archita’s toughest challenge has been the decision to not pursue a regular job. “I had to ensure that I remained financially stable. I was 23 when we started Superheroes Incorporated and I had to pick up new skills to bring something concrete to the table everyday.” She did go and join ITI (Industrial Training Institute) to move out of her comfort zone. She even trained students from ITI.
What keeps her going is her interaction with others.
I get my energy from people. I love being around people and working in groups. I look forward to meeting new people, sharing ideas, collaborating on different ideas that is something that keeps me going.
As of now, Ashwini and Archita, make the team but as and when required, they hire consultants and freelancers to work with Superheroes Incorporated on a project basis. For Skill Up, they had a team of android developers from Letz Kitz, curriculum advisors from Quest Alliance and UI/UX designers from Solutions Infini.
They are currently developing the next version of the app to which they have added new features. Positioned as a for-profit social venture, they have been bootstrapping but are now looking for investment. They are meeting investors who are interested in taking this to a higher level.