Rajat Chabba, an MBBS from BJ Medical College, Ahmedabad, was all set to pursue a career in healthcare. An unpleasant event in the emergency room of the hospital he was working at made him realise that some healthcare setups and hospitals are failing horribly at what they’re designed to do. This perturbed him and he decided to work in an environment that wanted to make an impact in the most marginalised sections; Rajat prepped himself with a master’s degree in rural management from the Institute of Rural Management Anand (IRMA). Today, he heads operations at Agrasar.
Agrasar, co-founded in 2010 by Prerit Rana and Chetan Kapoor, is a non-profit organisation working in the field of education, employability, and social security of the disadvantaged communities in India. Swapna Verma, who heads the education programme, Reema Rai, and other team mates at Agrasar have similar stories as well, their decision to bring about change at the grassroots brought to Agrasar. Team Agrasar comprises young, passionate, and dynamic individuals from diverse backgrounds – engineering, social work, psychology, MBA, etc.
The intent and target groups
Swapna talks about Agrasar’s motto, “The founding team’s strong belief in the potential of imparting appropriate self-employment and wage employment skills to underprivileged youth to address the existing employability gap laid the foundation for Agrasar.” Rajat talks about their three pronged approach, “First, enable the youth to lead better lives and earn livelihoods in a more meaningful manner by enhancing their skills. Second, work with children to provide them with an education that would help them expand their horizons. Third, support migrant workers and their families by providing them a platform to lead more dignified lives.”
Working with the community
Agrasar started with skill development, but early on, the field team realised that majority of the students who decided to join the programme at Agrasar were those who didn’t have proper school education, especially primary education. To fill in the gap for the young children from underprivileged sections, the organisation opened a learning centre for children and christened it as ‘Agrasar Bachpan.’
The team at Agrasar believes in working “with the” community and follows a participatory approach towards design and implementation of developmental programs. They tell me, “Hence the tagline – ‘Progressing with the community’.” Prerit adds, “Agrasar means progressive. As an organisation, the sole purpose of our existence is to work with the community and facilitate their growth. Towards the same, it is important for us to be with the people, learn with them, adapt to their needs, and progress along with the community.”
In line with the target groups, there are three main programmes at Agrasar.
– Agrasar Yuva – vocational training for youth to reduce the gap between employment and employability.
– Agrasar Bachpan – remedial and supplementary education for first-time learners in the age group of four to 14 years residing in slums.
– Agrasar Pravasi – integrated development projects focusing on migrant communities.
At present, they have three vocational training centres that provide soft skills, computer skills, spoken English and prepare young adults for the professional work environment. There are two learning centres under Agrasar Bachpan reaching out to over 120 kids. The team at Agrasar is also engaged in various research and advocacy initiatives focussing on migrant communities.
Spreading knowledge in the social ecosystem
Agrasar has also established a centre of excellence (CoE) to share knowledge and skills, gained through experiences in the field, with the larger social development ecosystem – NGOs, CSRs, industry, funding agencies, government and responsible individuals. The CoE focuses on curriculum development, capacity building, research, strategy and operational support.
Rajat says that through their skill development program, they have trained over 3000 migrant youth till date. He adds, “Once trained, these participants either continue in their existing jobs with better perks and faster growth tracks or they join new organisations with greater confidence in their abilities. We have placed around 80% of the trained participants in over 100 different organisations across retail, education, healthcare, security, e-commerce, automobile, telecommunication, banking, beauty and wellness, information technology, BPOs, nonprofit organisations, and various other sectors.” The team reaches out to the trainees after placement, to help them address the new challenges that they face during their jobs.
Reema talks about the impact of Agrasar Bachpan: “The program focuses not only on academic learning but also takes care of the overall growth of the child. The parents are also involved in the overall functioning of the schools and improvement of the operational activities to make them more accountable and empowered. We conduct periodic health camps and also focus on various extracurricular activities for these kids.”
The impact is not just one way, the children impact the team as well. Swapna swells with pride when she tells us about how all these children lead tough lives and yet are eager to come and learn, “I am inspired by the way the kids manage their home as well as studies. Nine-year-old Sonia was a regular child to school till the time her mother left her family for unknown reasons. Sonia was bit depressed and had an additional responsibility of her family as well. She missed her classes. Our team visited her house and interacted with her father. She is now a regular at school, shows keen interest in her classes, and simultaneously takes care of her family as well. Shabnoor (nine years old) and Asha (eight years old) had the urge to learn and they used to attend school with their 1.5-year-old siblings as there was no one at home to take care of them. They used to stand and carry the small child in their arms so that they don’t disturb the class. They used to pay attention to the teacher in that position, rocking the baby.”
Rajat explains the two major challenges and accounts them to the focus areas of intervention and intended target audience. He says that the biggest challenge is the migratory nature of the target group. He elucidates, “Majority of our youth and all of our children reside in slums, which are often temporary establishments and liable to move from one geography to another. A slum opposite to our Agrasar Bachpan centre in Islampur Gaon was demolished within 24 hours of notice by the local authorities.”
The second challenge is to achieve highest quality in terms of impact, despite many constraints and limited resources. Rajat adds, “As an organisation, Agrasar has been designed and envisaged to focus on both the depth and breadth of the impact that we create. Thus, it is important to find like-minded partner organisations as well as colleagues to ensure that the growth in impact is always upwards. We don’t train numbers. We train people. This approach is in the DNA of Agrasar. We will not lose our focus on the depth of impact even if we scale up across geographies in times to come. This for me is the real challenge.”
Agrasar being a nonprofit organisation is currently dependent on institutional CSR funds and individual philanthropic grants for implementing their programs. However, they are gradually morphing into a hybrid operational model that will involve cross-subsidisation of services as well as joint ownership and investments from the community and the industry. Their engagement with the government has been sporadic. Rajat says, “In the past, we have partnered with the government agencies like Employment Exchange for community engagement and mobilisation of youth for vocational training activities. We have also worked closely with Municipal Corporation of Gurgaon for various sanitation initiatives. Although we have participated in few operational engagements till now, we look forward to more sustainable partnership with the government in the near future.”
Inspiration and aspiration
The team draws inspiration from each other and the students as well. One such story is of Parveen who joined Agrasar as a vocational training student, and then started working with Agrasar as a community mobiliser. Today he is an IT trainer. He goes above and beyond to give the students the best possible education because he doesn’t want them to struggle as much as he did.
The team is a tightly knit group who echo each other’s sentiments. They tell us,
There are 50,000 children in Gurgaon who do not go to schools. We dream of teaching all children in Gurgaon by 2020. We aim that each and every child who gets connected to education after much struggle remains connected – be it through Agrasar or any other avenue.