All through her business management course, Malvika Dwivedi nursed a void; and hence, she seized the opportunity of volunteering with a few NGOs in the education space during her second year. At this time, her eyes were opened to the acute dearth of champions to join and contribute to the social development sector. On her next excursion, she saw, first-hand, that providing vocational training alone was not the end of the road - that development solutions need to be fundamental, and that they need to tackle the problem at the root of it. Meanwhile, Shivani Shah, a major in Film & TV and a minor in Psychology, was left disillusioned by film-making. She realised making a film about issues was not enough; she wanted to be a mover and shaker.
Malvika had a chance encounter with an old friend who immediately introduced her to Samyak Chakrabarty, Founder, Social Quotient and The Green Batti Project(GBP), who happened to be looking for new members for his team, and was enthralled by the prospects. For Shivani, the opportunity came as a wake-up call. Sitting at Marine Drive one night, frustrated with films and not knowing what lies ahead, she noticed a group of old people teaching kids street-children on a bench. That night, she accepted the offer to join GBP to scale it in Ahmedabad.
Thus, 26-year-old Malvika signed on as Project Head in Mumbai, and 25-year-old Shivani was to hold down the fort in Ahmedabad.
The initial idea of GBP came about when Samyak decided to adopt a school in Dharavi, which was about to shut down as the State government decided to stop funding Marathi-medium schools. Samyak decided to raise funds to keep the school running, and this led him to spend a good amount of time with the students.
“These interactions gave him a vivid peak into their lives – formal education still meant a serious lack of exposure; and the mentoring model seemed like the simplest and most impactful way to bridge the gap,” explains Malvika. The idea was to create mentor-mentee relationships that were based on friendship and equality, being non-hierarchical in nature. Their mentors went by a handbook, to hold the sessions.
Soon, GBP went on to collaborate with Teach for India, and mentored the students from TFI classrooms. The focus was on enhancing their participation and confidence levels within the classroom, helping them learn key values such as respect and integrity, enhance emotional intelligence and help them set a vision and goals for themselves. “We wanted to build a relationship of trust between two people who come from completely different backgrounds, by creating this platform for dialogue and meaningful interaction,” she says.
GBP worked with 800 student mentor-mentee pairs across Mumbai, and received overwhelmingly positive feedback from the TFI Fellows, and several mentors and mentees wanted to continue the association long after their designated course of 12 sessions was completed.
An exhaustive impact report collated by GBP to validate their findingsrevealedthat 78percent of the children demonstrated self-efficacy - they felt positive about themselves, felt like someone cared for them and were assertive while taking a stand. Eighty-five percent exhibited leadership skills, showing a positive and optimistic mindset in the face of hurdles. About 70 percent of the children showed evidence of adopting a collaborative approach to problem-solving, displaying tolerance for their peers’ views and the ability to resolve difference of opinion through dialogue rather than conflict. And, overall, there was a decrease in the absenteeism in school and gradual improvement in overall grades.
These outcomes served as a life-affirming case study in the power of mentorship and guidance, especially owing to the rising unemployment rates across urban India.
Today, India has the world’s largest youth population and is on course to becoming the world’s youngest economy by 2020, given that the average Indian will be 29 years old, with more than 500 million people currently under the age of 25. In the National Policy for Skill & Entrepreneurship Development Report (2015), communication, adaptability, cultural fitment, interpersonal skills and integrity & values were skills that employers listed as lacking in two-thirds of the workforce.
“This young demographic dividend has the potential to turn around the existing conditions of poverty and raise standards of living. A significant set of this demographic hails from underserved communities and while the country transitions towards becoming a modern skill-based economy, many are being left behind due to a lack of competent skills,” says Malvika.
The focus for GBP, thus, underwent a stellar shift and transitioned to mentoring unemployed youth, while simultaneously linking them to job opportunities as per their career aspirations. The first part of this shift involved conducting in-depth needs assessments with the relevant stakeholders- the youth, job trainers, employers and NGOs working with youth.
“This process validated the need for mentoring amongst young adults as GBP found that career ambiguity, switching frequently between companies, lack of confidence at the workplace and unrealistic expectations from entry-level jobs were some of the challenges that youth faced,” explains Malvika. The major pain-points listed by the employers were the resulting high hiring and training costs due to high attrition rates.
Based on these insights, the current mentoring model focusses on learning outcomes such as developing growth mindsets, emotional regulation, problem solving, conflict management, time management, goal setting and integrity and values.
“Providing a mentor is meant to help them ease into the job roles and equip them with effective tools and strategies to deal with various challenges on the job,” reveals Malvika. The new mentoring curriculum spreads across 20 sessions..
The mentees and mentors are being mobilised through collaborations with grassroot NGOs and corporates, respectively. A landmark moment in the journey was establishing a partnership with the Pratham Institute in Mumbai and Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) in Ahmedabad.
The for-profit parent enterprise Social Quotient also attracted investment last monthfrom fashion designer Anita Dongre, her son Yash Dongre, and ex-Marico CFO Milind Sarwate. Through their collaborations, GBP is on its way to launching the first cycle with 200 mentees in Ahmedabad and 300 in Mumbai in October. They plan on inducting 200 mentees into the programme every three months, housing the vision to reach out to 18,000 youth by 2018, across six cities. Of this, 80 percent should be employed, or have accessed stable, consistently growing employment opportunities as a result of GBP.
“We are working on the service sector to begin with- hospitality, retail, radio taxi and also will place our mentees with relevant organisations within this sector,” reveals Malvika.
Currently, they are procuring brand sponsorships to fund the venture.
“Our plans are to expand to two more cities next year- most likely Bengaluru and Jaipur,” she lets on. The project's mission is to gradually become more than just a mentoring programme. It is to become a platform that holistically enhances employability, not only through one-to-one mentoring, but also sector-specific training support, access to jobs and access to other developmental resources.