A Dream Fulfilled, A Future Secured: The/Nudge Gurukul Enables Economic Independence Through Gainful Employment

Atul Satija

India is adding one million people every month to the labour market. Roughly 50 percent come from poor backgrounds; more than 25 percent are school dropouts and 50 percent lack skills to be employable. In parallel, there is a skill deficit of 400 million people in the foreseeable future. The poor continue to remain in poverty, reasons being, high attrition, no career progression, and low productivity due to lack of worth ethics and motivation.

There is significant government and CSR focus on skilling but a majority of the existing initiatives focus heavily on hard skills and do not address the lack of employability and life skills,resulting in high attrition and low productivity. Job skills alone are insufficient to help individuals breakout of the cycle of poverty. For the youth to progress in their careers and earn better wages requires them to have foundational learning along with a mindset to learn, necessitating the need for English literacy, numeracy, digital and financial literacy. This is where we, The/Nudge, a collective of some of India’s best leaders and entrepreneurs, with a dream to see a poverty-free India within our generation, have, through our residential Gurukuls, a 90-day fully residential training programme, builta strong 360-degree life, learning and economic foundations for underprivileged youth, and providing them jobs, along with a lifelong support system. We not only provide the necessary job skills to the underprivileged youth, but also the mindset needed to be employmentready. Our goal is to lead one million people sustainably out of poverty.

We provide job skills in Beautician Services, BPO, Sales/Management, Plumbing, Electrician and BFSI. Ever since we started in 2015, we have witnessed, through our Gurukuls, presently standing at 13, the transformation in the lives of our students. From a state of despair to a confident, ready-for-work individuals who are raring to tackle life head-on.

Every life that has passed through our Gurukuls has a story to tell. Let me share some of them with you here.

Destined for Success: Ayisha
Ayisha is the daughter of a rickshaw puller from Bellary district in Karnataka. She is the youngest among six siblings. She was always good in studies and had dreamt of joining the BPO sector after she learned about the global reach this sector had. Though her father encouraged Ayisha to study, he unfortunately hardly had the means or resources to give her a better education to fulfill her dream with the little he earned every day. His deteriorating health also did not allow him to work too hard.

One day, The/Nudge Gurukul’s community mobilisation team interacted with the community in Bellary. Ayisha’s elder sister, Parveen, heard about the different livelihood courses the Gurukul offered and immediately informed Ayisha. Parveen had seen the earnestness with which Ayisha approached her studies and knew that given a chance, her younger sister could do much better in life. It was only their impoverished state that was holding her down.

Parveen convinced her father and brothers to send Ayisha to Bangalore for the 90 days residential training programme that the Gurukul offered. She believed Ayisha would use this opportunity to finally fulfil her dream of a BPO sector career.

It was initially challenging for Ayisha to adjust to city life and the strict routine at the Gurukul as they were very different from the life she had ledso far, but she soon began enjoying the discipline. Her sister kept encouraging her to focus on the bigger picture. The Gurukul trainers, warden and her batchmates helped her adjust to her new surroundings. She realised the value of leading a routine, organised life at the Gurukul where each activity was well-planned. She made friends and found a new topic to learn everyday. Her English speaking skills improved, as also her numeracy skills. More than anything else, she was now learning the skills needed to fulfill her dream of becoming a BPO sector professional.

The 90 days rapidly transformed Ayisha from a quaint small town girl to a confident individual ready to change her destiny. Ayisha’s hardwork and sincerity was not hidden and led her to be one among the best in her batch, earning enough Karma Points or KP (Reward Point system based on the overall performance of a student in class. Every student is given KP bank balance of 200 KP at the beginning of their stay at the Gurukul) to be in the Dean’s list of students.

Her family couldn’t be happier.

Graduation Day, April 2018:
Ayisha was looking forward to be reunited with her family after three months, and show them what she had achieved. It was an extremely proud moment for her sister, brothers and father when they saw Ayisha walked up to the stage to receive her graduation certificate. She also spoke confidently about financial security that each youngster must consider and plan ahead accordingly. She shared her knowledge about various government schemes she had learnt at the Gurukul that allowed individuals to save for their better future.

Ayisha’s family had come all the way from Bellary to rejoice in her achievements. Her aging father who has now retired did not speak much, but the pride he felt was evident in the way his face beamed with joy.

Her sister Parveen said, “I cannot believe this is the same Ayisha. I am so happy we sent her to Gurukul. She is now a BPO employee.”

Ayisha is now working at Hinduja Global Solutions (HGS) earning a starting salary of Rs.10,000/- per month. This is her very first job. A bright future awaits her.

A Changed Mindset: Rakesh
Rakesh is the only son of an incense stick-maker earning around Rs. 5000-7000/- per month. Rakesh is intelligent but was never interested in studies; given the lack of motivation, good guidance or financial resources. He joined the Gurukul last year mostly to stay away from the constant nagging by his mother to find a job. While the initial days were difficult for Rakesh, the disciplined environment, goal setting and planning support that he received here, transformed his attitude. He became more attentive in class; the repetitive learning made him more comfortable using devices like GPS navigation, and he also became confident conversing in English. He had a natural flair for learning new things.

Rakesh got placed at Uber soon after graduation. He is now one of their most trusted drivers and earns Rs. 30,000/- per month. He says that the Gurukul has taught him the most important habit of saving, which is why he is now saving a little bit each month from his salary to buy a Toyota Etios that he can attach with Uber. This is the first time that someone in his family is earning enough to save and is thinking of ways for financial and personal growth.

Restored Confidence: Amitha
Building up the confidence of its students is what the Gurukul focuses on. Take Amitha’s case. Amitha is from rural Bangalore. She lives with her physically challenged father. His condition prevented him from working, so the onus fell on Amitha to find a job, however low paid it is. She thus had to leave school after Class IX to fend for the family. She got a job as a salesgirl, but her lack of confidence proved to be a roadblock to her achieving more at her workplace. Subsequently, she had to leave the job. A despondent Amitha came to the Gurukul hoping that she would get trained as a skilled beautician thereby enabling her to get a better job and salary. What she did not envisage was the heightened confidence she gained. It was an invigorated and confident Amitha that graduated in June 2018. She was placed in a beauty salon with a salary that can now sustain herself and her father.

A New Lease of Life: Hampamma
Hampamma is 21 years old. She is from a village in Koppal district in Karnataka. She lost her mother at theage of four. A few years later, her father remarried. The extended family increased. She was married off at the young age of 14. This tender bride was severely abused by her husband and in-laws, losing her unborn child in the process. She somehow had the courage to leave her husband and returned to her father’s home, but she was constantly traumatised and severely depressed. She tried to take her own life, but for the timely intervention of one of her aunties who became a source of encouragement to her. She urged Hampamma to enrol herself at the Gurukul and prove to her husband that she was capable of doing anything.

Hampamma did so. Initially, she would be seen crying a lot at the Gurukul, but as time went by, she slowly began liking the atmosphere there and began making new friends and found joy and enthusiasm learning from her teachers. An elated Hampamma graduated in January 2018 and was immediately placed at Aayina Beauty Salon with a starting salary of Rs.7000/- per month.

A Bright Future: Malashree
Malashree is from Lingarajapuram in Bangalore. Her father is a plumber and mother a homemaker. She was in her second year of PUC but had to drop midway due to severe financial constraints. A dejected Malashree was faced with an uncertain future. It was during this difficult time in 2016 that she met our community mobilisation team, came to know of the opportunity being offered for a better future, and decided to join the Gurukul. She was most interested in being trained as a beautician. She was very enthusiastic as she undertook the training. The three months passed by quickly. She graduated and was placed at Bodycraft Beauty Salon with a starting salary of Rs.8,500/- per month.

In the past year, she impressed heremployer so much with her attitude and hard work that she was promoted and given a hike in salary at Rs.15,000/- per month. She has also received two certificates of merit for her performance.

Malashree has this to say about her experience about the Gurukul learning programme: “I like the Life Skills Foundation classes a lot. I used to be afraid of talking to strangers but the Personal Development Class has helped me gain confidence and has taken away my fear.” She also goes on to say that she was never forced to do anything at the Gurukul as all classes felt like a learning that she could immediately apply; be it spoken English, learning to use computers or operating a bank account.

Malashree plans to complete two years with her present employee and then start her own salon along with another Gurukul alumni, Savithri. Meanwhile, she is interested in getting further training as a makeup artist, and in fashion designing. Once she opens a salon, she hopes to employ more Gurukul students asher assistants.

At the Gurukul, the 90-day fully residential programme called Program in Life Management is based on the following foundations:
Life Foundation (40 percent): Personal Development, Career Management, Health Management, Financial Management, Family Management etc.
Learning Foundation (30 percent): English, Math, Digital Proficiency
Livelihood Foundation (30 percent): Theoretical and Practical Training under one livelihood skill vertical -Plumbing, Electrician, Retail Sales, Beautician Services, BPO, BFSI (BPO)

As our model is focused on development of both cognitive and non-cognitive skills, which we believe can be improved through intervention, the trainers also act as personal mentors for the students helping them gain essential life skills like improving communication skills, career managements, improving their self esteem, health and hygiene, financial security etc.

We have a proven track record of placed students with 100 percent job guarantee. 1712 students have graduated till date. We now have an annual run-rate of ~2700 graduates. Our men to women ratio at the Gurukul stand at 47:53, with an urban to rural ratio at 23:77. 65 percent of them were previously unemployed. It is also heartening to know that those who have been employed prior to joining the Gurukul have received a 30 percent increase after completing the training.

In 2018, we plan to graduate a minimum of 5000 students as well as introduce new livelihoods and newcentres.

Through our Life/Guard programme, we also give continuous post-training support on career, health & wealth management to enable our alumni and their families to not just move onto a life of greater dignity and financialindependence, but also stay in it.

These stories can be the story of manysuch young girls and boys who never get the chance to achieve their dreams because of poverty. We are glad that we, at The/Nudge can, through this mission, alleviate poverty sustainably and scalably.

Atul Satija is Founder & CEO of The/Nudge Foundation and Founder 2.0 & CEO of GiveIndia. After 17 years of starting, scaling and turning around various businesses in some of the largest and most respected organisations globally, he decided to start The/Nudge Foundation to fulfill his passion of working on inequality and social issues facing India.
Atul was named in the 40 Under Forty list by The Economic Times in 2017.