Embassy Group – Equipping Young Girls with Skills to Develop Them Into Confident, Empowered Leaders of Tomorrow

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Shaina Ganapathy

The term ‘empowerment’ comes with a certain amount of historical weightage when put in the context of women. The United Nations’ Third World Conference on Women in Nairobi in 1985 defined Women Empowerment as a redistribution of social and economic powers, and control of resources in favour of women. Coming together to promote gender equality and strengthen women’s rights is essential for sustainable development and aligns with the UN Sustainable Development Goal #5 – Gender Equality. According to the Gender Vulnerability Index (GVI), just two years ago, two-thirds of all illiterate people were women, and more than 65 per cent of people living in the most extreme poverty globally, were women and girls.

At Embassy, we believe that education plays a powerful role in providing women with the knowledge and skills they require to excel in their lives. Our vision is to empower students at government schools with skills for self-development and future employability through holistic and innovative learning programmes. This aligns with our belief that empowering women is key to our nation moving forward; no nation can have a strong economy without the active participation of women.

As per a report on a nationwide study conducted by the National Statistical Office (NSO), India’s countrywide female literacy rate is 70.3 per cent, while the male literacy rate is estimated at 84.7 per cent. The female labour participation rate in India fell to 16.1 per cent during the pandemic.

Women Empowerment is crucial to address this great disparity. Education can be the great equaliser as it enables women to respond to day-to-day challenges more effectively, defy gender roles traditionally ascribed to them, and, therefore, change their lives. 

Uplifting through Education

At Embassy, we believe that education plays a powerful role in providing women with the knowledge and skills they require to excel in their lives. 

Our vision is to empower students at government schools with skills for self-development and future employability through holistic and innovative learning programmes. This aligns with our belief that empowering women is key to our nation moving forward; no nation can have a strong economy without the active participation of women.

We began supporting government schools in 2012. Our education interventions include learning support in English and Mathematics through computers, life skills and sports integrated into the existing school schedule. These programmes are boosted by various extracurricular activities targeted at development on a comprehensive level where students are exposed to social and emotional learning experiences.

A lower socioeconomic background comes with several mental restrictions when it comes to aspirations – either the youth are prevented from dreaming big because they do not have the means to achieve their goals, or they have no idea of the variety of career paths that are available to them. 

We mentor the students; provide them career guidance, scholarship opportunities, counselling, and work placements. As they leave school, we aim to fulfil our mission of ensuring inclusive educational opportunities through our Scholarship Programme. 

A continuing issue we face in our country is the lack of importance given towards educating the girl child. It is almost instinctively assumed that young girls do not need to be educated beyond primary school and will follow the dictum of domestic labour or get married. According to the National Domestic Workers’ Movement, nearly 90 per cent of domestic workers in India are women or girls, ranging from ages 12 to 75; an estimated 25 per cent among them are below the age of 14. Most tasks such as cooking, washing, and cleaning are traditionally seen as women’s work and considered subservient in nature.

Additionally, a lower socioeconomic background comes with several mental restrictions when it comes to aspirations – either the youth are prevented from dreaming big because they do not have the means to achieve their goals, or they have no idea of the variety of career paths that are available to them. 

Our alumni programme – Colours of Life Academy (COLA), was founded in 2012 with support from our NGO partner – Colours of Life. This programme is for students, particularly girls, who have graduated or left Embassy-adopted government schools but would like assistance in terms of fees for higher studies, extra tuition, mentorship, and career guidance. 

Programmes such as this enable young girls who cannot fulfil their education because of economic or social issues to achieve their aspirations through constant and sustained support. They also offer hands-on experiences, like visits to our Head Office and other partner offices in our business parks to give them an idea of the plethora of job roles they can consider striving. 

Recent studies show that over 50 per cent of school-going adolescents have behavioural and emotional problems. As a result, absenteeism is always on the rise. There is a lack of discipline and hygiene and drastic drops in academic performance. To combat these issues and develop confidence amongst the girl students, we – and our partners – LXL Ideas and Colours of Life – created a Life Skills programme for government school students. The course includes components in leadership, public awareness, and talent development, creating opportunities for students to discover and showcase talents, solve educational and personal problems and observe positive changes in their behaviour. 

“When I was in primary school, I would stay in the background as I was too scared to talk and express myself. I did not have the skills required to cope with life. As we grow, so will our confidence. With this course, I have changed considerably. I have come forward because I realise that what I make of my life is in my hands. I used to think that boys come first before girls, but after joining this school, I feel that girls too should come forward. Why should they stay back? There is no difference between boys and girls when they need to express themselves. I am not going to look back. I will keep moving forward. I am going to participate in everything without fear and keep growing.”
Sufiya Banu
Former student – Government High School, Pottery Town
Member of the COLA Programme

The programme helps students foster a culture of caring, social and emotional learning, motivation, and mental and emotional well-being, which goes a long way in facilitating personal growth – a necessity to climb the metaphorical ladder in any career. Ninety-two per cent of our government school Principals noticed a positive behavioural change in students after the introduction of the Life Skills programme, followed by 69 per cent of Principals feeling that the counselling centres had an influential impact on their students. ​

Empowering women also means equipping them with the tools they need to have power and control over their own lives. Women require the possibility to choose what they want to do and give them a sense of ownership and accountability.

Skilling

We partnered with Technique Control Facility Management (TCFM) and Mentric Solutions to curate a Facility Management Skilling Programme for government school students. The programme aims at enhancing employment opportunities and arming our alumni with the skills and knowledge to join the workforce. Upon completing a four-month training course out of a state-of-the-art practical training centre customised by TCFM, the upskilled students were awarded well-paying jobs in the Embassy Group and its partner organisations.

Enabling young girls to find job opportunities and making them monetarily stable gives them certain freedoms they are far less likely to have otherwise. 

To date, we have provided jobs for 13 alumni from our government schools within Embassy and TCFM, with an additional 16 students currently being placed. We are now mentoring 22 girls, and 73 of our alumni are working in IT, real estate, facilities management, tailoring, and beauty parlours.

“After joining this training programme, I have learned a lot of new things. It helped enhance and improve my skills, my behaviour and my attitude. The trainers are amazing and teach us very well.”
Raziya Banu
Mentric Skilling Development Trainee

Empowering women also means equipping them with the tools they need to have power and control over their own lives. Women require the possibility to choose what they want to do and give them a sense of ownership and accountability. To facilitate this, we offer funding to young girls who want to join Yuvalok Foundation’s six months Skill Training Tailoring Programme. At the end of the training, the girls are equipped with the skills and certification to join a garment factory or start their small tailoring business. We also give them a new sewing machine once they complete the course. Six of our COLA students have been attending the programme for the last two months. 

Health and Infrastructure

The gender ratio in our country is skewed as the polarity is leaning more towards males than females. Our patriarchal society leaves little room for females to have opportunities to study compared to their male counterparts. Most often, the ones enrolled in school do not continue to pursue their education for several reasons. Shortage of safe and sanitary bathrooms and washing facilities is one of the leading factors preventing girls from attending school. To combat this, we provide sustainable infrastructure facilities with the help of our corporate partners that include bathrooms and handwash stations with the provision of clean water and soap. Our engagement goes beyond building these resources and on to the continual maintenance of 19 government schools. 

A research documentary filmed in 2019 threw light on school drop-out rates in India. About 23 per cent of girls drop out of school annually after they begin menstruating due to a lack of sanitary napkins and overall hygiene awareness. Lack of reproductive education leaves 71 per cent of girls unaware of what takes place in their bodies during menstruation. 

As part of our health initiatives, we regularly provide health kits to government school students. These kits contain health and oral hygiene products. In September 2021, we distributed 23,460 sanitary napkin packets with the health kits in our government schools in Bangalore.

As we work towards building stronger and more equitable communities, it is crucial to realise that the key to achieving women empowerment in India requires education from the ground up and a buy-in from all stakeholders. It is vital that corporates that can initiate powerful conversations and spur concrete solutions prioritise providing opportunities for young girls to pursue their education and a career of their choice, regardless of their social, economic or cultural restrictions. 

Pandemic Causalities 

The COVID-19 pandemic had life-altering effects worldwide, but the hardest hit were people living on the lowest rung of the socio-economic ladder. As schools started to shut following quarantine and lockdown protocols, the reliance on EdTech increased exponentially, and online classes became the new normal. It was a huge problem for government school students, mainly because they lack the resources.   

The families of those who attend government schools often only have one multimedia device, which is less likely to be given to their girl children to use for online classes, especially if they have school-going brothers. In the northern district of Bangalore, headmasters and headmistresses of government schools report that it is difficult to carry out online lessons in this regard. 

Additionally, many of the families in Bangalore had moved back to their villages where they were hard to reach. The migration became a roadblock between the teachers and the students. In collaboration with our NGO partner, Colours of Life, we assisted our government schools through a digital engagement platform called Sputnik. The project aimed to supplement the Department of Education’s online learning channels by delivering engaging academic activities to students utilising simple technology platforms. This initiative ensured there was some degree of syllabus continuity during the pandemic. We were able to reach 3,533 students.

Our NGO partner, Room to Read, collaborates with local governments, schools, communities and families to support girls to reach their full potential. We support them with their Literacy Programme libraries in Karnataka and Maharashtra. 

The programme offers strategies to support distance learning that proved successful at the outset, such as creating and sharing hard copy learning materials, providing literacy content through different modes such as radio and TV, sharing our curriculum and Literacy Cloud with teachers, schools, the government, and providing individual remote and in-person mentoring and read-alouds to a myriad of students.

Room to Read also runs a Girls’ Education programme through the Literacy Programme libraries project wherein digital content is created for adolescent girls, parents, teachers and wardens to provide thought-provoking content for learning, including newsletters in Hindi, Telugu and Marathi, worksheets, and podcasts. 

These components are curated to help girls develop a broader perspective on diverse topics from science to superwomen and practice and reflect on life skills on their own.

“It is extremely heartening to see corporates such as Embassy providing a model for partnering with the government in providing an equitable education to our underprivileged children. We are very pleased to renew this meaningful partnership to strengthen our existing education system and hope such initiatives encourage other corporates to join us.”
Shri. S.R. Umashankar, IAS
Principal Secretary – Primary and Secondary Education,
Government of Karnataka.

 


As we work towards building stronger and more equitable communities, it is crucial to realise that the key to achieving women empowerment in India requires education from the ground up and a buy-in from all stakeholders. It is vital that corporates that can initiate powerful conversations and spur concrete solutions prioritise providing opportunities for young girls to pursue their education and a career of their choice, regardless of their social, economic or cultural restrictions. 

We believe in the power of collective action. Harnessing the strength of our corporate and NGO partners towards achieving the goals we have in common ensures that we are laying a firm foundation for continual progress.

Shaina Ganapathy is the Head of Community Outreach of Embassy Group.