IT Employability Among Rural Masses: Creating Livelihood Initiatives
March 2010

IT Employability Among Rural Masses: Creating Livelihood Initiatives

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Anudip Foundation for Social Welfare was set up in 2006 as a Section 25 nonprofit company based in Kolkata, to provide enhanced livelihood opportunities for marginalised people of India and to develop skilled Information Technology (IT) professionals and entrepreneurs.  The Foundation provides enhanced livelihood opportunities for marginalised people of India through rural training centres that develop skilled information technology professionals and entrepreneurs. Anudip supports its graduates through mentoring, financing and incubation services.

The Background

Rural areas of West Bengal, where Anudip is currently working, show high incidence of poverty.

Absence of employment opportunity leaves people with no alternative other than migrating to nearby urban centres in search of employment. Yet, even those with education find themselves ill-equipped in a competitive job market, as today even entry-level jobs require basic skills in IT and computer operation.  

 An information needs analysis by Reuters Foundation/Stanford University was carried out in 2005 by a team lead by Anudip founder Dipak Basu and Alakananda Rao of Actionaid. This study determined that the local level of education has not transcended the economic gap because of the lack of opportunity caused by economic depression, geographic isolation, governmental negligence and, most importantly, lack of access to livelihood opportunities other than subsistence work.

Yet the multi-million dollar IT industry in India consistently decries the lack of skilled workers to service its needs. Increased salaries of skilled personnel at IT hubs like Bangalore, Gurgaon and Hyderabad have pushed up costs so that many Indian and MNC IT giants are now moving operations to lower cost East European destinations, even China and Vietnam. This leads to substantial loss in India's IT-services export business. Indian non-IT companies too are constantly scouting for basic IT-skilled staff for back office operations like accounting, customer database management, tax data entry, etc.   

Anudip's work currently focuses on the Indian Sundarbans region of South Bengal. This region is subject to devastation and erosion caused by major cyclones, 8m-high tides, and rising sea levels.
 
LINKAGE Training Centres

Anudip runs  the  skill-building  programmes  through  a chain of  Community-Based  NGOs  /  CBOs  who  partner  in the  setting up  of   LINKAGE (  Livelihood  INitiatives  through KnowledGE )  training centres. Beginning with three locations in the Sundarbans in eastern India,  there  are  now  23  and expanding.

The first three LINKAGE centres were learning prototypes launched in partnership with community NGOs. They allowed the development of best practices for local learning techniques, course content development, sustainability of operations and ease of replication. They also validated that IT training allows graduates to secure better jobs or, singly or in small groups, start successful IT businesses in small towns in their community.

Anudip  has  undertaken the  challenge  of  creating  core  curriculum  for  high-school  students. However  the trainees  often range  from those  who have  just cleared the intermediary ( Class X)  level  and  cannot continue  further  education due  to economic reasons,  to  those  who  have  graduate  or  post-gradute  degrees,  but  no  exposure  to  computers.

Entrepreneurship  Development

Anudip solicits business startup proposals from groups of interested Anudip graduates after they complete basic and advance training on IT and entrepreneurship. Thereafter, Anudip guides the applicants as they carry out a market survey in the location where they wish to establish their unit. They are mentored to obtain a clear concept on market demand, supply, rates, competitors etc, and on management of the proposed business.

After collecting all available information regarding market potentialities Anudip mentors guide them to arrange a suitable room with electricity and internet connectivity (if applicable) for their proposed establishment.

After completion of the infrastructural set up, they are encouraged to formulate a partnership deed among themselves. A contract between the entrepreneurs and Anudip is executed, whereby the entrepreneurs agree to terms of repayment of the incubation costs to Anudip from year two of their venture. After scrutinizing the proposal and completion of the contracts, Anudip provides equipments, such as computer, scanner, laser or photo printer, digital camera etc. for commencement of their venture.

Student Achievements

Over  the  past  3 years  Anudip  has  trained  over  2500  youth  who  have  achieved  successful   livelihood  options  due  to  the  skill training  that  we  have  imparted .  A  ballpark  assessment  indicates  that at  least  50%  of  Anudip  graduates are  income  generators  for their families. For some of them the income also   provides  an opportunity  for  self-development.  For  young  women,  where  society does  not allow  them to travel  outside the  local geography  for  work, the entrepreneurship  offers  an income  generation option, preferred  over traditional  livelihood  which are  agriculture based. 

Thus,  the  development  of  skills  and  capacity cannot be  measured  in terms  of  the  economic capacity  alone  but  the impact  assessment  must take  into account  the  sense  of  empowerment  that  a so-called 'professional'  job provides  to the  rural youth putting  them at  par  with the “city  people”  and the  socio-economic aspect  of this  must be  understood  from that aspect .

The above picture shows  the  Anudip graduates  entering  the  3 streams,  e.g.  Mainstream jobs,  Entrepreneurs  and  the Rural BPO.

Anudip has  also  started  the pilot  operations  for  a Rural   BPO  under  the  scheme  of MERIT ( Mass Employment  through   Rural IT ).

The MERIT  Center

In the global market of outsourcing, India has already established herself as a superpower. But the unemployed youth of rural India still does  not have  sufficient opportunity to grab a chunk of those jobs.

Anudip  has  a long term vision of  migrating,  not  the people  but the  jobs  itself  to the rural  areas  thus  bringing  benefits  not only  to  the  rural people  through equitable  economic opportunity  but also helping corporations  lower their  costs  while  contributing to the  socio-economic development of the  regions.

Anudip  has  set  up a pilot  of  a MERIT  Center ( Mass Employment through Rural IT )  and  this  helps  in developing a unique approach of reaching the rural people with the backoffice outsourced jobs at their locality. Services like data capturing, cleaning and indexing, accounting or designing jobs can really be effective project activities that can be done from the villages by the trained Anudip graduates.

Anudip's vision is to bring India's IT-enabled prosperity to rural and semi-urban areas and to create a large pool of trained workers for the new economy of India .

The focus  on the new  economy livelihoods based on technology options  provides far reaching impact and overcomes  the mindset  and barriers  that focus  on traditional  agrarian and handicrafts based livelihood options. There is a need to understand that rural youth  is  as  talented and capable  as  those  who  have access  to  opportunity  and   this   belief  and faith has  helped  Anudip  to work with them in overcoming  the  myth  of  the  “digital divide”.

  • The growing Indian economy   has provided opportunities in livelihood through  ICT which were   hitherto unavailable to the rural sector.
  • Anudip Foundation has  successfully  trained rural communities who  have  been on the other  side  of the digital divide to operate  and  uitlise  PC and  other  equipments and  set up micro-enterprises, or  obtain employment. Anudip has been working in partnership   with local community-based organisations with a focus on skill-building to help achieve sustainable livelihood opportunities without  encouraging  migration.
  • In three  years  of operation, Anudip has  trained  close to 2500  people  and  has  helped  in income generation for those  who  would have been otherwise  deprived. The long-term goals  are to  set up  MERIT  centres  where  Anudip  would  execute  back-office  support  functions  providing employment  opportunities  for  rural  youth,   focusing  on  more equitable  wealth creation  processes.
  • The contention is that  while  there  have  been  plenty  of  investments  in infrastructure  for the  rural  communities ,  there  has  been a huge  gap  in capacity  and   skill-building . Anudip's efforts  in this  area  have  shown that  if training  is  provided  to the  youth,  there  is an enormous  opportunity  of  livelihood  and  economic  growth for the rural areas.

Alakananda Rao

Alakananda Rao is  the  Director and Chief Executive Officer  of  Alvari  Systems Private  Limited, Kolkata, which  she  has  recently  established  for IT  consulting  services  and  development of  human capital and its deployment in the  IT industry. Ms. Rao  has been associated with a number of projects in bringing Information and Communication Technology to sustainable development initiatives.  She  can be reached at  alka@anudip.org  or  alka.rao@alvarisys.com

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