In nearly a quarter of a century of its existence, the Non-Governmental Organisation Pratham has come to be synonymous with the efforts to increase the reach and quality of primary education in India. The Annual Status of Education Report (ASER), a yearly survey by Pratham that assesses the quality of primary education in the country, has become the standard document for tracking India’s progress in primary education over the years.
The scale of Pratham’s work in education over the decades often overshadows their initiatives in other fields such as vocational training and employment generation, of which the Pratham Institute and the Pratham Arora Centre for Education (PACE) are fine examples.
Started in 2005, Pratham Institute provides vocational training to youth, mainly in rural and semi-urban areas, targeting school dropouts or those without a formal education. With 110 centres across 15 states in India, Pratham Institute’s reach is extensive. This presence across the country means that the organisation is able to reach out to students and rural youth in remote and economically backward areas of India.
The Institute also reaches out to parents, community members and village elders, convincing them to send their children and youth for training. Once they enroll in the Institute for a course, the students are provided with vocation training along with english language training, financial literacy lessons and basic entrepreneurship skills.
Mr Ramaswamy, who is the Entrepreneurship Coordinator for Mentoring, of the newly formed Entrepreneurship Development Cell (EDC) at the Pratham Institute, sees its work as a natural development of the parent organisation’s efforts in education.
As he explains “Every year, 22,000 students pass out of Pratham across various verticals. We have this pool of trained students. The mentoring and training we provide makes a big difference in terms of providing employment and livelihood to these students”
The Pratham Arora Centre for Education (PACE), where a majority of the vocational training takes place over the course of 12–24 weeks, is equipped to provide practical training in various fields like hospitality management, construction business, beauty training etc. and is present in various locations around the country.
Vocational training and employment in India
Speaking about the state of employment and job creation in India, Ms Medha Uniyal, Program Director of Vocational Training at the Pratham Institute, says “We have been working for close to a decade now, to fill the deficit in the skill gap. Many people are turning to entrepreneurship, because there aren’t enough jobs. 1.3 million people entered the workforce this year, while only 0.25 million jobs were added. There is a job deficit that training won’t fill.”
Mr Rajesh Thokale, Program Director at the Pratham Institute says
“There are limited jobs in rural areas. Government jobs have always held their prestige, but the pinnacle of aspiration is to be an entrepreneur. What we are doing is completing the value chain. The village has always been a fulcrum of activity. The entrepreneur, the village thekedhaar (contractor) or the shopkeeper, has always been looked up to a a role model.”
Mr Ramaswamy recounts an interaction with a street food vendor in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh with his colleagues. He casually asked the owner if he had a turnover of at least Rs 40,000 per month. The vendor’s answer shocked him. “Sir, I have monthly installments worth Rs 35,000 alone.” This was the moment Mr Ramaswamy realised the huge potential of small businesses, provided they were done right.
As a response to the paucity of the ready jobs in the market, students passing out of the Pratham Institute are encouraged not just to seek employment but to start enterprises of their own.
Gajanand Nikade, is a recent hospitality management graduate from the Pratham Institute in Maharashtra. With the help of the EDC, he set up a food truck in Ralegaon, Wardha, using the PACE Centre’s in-house ‘Bawarchi’ brand. The EDC supported Gajanand in conducting market research, setting up the food truck and provided financial support in setting up the business.
Mr Ramaswamy, showing us pictures on his phone, says “The stall is proving to be a great success”
A crucial problem that the youth in rural and semi-urban areas face when it comes to setting up their businesses is the lack of a support system.This is the gap the EDC proposes to fill.
Partnership with Rang De
Many of us find it hard to appreciate just how hard it is for someone from a low-income family or poor socio-economic background to set up a business. Other than the necessary skills, finance is a major issue. Though banks are required to support small businesses under schemes like Pradhan Mantri Mudra Yojana (PMMY), this does not always happen.
Pratham is solving many of these problems through collaborations with other organisations. “What the Pratham Institute is doing is providing the skills, financial literacy, the opportunity to dream big. We also provide access to capital through the formal way, through linkages with organisations like Rang De” Mr Thokale says.
To provide access to low-cost loans and capital, the Pratham institute has recently tied up with Rang De.
With a loan from Rang De and the training provided by Pratham, many of the students are confident enough to set up businesses of their own.
When we ask Mr Ramaswamy what he hopes the Pratham Institute will achieve through its entrepreneurship program, his answer was characteristically forthright “We want our students to succeed in their businesses, because then they can inspire more people to set up their own enterprises. Entrepreneurship sounds big, we call it self-employment”
Rang De is partnering with Pratham Institute to provide low-cost livelihood loans to youth from rural and semi-urban areas.
Make a small investment of Rs 100 or more and provide education loans to students on www.rangde.org