ETASHA in the news again…

The following article by Anita Sharma for Mediamates. View the article at

Career care at ETASHA

Anita Sharma describes An NGO in Delhi which provides wholesome solutions to career concerns of underprivileged youth.

 The NGOs, especially those working with disadvantageous groups and in the area of skills training are commonly perceived as organisations with limited capacities in terms of not-so-qualified personnel; not so experienced staff; and not up-to-date management practices. In fact, they are seen as local organisations attempting to find local solutions with limited exposure and experiences.

 In this edition, I bring to you a unique NGO, which is a model of managerial best practices. It is unique in its genesis; its functions; services it offers and more importantly, because of the lessons it bring on the board.

This NGO, Society for Enabling and Training Adolescents for Successful and Healthy Adulthood (ETASHA) operates from an office in the basement of a posh colony in Delhi.  ETASHA is the brainchild of Meenakshi Nayar. With a background of sociology and psychology, and Fellow Programme in Management from IIM-Ahmedabad, she started her career at NLI and moved over to DCM, where she climbed the corporate ladder to become the HR head in about 12 years time.

Having achieved a senior position in the male dominated world of that time, Meenakshi felt life was after all, not so difficult. The move or shift in her life came in when her daughter completed schooling and desired to go abroad for further studies. This got her the realisation that there was hardly any information or other support available for youth in the country, which they can approach for career guidance and advice. Hence, after a considerable desk research, supported with prime investigations, she admitted her daughter to an institution in US and came back home with strong determination of making ‘Career Guidance’ as her contribution to the society, especially to under-privileged youth.

 She quit her career and started EduServe Consultants, which provided sexuality education, addressed issues of growing up and provided career guidance for middle-class school going adolescents. It was during this that she came in contact with another NGO working for the welfare of rural and urban slum-dwellers, inviting her to conduct a programme on sexuality education for their kids — Arpana Trust. “I figured since the queries adolescents had regarding sexuality are the same whether you’re talking to children belonging to the middle-class or underprivileged children, it would be a good platform to offer career guidance,” relates Nayar. Arpana Trust welcomed the idea. “But we fell flat on our faces!” recalls Nayar. (refer to coverage on ETASHA in Goodwill hunting).

 She realised that her perception of “what underprivileged youth may require” was very different to ground reality. Even if the youth in urban slums have sufficient opportunities to finish schools; the big question they had is: “what next?” Not all could afford higher education; neither did every one wish to. What they did need very badly was livelihood opportunities which come only with appropriate training. ETASHA launched its pilot project ‘Ummeed’ in collaboration with Arpana Trust, an established NGO, in January 2006. Launched in Gautampuri, a slum resettlement colony near Badarpur, Delhi, Ummeed targeted young people (aged 18-30) by: Building capacities/skills for employment through vocational training. Facilitating young people, through life skills development, to make responsible choices regarding sexual health and relationships.

Over the period, ETASHA expanded into providing quality vocational and employability skills training, and help disadvantaged young Indians find careers with long term potential. The methods adopted included: Career Guidance workshops Community mobilisation of young people from local communities and training them at ETASHA’s career development centre;s Developing bespoke vocational training and employability skills programmes with partner NGOs at their location;s Designing and delivering training programs for partner organisations; Placing young people into entry level jobs in the organised sector; Developing relationships with industry to ensure relevant up to date training.

 ETASHA’s Vision: For every young Indian to be employable, have self-worth and lead a dignified and productive life.

ETASHA’s Mission: Helping young people to make the right choices at the right time, and enabling them to lead successful and healthy lives.

 ETASHA Programmes:  The programmes are designed and delivered by ETASHA’s team of diverse and dynamic trainers at two career development centres in i) Madanpur Khadar, a large cluster of slum colonies in Delhi, and ii) Sangam Vihar, New Delhi; and satellite centres in places like Meethapur,

 1. Career guidance workshops: for high school students. Available in English, Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu and replicable in other regional lang- uages, the workshop is spread over 10 hours — on two consecutive days. Batch sizes vary between 25 and 40.

 2. Vocational training programmes: Designed for skill development for specific industries and jobs, the programmes include: a. Customer service and work culture (CSWC): designed to ready trainees for employment in the service sector, in industries such as retail, hospitality and call centres. The eligibility for the course is 10th pass, 18 years of age and basic knowledge of English. Offered part time over 3 months, CSWC covers 6 core skills

i. Spoken English;

ii. Computer & Internet usage;

iii. Interpersonal & behavioral skills;

 iv. Social confidence;

 v. Understanding the world of work;

vi. Selling skills

b. Computerised Office & Data Entry (CODE): prepares young people for jobs involving basic accounting support required in the context of computerised accounts in Small and Medium Enterprises. Spoken English and interpersonal Skills for use in any modern office environment are part of the programme.

More than 500 young men and women from low income colonies in Delhi have completed the vocational courses at three ETASHA centres. Most trainees get jobs within weeks of completing the course. In the last six months, ETASHA has actually managed to place over 80 percent of its students in companies like Westside, Net-Ambit, Gianis, Nirula’s and Adecco.

ETASHA’s trainees now get salary ranging from Rs 5,000 to Rs 9,500; median salary being Rs 6,000 per month.

3. Modular Employability Skills: ETASHA also offers some training modules as standalone programmes, such as:

 a. Confidence in English Speaking (CES): confidence to converse in English, especially in workplace situations e.g. customer service. b. Microsoft Unlimited Potential & Spoken English (MUPSE) certifies successful students in MS Word, Access, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook. Spoken English and interpersonal skills are also built in.

c. The Employability Skills Programme (ESP): a bridge between the school passouts and the world of work. Spread over 10 weeks, it develops skills in spoken English, computer and internet usage and social confidence.

d. Adolescence & Growing Up: Two three-hour gender specific workshops for young people between the ages of 10 and 20, these aims to dispel some of the myths and misinformation about issues relating to adolescence, sexuality and growing up.

One of the major projects undertaken by ETASHA is with the Maruti-sponsored ITIs – two in Gurgaon and one in Rohtak.

With ITI providing the necessary technical skills, ETASHA took care of the soft skills and providing placement support. In the pilot project, almost 85 percent of the students were placed at around one and a half times the salary committed to by ETASHA It’s no wonder then that big names like Accenture and Barclays are funding me and asking the organisation to run their CSR centers for them.

Major Strengths of ETASHA Concept of Adult training: ETASHA treats each person as adult follows the Adult Training Methodology. The focus of training is skill development, rather than imparting knowledge. Starting with the strong belief that each person has their inherent skills, ETASHA supports the trainees to recognise their strengths and weaknesses; strengthen the strengths and weaken the weaknesses!

Curricula development and personnel: The very capable and committed resource base of ETASHA (facilitator trainers as well as support staff) represents a wide amalgam of knowledge and skill sets spanning the corporate sector, academia, research practitioner, development professionals, and even student volunteers.

 A facilitator at ETASHA is expected to possess Excellent understanding of the skill requirements for an entry-level job in the service sector Excellent communication skills and command over English Ability to connect with adolescents and youth Passion for training and facilitation.

Ability to work with participative methodologies, Willingness to work at the career development centres, located in backward areas Willingness to travel across NCR to run different programmes. Empathy and a desire to help and work with the underprivileged self-motivated learner with a passion for continuous improvement. What strikes most is the way ETASHA is structured. It reflects a true ‘people orientation’; and reflects the best of the competencies that would have gone in to shape this structure. Each employee involved with ETASHA is given their own space and importance.

To add to the ‘role model’, Meenakshi and her two main supports chose to remain as volunteer in the organisation – not employee. These are:

1. Meenakshi Nayar;

2. Ritu Motwani: A self-employed professional, Ritu is a Founder-Member of ETASHA. Apart from volunteering her time (she conducts sales training classes to equip the youngsters for positions in retail) Ritu is a very hands-on Governing Council member, steering the organisation in desirable directions.

 3. Anil Nayar – PGDBM from IIM-Ahmedabad and BTech from IIT-Kanpur, With over 25 years of industry experience covering international business, The Society has a number of ‘heavy players’ as member of its Governing Council. Some of these include industry leaders like Hemant Bharat Ram, the COO of DCM.

Management systems and process Over the years, several processes have emerged as critical to success at ETASHA. These include: Mobilisation of community and youth Market survey, Curriculum development, Creating environment of learning and continuous improvement, cadre of facilitators – recruitment, training, mentoring and in-service learning of facilitators, Quality management Industry interface.

 Placement Meenakshi mentions, “There is absolutely no room for complacency at ETASHA since we believe in KAIZEN -Total continuous improvement, implemented through a rigorous approach to mentoring and evaluation.”

ETASHA’s approach towards mentoring and evaluation consists of: Building on the current system, a comprehensive performance review Competency building and motivation system for human resource management. Well-defined procedures/processes for all aspects of programme management Participant empowerment through experiential learning and reflection, Non-judgmental feedback and guided introspection, Monitoring and Evaluation of both the trainees as well as faculty helps establish: What the programme needs to continue doing (what has worked well) What it needs to stop doing, (what has not worked well) What it needs to do differently (what has partly worked) What it needs to start doing (what was not envisaged).

The honest search for answers and critical self-appraisal shapes future plans and programmes at ETASHA. Documentation plays a key role in this process, since it obviates the need to re-invent the wheel. The energy and resources saved get freed up for more productive use. There are in place appropriate structures/processes for: Creating a learning environment free of pressure to perform Facilitating / mentoring students through their learning process, Providing assignments for real life learning Reinforcement of conceptual understanding through outdoor activitie,s Facilitators being approachable to trainees, Feedback and reflection Tests, assignments, visits and projects, presentations.

 ETASHA does not offer its services free of cost. It strongly believes that if a person is made to pay for something, s/he is more dedicated and committed towards the cause. Of course the fee is nominal, keeping the socio-economic context of the community in mind. ( Rs 100 registration fees; Rs 250 per month as training fees). Moreover wherever it is found that a student is bright but can’t afford to pay, the course fee is waived and he/she is asked to pay once a job is secured. Since a 95 percent attendance is a must, it helps to instil discipline in the students. A completion certificate is handed over at a closure ceremony presided over by the ETASHA President and attended by some dignitary.

Financial sustainability: Like in all other managerial functions, ETASHA has evolved its funding model over years and is making it more robust and sustainable! The evolution of the system has been as below: 1st and 2nd year: Self funding: Meenakshi used her own funds to see the organisation kick off and start its functions. However, the project functioning had to be kept small and only a couple of training programmes were organised each year.

 3rd year: It was realised that self-funding practice is not sustainable and also, the operations were being restricted. She wrote the first formal project report as preparation of funds-raising. Tech Mahindra, impressed by her report gave 100 per cent funding for ETASHA – Rs 4.2 million to set up training centre, knowledge centre as well as organise training.

4th year: Tech Mahindra curtailed funding to only 70 per cent of the project cost. This forced ETASHA to explore different possibilities for raising their own funds. They started working on assignment basis; marketing their career guidance programmes to schools; delivering corporate training; and working on assignments against payments. This was a crucial lesson learnt for ETASHA – earn your own finances! Don’t just survive on donations and grants.

5th year: Tech Mahindra withdrew its funding and ETASHA had no problem standing on its own – earning the finances required for sustaining the organisation. It tried raising money through event organisation – fashion designer Suneet Varma supported it to organize a fashion show in Delhi. But Meenakshi realised that fashion show was more work and very little money – so this technique was not pursued. These experiences made ETASHA change its business model. Instead of setting up more centres with its own funds, today a model has been evolved wherein ETASHA partners with other NGOs working with children and adolescents, and vocational training providers. This way, the organisation has ready access to students who are 10th grade passouts and has to do incremental work on them. Equally importantly, it is able to stay off fixed costs and grow at the same time. Later, many more revenue generation models got added on to ETASHA, like: Funding of projects by Indian and international charitable foundations; Funding of programmes by corporates under their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programmes; Funding of programmes by multilateral agencies; Individual financial donations; Donations in kind; Organisations sponsoring young people; Capacity Building Programmes for NGO partner.

 Maintaining its professional best, ETASHA became a member of Give India, Charities Aid Foundation and Credibility Alliance. Now it is free to raise funds from individuals, which it does through its website. An office in the US is being launched, which can also support fund-raising activities. All donations are exempt from income tax under section 80G.

 Big names like Accenture and Barclays are funding programmes and asking the organisation to run their CSR centres for them. Besides funds, ETASHA is also seen raising brainpower and manpower to contribute to the cause. Its website says: Why not become a Volunteer? Are you…. A student interested in working with young people and looking to develop your skills? Retired and with time on your hands but with a lifetime of valuable experience you can share? A housewife with time to spare and a desire to contribute to India’s success? Working but keen to explore ways in which you can make a difference to the lives of young people?

When asked on the biggest challenge ETASHA faces even now, Meenakshi mentions that mobilizing youth in slums and enrolling them for the training programme, in spite of the number of success stories and role models in each of the slums where ETASHA has worked, getting trainees is always a challenge. This could be related to two aspects: Major problem arises from influences from local leaders, who use the youth from urban slums and pay them sufficiently well. Thus, youth are able to get easy money and along with it, become local hooligans.

As most people in urban slums are migrants, the effort to raise their awareness and mobilise them is a constant feature required in the programme. This multiplies the efforts and reduces the impact. Meenakshi has been driving the organisation all by herself – and not sought any support from local or National Government. She also did not feel the need of participating in any of the Government’s scheme, be it for certification or affiliation or any funds generation. The main reason she quotes for this is the complicated and corrupted processes. Also, the need for government certification was not felt as the trained youth were being placed in sectors which gave little or no importance to the certifications.