Geetha Mathews: Increase English-Based Employment
Mid-Year Public Progress Report
With a Master’s in Psychology from Boston University, Geetha Mathews is partnered with Dharwar based non-profit Vidya Poshak. Geetha’s four year stint as an event producer holds her in good stead as she brings professional and life skills to strengthening Vidya Poshak’s Graduate Finishing School (GFS). At GFS, Geetha is currently assisting in the empowerment of disadvantaged youth and increasing English-based employment.
Vidya Poshak Graduate Finishing School (GFS) bridges the gap between India’s inadequate education system and the requirements of the job market by providing focused training in English communication, basic computers, analytical skills, soft skills, and interview techniques. Since its inception in 2007, GFS boasts a 100% job placement record for all 8 batches in Dharwad and 5 batches in Gulbarga. The purpose of this program is to pull economically disadvantaged rural youth out of poverty; the assumption stands that if they are earning monthly salaries within the private sector, they will be able to provide for themselves and their families.
It was envisioned early on that an Indicorps Fellow would be able to make a threefold contribution to the program: 1) Metrics & Evaluation: By identifying critical success parameters for GFS and then surveying relevant stakeholders (i.e. students, alumni, staff, employers, donors, etc.) to gauge whether they felt these parameters were being met, the Indicorps Fellow would help GFS to understand its impact and areas for improvement. 2) Alumni Development: With over 400 GFS graduates spread throughout southern India and more being added every 4 months, the Indicorps Fellow would organize programs to unite the alumni, thus creating a sense of community and a reason for them to give back. 3) Curriculum Innovation: Bringing unique leadership strategies and teaching techniques from the West, the Indicorps Fellow would update the curriculum, experimenting with new classes/workshops to help make the GFS students more employable and better citizens of India.
Project Implementation Progress and Future Plans
First lesson learned in the field – you cannot rush change. ‘Look, listen, learn’ became a critical first stage of the Fellowship. It allowed me to thoughtfully develop online surveys for the staff and alumni, the latter of which evolved into a formal research paper for the lead donor and the impetus for a new initiative to support the alumni community: Career Services.
Similar to its counterpart in the West, the purpose of Career Services (CS) is to help graduates endure the challenging transition from GFS to employment, enhance job-relevant skills, and support career growth. Key CS programs include 1) Quarterly newsletter: The inaugural newsletter featuring GFS updates, alumni updates, and career tips and tools was published in February and the second is currently in development. 2) Job Alerts Blog (www.gfsjobalerts.blogspot.com): Officially live as of March, this website informs alumni about job openings and interviews and is updated daily by the GFS placement officer. Updates are automatically forwarded via email and SMS to the alumni, thus maximizing the likelihood that they actually receive the information. The blog also includes a live chat function so alumni can connect directly with GFS staff when online. 3) Career Workshop: The inaugural workshop tentatively scheduled for Sunday, July 4 in Bangalore will feature leaders from the corporate sector providing career guidance to those happy at their jobs and striving for promotions or those dissatisfied with their jobs and looking for a change. Along with its career focus, the workshop will be a medium to address the challenges of ‘real life’ including financial planning and managing change (i.e. from rural to urban life, from school to job responsibilities, and from living with family to living on your own). These 3 programs are just the beginning. Based on alumni participation and feedback, CS will continue to expand and will hopefully one day include Continuing Education classes, a peer mentor network in which older alumni support fresh graduates, and an Alumni Council in which the GFS alumni themselves organize social, service, and career-building events for their peers.
After 2 months in Dharwad at the beginning of the Fellowship, I shifted to GFS Gulbarga where I was able to experience and participate in a full batch from recruitment to training to placement. I became invested in the lives and futures of 22 rural youth and strived to add value to their GFS education both inside the classroom (leading such sessions as Vision & Goal setting, Edward de Bono’s 6 Thinking Hats, and Interview Preparation) and outside the classroom (taking excursions with them to Gulbarga hotspots, engaging in teambuilding and service activities, and just chatting for fun…and English practice, of course). As we begin the next batch starting in mid-April, my additional task will be working with the staff to recommend and implement sustainable changes to the model and curriculum so as to enhance their effectiveness.
Residing alone in a ‘backwards’ district of Karnataka where I do not speak the native language is a dramatic career shift from events and entertainment in New York City to volunteer work in the education sector of rural India. Taking simple living to a new level, I have been adopting one of Gandhi’s 11 vows each month of the Fellowship. Sadness and anger at the sight of blatant poverty and corruption juxtaposed with inspiration and hope at the sight of leaders and changemakers courageously tackling India’s development challenges. I have also been learning the lesson that yes, one person can make a difference.
Personal growth has been an integral part of the Indicorps Fellowship. I have felt a roller coaster of emotions, been pushed (sometimes shoved) outside of my comfort zones, been forced to reevaluate who I am, who I want to be, and who I have the potential to be. Yes, all of this self-reflection has been exhausting, but it has also been incredible and wonderfully rewarding. I am excited to see where the next half of the Fellowship takes me.
Geetha Mathews, August 2009 Indicorps Fellow