Sahil Chaudry: Develop Social Enterprises
Mid-Year Public Progress Report
In 2008, Sahil Chaudry graduated with a Bachelors in political science and international relations from University of Southern California where he also served as Student Body President. As an August 2009 fellow, he is involved in two initiatives of the Grassroots Development Laboratory, the Bagar Employment Institute (BEI) and a mobile-based employment start-up. Sahil plans to apply the lessons from his year of service as he begins law school in Fall 2010.
The Grassroots Development Laboratory (GDL) was founded as a partnership between Indicorps and the Piramal Foundation as an incubator for social enterprises providing locally relevant and nationally scaleable solutions to India’s development problems. GDL currently runs enterprises in the fields of health, employment, and education. The viability of the enterprise in Bagar and the knowledge acquired through operating the enterprise serve as the foundation for replication and scaling in India. The Piramal Foundation finances the operations of GDL and provides the capital investment for the social enterprises incubated at GDL. GDL is composed of permanent staff and volunteers who work together to both grow pre-existing enterprises and start new ones.
GDL is based out of Bagar, a small town, in Jhunjhunu district, one of the wealthiest districts in Rajasthan. Not a city and not quite a village, Bagar is a place where one will find high levels of education and literacy but also high levels of unemployment and underemployment. Upon my arrival in Bagar, it was this social issue that seemed to caus the most frustration amongst families.
When discussing employment, people generally believed that government jobs were the best jobs and that the only two ways to get such a job was a “jack” (a relationship) or “check” (a bribe). People were generally unaware of opportunities in the private sector and many families were forced to part with their sons and fathers for months at a time so that they could work in neighboring countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman and the UAE. Seeing this situation inspired me to attempt to make gainful employment opportunities available for the people in Bagar and its surrounding villages.
My passion assist people find employment lead me to choose the Bagar Employment Institute as the GDL social enterprise to engage with. The Bagar Employment Institute provides training in Computers at affordable prices to enhance the employability of job seekers. As a volunteer at the Bagar Employment Institute (my community), our students consist of primarily college going young men aged between 17 and 25. These men came from different castes, villages, and socio-economic backgrounds. They were the sons of farmers, shopkeepers, migrant laborers, and they all came to our institute to learn skills that would help them get a job. The power of BEI is that its purpose and its price make it a common space for people of all backgrounds to come together to pursue a common interest.
My interaction with the community has been primarily colored by employment interactions. But even these conversations have opened the door to understanding the community in other respects. I have learned that caste, is a major factor in decision-making in Bagar. Many students from different castes had never met each other prior to attending BEI. I have also learned that many people, particularly of high castes, choose to be unemployed rather than do a job that has a lower salary or lower position than they feel they deserve, despite not having skills to match such a job. I have learned that employment is much more than a source of livelihood for people in Bagar. It is a status symbol that brings with it the benefits of good marriage prospects and respect. I have learned that people here are also very proud of their heritage and have a high regard for history and traditions. This respect for culture and traditions slows the acceptance of change but if the community sees a benefit in a new change, they will embrace it.
For the first six months of my Fellowship year I spent at Bagar Employment Institute along with ndicorps Fellow Vivake Prasad. Vivake and I were charged with developing a business plan to increase the impact of BEI and explore opportunities for scaling. After an assessment of BEI, we found that BEI required strengthening in Bagar before it would be able to expand. We proposed new changes including an English class, a marketing team, forging relationships with companies to secure placements for students, and post-placement counseling. During our first six months, our focus was to implement our proposed ideas. We successfully started a new English class, we built relationships with companies, we sent students for job placements and we did post placement counseling. I also started a Community Leadership Team that serves both as a marketing team for BEI and a leadership training program for BEI students. I am particularly proud of the creation of the Community Leadership Team. I am using marketing as a tool to cultivate leadership and values in local youth. Every week we either hold a marketing event in a village or I hold a leadership training event for the team. My hope is that by investing in local young leaders, positive change will continue well beyond my time in Bagar.
Our work at BEI inspired us to focus on connecting people, even outside of BEI, to employment opportunities. We also began conducting experiments with connecting job seekers to employment using employment forms, sms, and ad-hoc placements. Our drive to help people find jobs and our lessons from BEI and the experiments lead us to develop a new concept for a social enterprise, Mobile Naukri.
Mobile Naukri is a social enterprise concept that Vivake and I developed to empower job seekers with the power to choose their job in a safe, easy, and inexpensive way. We realized that most job opportunities are available on the internet. But most rural people don’t know how to use or don’t have access to the internet. However, we also saw that most people, in nearly all segments of society in rural India have mobile phones. Essentially our concept is to register job seekers and send them targeted job alerts on their mobile phone. Since companies generally want pre-screened talent, job seekers who receive an alert they are interested in would come into our center for guidance and an interview. Qualified candidates would be sent to the company for further interviews or for direct placement, based on the company’s requirements.
Our business plan was approved in February 2010 and the next half of my Fellowship year will be spent to make Mobile Naukri a reality.
Project Implementation Progress and Future Plans
The next phase of my Fellowship year will be dedicated to two targets, the growth of BEI and the functional operation of Mobile Naukri. I found that BEI’s major weakness was that the operations, training, and marketing were all falling on the director. BEI required a team for these different aspects of the institute to be run properly; only then could we focus on growth. I worked with our director to write a proposal that included a new human resource structure for BEI and a required budget. This proposal was also approved. I am committed to guiding the director through the implementation phase of this proposal to ensure that the right human resources are hired in a timely manner to promote the growth of BEI. I will work with our director to set deadlines for the hiring of new staff and to develop a strategy to manage the new staff.
The second target is to implement the business plan that Vivake and I developed to make Mobile Naukri a functioning social enterprise. We have decided that our basic implementation strategy is to start small and think big. We would like to develop the human resource capacity, the IT systems, the job seekers database, and the employer clients so that at the end of the six months, the operations of the business are functioning in a standardized manner that can be scaled. Vivake and I believe that Mobile Naukri can revolutionize how people find jobs and we are committed to making this social enterprise with huge potential for impact a reality.
I decided to serve as an Indicorps Fellow because I wanted to become stronger emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Indicorps has pushed me to be stronger in all of these areas. Emotionally, Indicorps has pushed me to connect to people of a different cultural, socio-economic, and age background from my own. Indicorps has taught me that sharing experiences with people enhances the richness of life and that connecting with people is a fulfilling experience. This focus on connecting to people has raised my sensitivity to others and has become a powerful motivating factor for me to serve others. Physically, Indicorps has pushed us to live simply in conditions I had not experienced before; I feel that my tolerance for physical hardships has increased because of Indicorps. Spiritually, I find myself more capable of handling stressful circumstances calmly while prior to Indicorps I would have felt very anxious in the same circumstances.
My experiences in Bagar have also pushed me to realize how important love, a tough love, is for happiness in my life. While in Bagar, I have learned that there are people with good intentions and people with bad intentions. I have learned that particularly if you are doing sewa, your service may be taken as weakness, and you will undoubtedly meet many people with bad intentions who want to take advantage of you. But people who do service make no distinction between those people with good intentions and those with bad intentions. We do service knowing that the disadvantaged are not all saints. So I am striving to feel that love for all that makes sewa possible, an extreme irrational love for all people. I want to feel that love that is independent of circumstances, a love that doesn’t fear rejection, a love that loves because of the flaws and not in spite of them, love that is an endless source of personal happiness. Achieving this love is the goal of my Fellowship; but even if I don’t achieve it absolutely, I believe that striving to feel that kind of love will make me a happier person, so far the pursuit already has.
Sahil Chaudry, August 2009 Indicorps Fellow