Entrepreneurship education on wheels
Oct 23 2013
It took Mani a decade to process his 1997 train journey of 22 days — visiting places such as the Golden Temple (Amritsar), Naval Dockyard (Vizag), Rashtrapati Bhavan (New Delhi), and Ralegan Siddhi (Maharashtra) and meeting activists like Anna Hazare, Kiran Bedi and Bunker Roy — into a book, titled, India-A journey through a healing civilization. Around the same time, he started an organisation to recreate a lingering urge he felt on that train journey, to make a meaningful contribution to India’s development.
The first Jagriti Yatra (JY) took off in 2008 with the aim of “building India through enterprise” and since then, every year there has been one. The sixth edition this year is a chartered train journey for 450 travellers or yatris, over 15 days, covering 8,000 kilometres, through several cities, towns and villages. The train itself is procured from the Indian Railways.
The yatris are carefully selected through a rigorous application process that does not look at educational qualifications as much as a spark for entrepreneurship and/or positive social change. The selection process aims to get 375 young people in the 20-27 years age group from ‘middle India’ best thought of as youth who have their basic needs met and are desirous of a purpose to channel their energies. The remaining 75 yatris are over 25 years of age, serving as facilitators and mentors.
There is a conscious effort to achieve diversity. Aiming for equal gender representation, JY has been able to achieve 40 per cent female yatris. Around 40 yatris are youth from outside India as a way of broadening the experience for all. Ample care has been taken, not only for the security of all yatris, but also the special needs of women who may be travelling for the first time in a large mixed group.
The train stops at 12 predetermined destinations where the travellers alight to interact with and experience the work of nationally and globally respected entrepreneurs such as Thulasiraj Ravilla (Aravind Eye Care, Madurai), Anshu Gupta (Goonj, Delhi), Bunker Roy (Barefoot College, Tilonia, Rajasthan), Joe Madiath (Gram Vikas, Odisha), N R Narayana Murthy (Infosys, Bangalore), Elaben Bhat (SEWA, Ahmedabad) and R Elango (Kuthambakkam Model Village, Chennai).
The hub of peer-to-peer learning, bonding, debate, discussion, amusement, entertainment, not to mention the chores of daily living — sleep, showers, food, tea, among others — is the specially rejigged train itself. The cost of the entire yatra is a little less than Rs 50,000 per person, although, on average, yatris pay for about 30 per cent and the remaining is raised from corporations and foundations.
According to JY, around 45 enterprises are created by the yatris every year. Kalyani Khodke from Nashik, a yatri from the inaugural JY in 2008 worked for three years with Tata Motors and then quit her job to start Range Design Studio, a product design firm. Among other products, she designs electric toy cars for kids and has designed an electric mobility vehicle for adults.
A 2011 yatri from Odisha, Gobinda Dalai who was a prime minister’s rural development fellow, founded Odisha Yuva Jagaran Yatra to connect budding rural entrepreneurs with established social entrepreneurs in the state. He is further establishing ‘skill jobs’ as an employment exchange for the youth of Odisha.
Following his 2009 JY, Amit Kataria from Choma village in Haryana scaled up his ROSE Computer Academy. He has trained nearly 5,000 students with 70 per cent job placement and helped spawn 40 or so micro-enterprises.
JY’s success is not without challenges. It has not been easy to get youth from villages and small towns, especially women, to apply for the project. At present, 60 per cent yatris are non-urban. However, most of the women are from urban India. The JY team is keen to be recognised by and collaborate with the government to serve the country’s youth. But this partnership has remained elusive.
Ashutosh Kumar, who has led JY for the past four years as executive director, believes that the product is now mature enough for a possible scale up to ignite a rural enterprise movement. He said, “There is serious dearth of role models and mentors in rural India. Youth don’t find anyone inspiring when they look around, and hence they fail to take challenges. A platform needs to be created in these small towns and villages so that the youth there can listen to such wonderful stories, get inspired, and take the challenge of starting an enterprise.”
(The writer is a social entrepreneur and is on the faculty of IIM-Ahmedabad)