An exclusive interview with Dr. Saundarya Rajesh, Founder - President at Avtar Group and the Managing Trustee of Avtar Human Capital Trust.
"There is no greater pillar of intentionality than the intent itself"
She spoke about Second Career Women at a time when hundreds were battling to remain afloat in their professions. The Indian economy had just begun to feel the heat of global recession, in early 2000 when Dr Saundarya Rajesh, the founder president of Avtar Group relentlessly advocated bringing back thousands of women back to workforce from career breaks. Her efforts have begun to see the light of the day! Hundreds of Indian corporates now engage with thousands of Second Career Women ushering in an era of equitable workspaces. Now, Dr Saundarya's vision is to see young girls from under-privileged families create empowering careers in white collar jobs for themselves. This she influences through Project Puthri, the flagship initiative of Avtar Human Capital Trust formed by Avtar Group. The inspiring author, motivational speaker, a very sought after D&I strategist and of course, the brain behind the movement called Project Puthri, Dr Saundarya took some time out for an exclusive tete-a-tete with a Puthri Volunteer. Excerpts from the interview:
PV: When there are plenty of other issues that plague our society, you introduced a totally different concept called Project Puthri. Why Project Puthri?
SR: When a girl rises, we all rise! Project Puthri, India's first ever developmental project, is aimed at young girls studying in corporation, government and other missionary schools. As I made progress in bridging the gender gap in the Indian corporate industry, I realized if I added women from far and wide to the white collar jobs, our country's GDP could grow in manifold. We launched a research and found out that a majority of girls from the under privileged section of our society studying in corporate and government schools drop out of their education midway. The study further revealed that when these girls are provided with three enablers - career coach, role model and mentor, they not only rise out of poverty lines, but rise to a potential that the whole nation benefits! Therefore, Project Puthri was born.
PV: What drove you to constructing a proper curriculum for Project Puthri?
SR: There is no greater pillar of intentionality than the intent itself. This resonated in a conversation I had with a young girl aged 14 years I met several years ago. Let's name her Megha. Megha wanted to fly planes. The inquisitive me quizzed if she had drawn a plan on how she would fulfil this dream of hers. To which, Megha smiled. That million-dollar smile said it all! She was ready to RISE - Read, Stay Intentional, Spirited and Expand her horizons!
That smile drove me to brainstorm with my colleagues and friends and we arrived at the structured curriculum encompassing 40 skills that would make thousands of Meghas intentional about their careers. For, I truly believe that the day each and every girl in the nook and corner of our country becomes intentional about her career, India will see a huge gigantic social transformation.
PV: Project Puthri has begun to spread its wings. We can see the butterfly effect. From here, how do you envision Project Puthri?
SR: Project Puthri has expanded its scope and attracted the attention of more institutions in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry with renewed special permissions issued by the government for five years. Through intense mentoring and skill delivery, we have seen distinct behavioral changes in the girls with a promise of career intentionality. We foresee, thousands of Puthri scholars emerging in the next five years and being part of India's GDP.
PV: What, according to you, is volunteering?
SR: Who is a volunteer? A volunteer is someone who goes out there in the society and says, hey I am your ally. If you trust me, I will support you. I will enable you to rise to the fullest of your potential!
Volunteering is a 24/7 service-oriented job. Volunteering also demands the rigor of a white collar job -- prioritizing, planning, coordinating and a lot of personal touch. The recipe to a good volunteering is straight and simple. Innate passion to bring change in the society with ladles of dedication mixed with a heart full of sensitivity and a dash of pre-set skills.
PV: What do you think can be the role of volunteers and mentors of Project Puthri during these covid times?
SR: It is obvious that the Pandemic is going to have huge economic and social impacts in different parts of the world. Young adolescent girls especially from the under privileged will be impacted in myriad ways - education, personal safety, bodily autonomy, health, peer support, social connections and so on. Volunteers and mentors must localise their response as much as possible by prioritizing the expertise of communities, local organizations and support them through a collaborative and coordinated approach. My heartfelt thanks to all the volunteers of not only Project Puthri, but to all the thousands of Corona warriors out there. At Project Puthri, I know that each and every passionate volunteer will continue with their unselfish and unflinching support to the cause of making more and more girls intentional about their careers. This is not the time to only stay safe, but also a phase to stay intentional!