Dreams do Come True by Lakshmi Vijaykumar

Dreams do Come True. Yes, they do, if you see the dreams with your eyes wide open.

DREAM BIG – is what the latest movie, Kanaa, which essentially is about an under-privileged girl who makes it big in a sport that is still male dominated in our country advocates to its viewers. So, when a huge batch of PUTHRI scholars walked into the theatre to watch the movie, Kanaa, it seemed another picnic for them. Little they knew what they would see on the silver screen is exactly a replica of what experience in their daily lives.

Kousi or the lead character in the movie is normal little girl like many of the PUTHRI scholars. On witnessing her father weep at India’s loss in a game of cricket, she makes a promise to herself that she would bring the smile back on her father’s face. Which essentially means winning a cup for India in a game of cricket. This in a society where women education and empowerment are still a stigma. Lest we speak of women excelling in sports.

Well, its not that we haven’t had films showcasing under-privileged girls making it big in the field of sports. Dangal (Hindi), for instance, had a daughter battling against all odds to fulfil her father’s dream of winning the country a Gold in Olympics. Similarly, the Shahrukh Khan-starrer, Chak De India, had a team girls from diverse backgrounds uniting to win Gold in a game of Hockey.  

What makes Kanaa stand out among the various films based on women’s sports is that the lead character isn’t forced or coerced into the game. Instead, this dream or the “Kanaa” is of the main character Kousi whose only aim is to make her father smile for which she is determined to excel in Cricket. So she learns the trick of the game by being a silent spectator to a bunch of boys playing the game in an open ground.

Essentially, the movie Kanaa and its protagonist Kousi are backed by the three pillars that PUTHRI is built upon – Mentoring, Career Coaching and Role Model. It is this structure and method, PUTHRI scholars are not only guided to be intentional in their careers, but also coach them with other important life-skills such as nutrition, hygiene, finances, self-defense, digital acumen, health and even entrepreneurship while transforming them to take on their professional journeys.

Just as PUTHRI scholars, Kousi’s life is met with a life-changing coach and mentor in Sivakarthikeyan who not only motivates her to “win her dream”, but also guides and coaches her on the sport for her to excel.

The PUTHRI scholars who watched the special screening of the movie Kanaa at one of the multiplexes in Chennai were able to relate and actually see their lives on a playback in the screens. Much like Kousi, most of the PUTHRI girls have undergone suppression and have been subjected to issues around poverty and eventually they drop out of their education impending their intention in pursuing white collar jobs. “I did not know that I had the ability to take up a full time job in a big company as a professional till I met the role model at the PUTHRI coaching interventions”, said an excited PUTHRI scholar who is keen on becoming a teacher in order to give it back to her Alma meter.

It is needless to say that many of the girls were walking into a multiplex for the first time in their lives. They were in as much in awe of the movie as they were of the cinema theatre. For many, it was a moment of truth in their lives to see their stories come alive on silver screen. Kousi, a village dweller is subjected to face a lot of hurdles including her mother who does not believe in girls’ education, leave alone pursuing a sports as a career.

The fact that the intentionality has to build within an individual for others (including parents) to follow your path of passion is further reiterated by the lead character’s mother who urges Kousi to retry her attempt in getting the Team India squad. Interestingly, her mother who has been a rebel in her own way while she stayed upright in the choice of her life-partner goes on to say, “Aasai patta mattum poradhu. Adam pidikka theiryanum”, which essentially means it isn’t enough for someone to desire something, but should be able to display the stubbornness towards the desire.

The movie is much of a winning debut not only for the filmmakers, but also to all those who are associated with PUTHRI – scholars, mentors and trainers. The hundreds of Kousis or the PUTHRI scholars are from a place where ‘ambition’ is a dirty word. Yet, these Kousis go on to achieve what they desire while being accompanied by cheer leaders, mentors and role models – capturing the essence of PUTHRI!

Girls’ Empowerment! A Call to Action by Lakshmi Vijaykumar

As a young child, I often envied my brother being able to play in the park nearby irrespective of the clock ticking away to darkness in the evening, with his friends. While I always had a Cinderella time (not till midnight, of course) up to 6 pm or when the sun sets – whichever was early — and I was supposed to be seen sitting in my room and not seen kicking a football or a hitting a ball to a six!

When I got into my teens, hoping for more freedom of play, matters got worst. My Cinderella time was further brought down by an hour and sometimes it even got extended to days!!!

Now, when I look around myself, I feel not much has changed. Matters have gone worst, with parents (including myself) unable to let their kids play anywhere outside the confines of their homes without the fear of safety. Yes, gadgets have taken over our lives leaving our children to spend more time on LCD screens. Gone are the days when children enjoyed the hot sun or danced in the rains. Well, that’s a different subject and we will talk about it in a different article.

Coming back to what the modern day society has to offer to our kids, if the urban India is clouded with fears of safety and other related issues, families from the under privileged communities even dread sending their girls to school. Those who are courageous enough to break barriers and send their girls to education, often drop out of the schools early leaving their journey of empowerment midway.

Given that educating girls is certainly one of the methods of breaking the cycles of poverty, there are a few easy ways that we as a society on the whole can make a difference in the lives of all those thousands of young Puthris waiting to be empowered and get on to the world stage.

Facilitate schools to provide basic hygiene in schools

Most schools that cater to the under-privileged communities lack basic hygiene and sanitation facilities in their premises. All schools must be able to provide clean drinking water and neat toilets for the parents to feel safe while sending their little angels to the school.

Be the Voice of God

In the lesser privileged communities, it is noted that while women in families are forthcoming to educate their daughters, their voices somewhere get lost amid strong patriarchal set ups. As a result, girls who are intentional about their learning and acquiring knowledge. Provide those women and their younger ones the vocal cord they need. Use your voice to enable girls to break barriers and come out of their shackles.

Help a new mom

A large number of young girls from the rural community drop out of schools the day their moms give birth to second ones. It would be a great idea for you to extend a hand in some form to a new mom. Offer them cloth diapers, blankets, drinking water, soap, and other essential items to those who are in utmost need. This will prevent infant deaths, ensure healthier child and mom. And, in cases where the woman is mothering an older one as well, such enablers will lessen their mental load which will further facilitate smooth functioning in their households and therefore not build restrictions on the older kids.

 Support women/girls in crisis

The other common reason where girls drop out of schools that is prevalent is a family crisis. This could be lack of resources, commuting woes, domestic violence, child trafficking, child marriage, so on and so forth. Equip the schools with skilled staff that creates the much-needed awareness among them. Conduct small time programs in your community to educate and mentor the women folk on dealing with crisis. Most important, give them the emotional support that they need.

Show them you care

Like they say, charity begins at home; similarly empowering begins at home. For any message that you want to convey to the society that you live in, it is imperative that you live the message yourself. Display the sensitivity towards your staff at work, home and even those that you might and might not meet regularly. Tell them how much you appreciate their work.

It is seen in modern societies that a mix of interventions creates a foundation for a positive environment, change certain institutional norms. On this day, when we celebrate pleasures and joys of childhood, let’s pledge to be the enablers for girls’ education and empowerment.

Make the Puthris Stay! by Lakshmi Vijaykumar

The overall levels of education in the current younger generation of girls are showing an upward trend. However, enrolment of these young girls in higher education and above is declining. The Gender Gap Report 2017, World economic Forum report ascertains the same where it states India ranks at 108 in educational attainment for girls. According to the report, India experiences a massive decline in its overall Global Gender Gap Index ranking, largely attributable to a widening of its gender gaps in political empowerment as well as healthy life expectancy and basic literacy. In addition, data that is available reveals the scale of India’s gender gap in legislation, top management, professional and technical fields. This highlights the need for continuous efforts to achieve parity in economic opportunity and participation. On a positive note, the report states India succeeds in fully closing its primary and secondary education enrolment gender gaps for the second year running, and, for the first time has nearly closed its tertiary education gender gap. However, it continues to rank fourth-lowest in the world on Health and Survival, remaining the world’s least-improved country over the past decade. With more than 50 years having passed since the inauguration of the nation’s first female prime minister in 1966, maintaining its global top 20 ranking on the Political Empowerment, it requires India to make progress on this dimension with a new generation of female political leadership.

The root of this problem is intertwined with a need to increase literacy levels and increasing gender parity at leadership roles across industry sectors and other levels where women participation is abysmal.

When we take a deeper look at the prevalent gender gap, the effect of this problem is exacerbated where girls drop out of education for reasons particularly at the economically poorer section of the society. This also highlights the core of the issue where companies are missing out on to a large talent pool that of the underprivileged girls whose lives are often marred by challenges such as female foeticide, infanticides, child marriage, sexual abuse, domestic violence and other such safety issues. In fact, that brings us to a bigger and pertinent question – why do girls leave school? There is not obviously a single good answer, nor is there any conclusive data available on why girls drop out of higher education especially from the economically weaker section of the society.

Broadly, we can say there are three main reasons – expectancy to participate in domestic chores, safety issues and infrastructure roadblocks.

Expectancy in domestic chores

In India, girls are conditioned to learn all the household related chores such as cooking, washing, cleaning, etc as they are told that’s where their futures lie. This problem is not only prevalent in rural areas, but is lucidly evident in urban families.  Young girls are involved in day to day chores including a younger sibling care and are often forced to drop out of schools to take care of younger siblings. Besides, families in rural set ups look at sending girl children for higher education as both monetary and a psychological waste. While boys are still looked up as source of income, while the earning potential of women is not even considered. Overall, participation of girls in family life becomes a hindrance to their higher schooling.

Health & Safety

For adolescent girls to pursue higher education safety is a major concern in India and this issue becomes a prevalent discourse surrounding the events that get reported almost every day. Many a times, girls don’t report cases of abuse to parents for the fear of a) dropping out of school and b) to shoulder the blame on themselves. Long commute, unsafe hostels, force young girls to drop out of school. This eventually encourages parents in the economically weaker sections of the society to put their young girls in marital bonds.

Infrastructure barriers

There is also significant need to upscale the infrastructure facilities for girls to continue their quest for knowledge in schools and colleges. Unsafe hostels, unhygienic conditions that often lead to health issues and lack of good female staff pose as major threats to young girls’ education in India.

As much as it is important to up the infrastructural facilities, and ensure safety measurements are taken, it is equally important to make all those young adolescent girls intentional about their future employment. Though the prevalent ethos and the legislation including the Right to Education in India guarantees that almost every Indian student will undergo schooling, the legislation does not have the ability to ensure a conducive environment for education actually exists. Nor does it have the people bandwidth to reach out to the number of government run schools across the country. The time is come for us to take cognizance of the situation and offer piece meal solutions but give hundred per cent attention on the long term scale and ensure that girls across India are able to freely, safely, boldly and consistently pursue higher education and in turn exhibit their intentionality for future employment.

 

Camila Kirtzman – Intern for the Research and Analytics Department

I had the privilege of interning at AVTAR Career Creators this past spring – more specifically with the FLEXI Careers India department. I am an American student and I spent this past semester in Jaipur, India studying Sustainable Development and Social Change. For the last month of my time in India, Dr. Saundarya Rajesh gave me the opportunity to intern at FLEXI Careers India in Chennai to conduct independent research. With the help of remarkable and inspiring employees of FLEXI and AVTAR, I designed a study that looked at flexible women workers within dual-career families in India. Although I was a guest at AVTAR, I had never in my entire life felt so welcomed and respected by my peers. I was extremely fortunate to be surrounded by such kindhearted and generous employees who displayed immense passion and eagerness in their work. There was never a day when someone did not offer their help with my project. The positive energy and dedication that the employees of AVTAR and FLEXI brought to the office every day always made me excited to come to work.

I remember when I first heard about Project PUTHRI and I remember how enthusiastic people were when they were explaining the project to me. I see PUTHRI as the next step in ensuring that women in India obtain equal employment opportunities. I believe that when girls have role models to look up to, especially for employment reasons, it gives them more motivation to pursue a career as well. I am excited about the impact the project will have!

Intentionally building careers: The unsung heroines from underprivileged families!

Priya (name changed) was an eighth standard student at a Government Matriculation School. Her father had disowned their family and her mother who was a house-maid was the sole bread winner. Every evening, after school Priya would pick her mom from work and cycle back home – a routine ritual she cherished. It was at one of her mom’s ‘workplaces’ that she met Reena – an IT professional and the only daughter of the house. Priya would silently marvel at Reena’s sophistication – her id card, her swanky handbag, the way she rattled off in English to her friends. Soon enough, she decided that she would brave it out and one day, not very far away, she would swipe her own ID card at one of the swanky ‘IT Parks’. And swipe she did! She did remarkably well in her boards. An NGO funded her BCA in one of the Govt. Colleges in the city, which Priya followed up with an MBA (She secured a scholarship for the same) in a private college. Placed through campus interviews at a multi-national bank, Priya today is Assistant Manager – Customer Relations, with over 5 years of experience in the field.

This isn’t a fairy tale, as Priya is a real life woman professional today amongst us – living the tale! But how many such tales are written every year in our country? Not more than a handful. Poverty, early marriages, sexual abuse and domestic violence – these are only a few of the challenges faced by young girls from underprivileged backgrounds. It is only very rarely that you see the odds being braved and stories such as this being told.

48.5% of our population is women. However, Indian women’s contribution to the economy is the lowest on a global scale, at 17 percent. This means that for inclusive growth for the country, significant improvement in women’s workforce participation is a must. Over 70% of women in India live outside of the urban conditions. If more women are to seek active employment, it is important that inclusive policies extend to the entire socio-economic spectrum of women – giving all women access to education and opportunities to pursue careers. As the first step towards this ‘universal, unbiased access’, it would be interesting to first dissect the success stories of career intentional women from underprivileged backgrounds and identify the ‘secret ingredients’ of their success. And this is exactly what we did – AVTAR Human Capital Trust identified 496 such women from across India, who were all from economically disadvantaged classes of the society and studied their career patterns.

To set the context, Career intentionality is the extent to which an individual deploys intentions to chart his/her career path. For an individual, more so a woman, intentionality lays the foundation of a sustainable career. Career intentional women tide over periods of crises, leverage opportunities and build sustainable careers. Examining the career patterns of underprivileged, career intentional women, it was found that three critical aspects paved the way for sustained intentionality in them. They are:

  • Career intentionality Creators – factors/forces/people who/which sowed the seeds of intentionality for a successful career. They were the typical dream creators.
  • Career intentionality Sustainers – These are factors/forces which resulted in keeping alive their career intentionality and helped their aspirations thrive.
  • Career intentionality Propellers – These are the intrinsic qualities in these women which gave momentum and continue to add momentum to their careers – the atypical skill repertoire.

The study conducted between Sep 2016 and Feb 2017, assessed the careers of over 147

The charts below detail the three aspects further:

What are some of the advantages of investing in building career intentionality in young girls from underprivileged backgrounds?

  1. Empowered Girls: They are empowered to build careers. They tend to marry late and have fewer children.
  2. Better living conditions for families: Research shows that a woman’s income correlated positively with the number of years her children spent in school. As women have a natural tendency to invest their incomes in children’s education and health, the economy grows alongside a healthier and better educated younger generation. Several global studies have shown that educated women contribute to the welfare of the next generation by reducing infant mortality, lowering fertility, and improving the nutritional status of children. Country studies also confirm significant health and educational outcomes. In India, children of literate mothers spend two hours more per day studying than children of illiterate mothers.
  3. Decline in instances of domestic violence: The ability to earn significantly impacts the confidence levels of Indian Women according to a 2014 study conducted by AVTAR. Research also shows that, being in employment and having a life outside of homes also empowers women and give them the confidence to report domestic crimes or other assaults that they are subject to – a definite requirement to the improvement of living conditions for women from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

And there is more in store for the country and businesses which operate here. The International Labour Organisation has suggested that women’s work may be the single-most important factor in reducing poverty in developing economies. A study on third billion countries established that an increased number of women in the workforce could imply that India’s GDP could go up by as much as 27%, per capita income could go up by as much as 20% by 2030. Other benefits of greater women’s workforce participation according to economists are:

  • Increased purchasing power of women
  • Enhanced skill diversity of the workforce as also its productivity
  • Business result improvements
  • Increased number of women owned businesses

The case has been made and conviction has been built. Triggering the wave of socio-economic inclusion for women is Project PUTHRI – India’s first initiative to build career intentionality in adolescent girls from underprivileged backgrounds. As much as it is important to extend infrastructural support for bettering their lives, it is equally important to make them intentional about pursuing education and building careers – the only definite way of segueing into a better world. It is important that the girls’ social ecosystem intervenes at appropriate life points to instill in them the need to pursue careers and enable their aspiration by means of necessary support. To look up to are the patterns of successful career development – one that is constituted by intentionality creators, intentionality sustainers and intentionality propellers. Each had their own share of struggle but all of them who made it big where intentional – about their careers, about their futures! Let us get together to show the young, ambitious but less-privileged girls– that there is in existence a methodological framework for success, ones that their sisters have leveraged to steer ahead!