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A fresh start: Bringing Indian youth closer to 21st century jobs

Six to eight million young people join the workforce every year in India. Let’s hear the stories of three young people who have eagerly taken up digital skills to access new economic opportunities. For Farha, Paige, and Devi, vocational training has helped them widen their work options and life dreams.

Farha, from Delhi, is a young woman who in another time might have been constrained by familial traditions, but who now aspires to become a magistrate. She knows that to achieve that dream, a strong foundation of digital skills and work experience will be essential. In India, only 27 percent of women make up the workforce compared with 79 percent of men.

Paige is a transgender from Hyderabad who dreams of having an IT job in the healthcare sector, where her employability would be judged on her skills and experience and not her gender choice, appearance and lifestyle. Her challenge is to make the shift from the informal economy of begging and sex work, to the formal economy where her rights, health, and safety will be protected and respected.

Devi, from Chennai, is a young woman who had a tough start in life, but who now has big plans to grow her water delivery business, using an online customer management system. Her ambition is to inspire other women in her community to follow her example.

There are three strands to Microsoft India’s strategy to empower people like Farha, Paige, and Devi:

•  create opportunities for underserved young people to acquire 21st-century digital skills through technical and vocational training;

•  invest in nonprofits to deliver this training while empowering their staff with modern workplace technology;

•  and advocate for new digital friendly pro-work, pro-youth policies.

As Manju Dhasmana, Director of Corporate Affairs at Microsoft India, explains: “Because the young people we work with come from underserved communities, it is critical to complement digital skills training with life skills – job readiness, confidence building, entrepreneurship mindset – to connect them to economic opportunities and set them on a course for a better livelihood.”

To achieve penetration in rural and marginalized areas, Microsoft partners with nonprofits like NASSCOM Foundation, Aide et Action, and the CAP Foundation. They run mobilization campaigns to find young participants cut off from training opportunities.

Paige is a case in point. Transgenders in India often live in closed communities. Social stigma frequently denies them access to job training. When the CAP Foundation designed a course specifically for the transgender community, they found a common pragmatic need. Dr. Nalini Gangadharan, founder and chairperson at CAP Foundation, explains, “We started developing an employability skills program that allows transgenders to learn, earn and move on in life.”

Meanwhile, India’s big dream of creating full employment will stall if the imbalance between the workforce participation of men and women isn’t addressed. Devi’s case is proof of the saying, “Give us the tools and we will finish the job”.

Her training, provided by Aide et Action, focused on learning Microsoft Office. Within weeks she had the idea to use Excel to list all her customers, their orders, and frequency of water consumption. She started with her dog-eared customer list that was scribbled in an old notebook. But now she manages a system that is driving business growth and better customer service.

With new entrepreneurial skills, she has become an employer herself with a staff of three. She has also taken on a community role as an advocate for local women who want to become digitally literate so they can set up their own businesses.

Devi’s husband is an ardent supporter of her business. “She’s improved her skills and knowledge by using a computer,” he said. “She’s developing her business and my support is always with her.”

Nowadays the digital world is starting to dominate many aspects of our lives. But not everyone is part of this change. Meet Farha, a young woman from Delhi, who was recruited by NASSCOM for the Code A Future program a year ago.

Her trainer, Faezan Gouri, explains: “When I first started training Farha, she did not know anything about technology. She was afraid to even start up the computer.”

Her parents agreed to her enrolment on the condition that her elder brother would drop her off and pick her up from classes. Three months later, Farha graduated with a certificate in digital skills. Almost immediately she was snapped up by a local call center who offered her a team supervisor’s job.

Farha loves the job, but she sees it only as a stepping stone to build her skills so she can pursue a career in India’s legal system. Her passion is women’s rights, something she now researches every evening after class using the training center’s laptop, internet connection, and newly learned web skills.

Paige’s opportunity to improve her employability and overcome stigma; Devi’s blossoming entrepreneurial skills leading to a new community role; Farha’s awakened interest in women’s rights driven by online research: These examples demonstrate the multiplier effects that digital skilling has on young people.

With 46,000 youth trained last year by four nonprofits resulting in over 17,000 being employed and going on to double their family’s income, Microsoft Philanthropies in India is showing that a triple focus on trainee, training provider and employer yields strong outcomes. With 2,500 new entrepreneurial ventures established as a direct result of the digital skills training, it also demonstrates that the positive impact digitally literate people are having on Indian society goes far deeper than the figures alone suggest.

To read more about Microsoft Philanthropies’ work to build future-ready generations in Asia, click here.