Empowering India: These Women-Led Initiatives Help Underprivileged Youths Seek Employment

Indian widows, who lost their husbands during the massive floods in the northern Indian states that killed thousands last June, receive vocational training at the Deoli Bhanigram village in northern Uttarakhand state on December 15, 2013. The Sulabh Hope Foundation, a non-govermental organisation, launched job-oriented training for the disaster-affected women which the NGO adopted after the disastrous June 2013 floods to help them gain employment. (Photo: SAJJAD HUSSAIN/AFP via Getty Images)

According to the India Skills Report 2019 only 45.6 percent of the youth graduating from educational institutions are employable. The data is reflective of the high proportion of workers who are either poorly-trained or have no training whatsoever to be rendered employable. The report also suggest that only 4.69 percent of the total workforce in India constitute of formally skilled workers compared to 24 percent in China, 52 percent in the US, 68 percent in the UK, and 75 percent in Germany.

Skill development initiatives are hence the need of the hour in India, for bridging the gap between the current status and the desired level of formally trained workers.

At a time when the economy is nursing wounds inflicted by the Coronavirus pandemic and businesses are being forced to lay off people to survive, skill development initiatives will assume greater importance in the coming months. Upskilling can go a long way in helping youths - especially those from underprivileged backgrounds who have lost their jobs or are struggling to find jobs amidst the economic downturn – in making themselves employable.

On World Youth Skills Day, here are a few initiatives spearheaded by women and have transformed the lives of people from the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder by making them employable.

Ela Bhatt, founder of the SEWA Self-Employed Women's Association in Ahmedabad, India, clasps her hands together as she is awarded an honorary Harvard Doctor of Humane Letters Degree, June 7, 2001 during the university's 350th commencement ceremonies in Harvard Yard in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Bhatt organized a traqde union for poor Indian women who make a living by selling vegetables, recycling trash, hand-rolling cigarettes and working at other marginal occupations. (Photo: Reuters)

SEWA Bharat

Established in 1972 by civil rights leader Ela Bhatt, Ahmedabad-based SEWA (Self Employed Women's Association) is a self-employed women's trade union. As part of SEWA’s efforts in making women self-reliant, the organization also conducts various skill development programmes. More than 10,000 women from Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Bihar, West Bengal, and Kerala have benefitted from SEWA’s skill development initiatives.

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SEWA has numerous cooperatives under its aegis in various sectors, including dairy, agriculture, handicraft, service sector, credit, savings, and trade. SEWA conducts workshops and training sessions for helping women acquire skills in computer literacy, marketing, sales, hospitality and housekeeping, beauty culture, nursing, etc.


The idea of Upskill was born in a classroom in a management school. Founder Apar Kasliwal and his friends envisaged how a social enterprise could solve the problem of a large number of youths being unemployable in India due to lack of skills. It was Apar’s wife Mansi Agarwal who transformed the idea into reality in 2014. Since then, Upskill has helped thousands of underprivileged youths from rural and urban slums who have had no formal education gain employment in the organized sector.

UpSkill primarily imparts training in retail, automobile, and soft skills, and has two primary business verticals. The first one includes training centers and the second is a SaaS-based software platform called NODE which records data at all steps of the process from enrollment to placement and can be used by trainers, organizations, and industries. UpSkill has also collaborated with the Ministry of Minority Affairs and the Ministry of Rural Development in establishing residential and non-residential vocational training centers in different states including Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Shipra Bhutani

Quantum Career Academy

 After completing her MBA in entrepreneurship and business from IIM Calcutta, Shipra Bhutani took up the job of teaching economics at BIT Mesra, Jaipur campus. The stint made her realize there was a huge gap between what students learned in colleges and the skills required for getting jobs. She started a small skill enhancement center for students where they were taught industry-relevant skills like cloud computing, web designing, and digital marketing. Eventually, that paved the way for the inception of Quantum Career Academy, which now has more than 40 centers across the country. They are also a training partner with the National Skill Development Corporation.

Each year, more than 6,000 students are trained in industry-specific courses in these centers. The organization has also given a new lease of life to many women prisoners by imparting training in beautician and cooking skills. Shilpa’s initiative has helped more than 20,000 people gain employment. Besides prisoners, she has also helped army widows and women affected by war in Afghanistan.

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Founded in 2017 by Neelam Jain, a former Goldman Sachs employee, Chennai-based PeriFerry started as an initiative that helped people from the transgender community find respectable and sustainable jobs. Helping transgenders find employment involves equipping them with the skills as per the demands of corporate jobs. Under the organisation’s Trans Inn programme, homeless and distressed transpersons are provided employment training in areas such as computer literacy, spoken English, soft skills, and assistance with interview preparations in a residential programme for 1-3 months. The organization also conducts sensitisation workshops at the employer's premises to ensure a more inclusive workforce. Thanks to Periferry’s efforts, transgender persons have been placed in companies like Amazon, JP Morgan, Goldman Sachs, The Landmark Group, Accenture, ANZ Bank, Bayer, and IBM.


Neev, an NGO based in Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh, has been helping young women from impoverished families in the district become self-sufficient by making them proficient in a variety of arts, crafts, and sewing skills. Founded in 2015 by Aditi Diwan, a graduate in MA in Poverty and Development from the University of Sussex in England, the organization helps these women earn incomes by selling bed covers, cushion covers, chanderi sarees, table mats, table runners and the likes. Aditi’s family supports Neev by conducting exhibitions of these products in Delhi and abroad. Neev is also working actively to promote literacy in the villages of Shivpuri by enrolling children of these women in a private school in the district.

(Edited by Athira Nair)

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