It was a privilege to speak to Meera Shenoy at the India Inclusion Summit 2016. She is a well-known social change maker, founder of Youth4Jobs, author, advisor, along with donning many other roles in life.
Here are the excerpts from the interview, as exchanged with Sapna Ramaiah.
Why did you decide to become a social entrepreneur?
I worked in the corporate world; then business media, and television. While visiting villages to capture rural innovations, in print and on camera, a time came when I had a burning desire to work at the grass root level. This began my journey with skilling underprivileged youth.
I set up India’s first Skilling Mission – EGMM (Employment Generation and Marketing Mission), for the government of Andhra Pradesh. Having led it for six years, I later consulted with the World Bank and UNDP, focusing on skilling adolescent girls and youth in Bihar.
Four years ago, I set up Youth4Jobs by leveraging our understanding of skilling underprivileged youth for over a decade, with aim to work in the vulnerable area of skilling youth with disabilities, from villages, for jobs.
How do you spread awareness in villages about Youth4Jobs?
Parents in villages believe their child with disability is unfit for a job. Girls with disability are kept hidden at homes, as families think disability is a curse and their sibling may not get a suitable groom/bride. So the youth is made to believe they are unemployable.
We have a kit which is used by different stakeholders in the program, to motivate parents, and opinion makers like school teachers. This sends the message that there is “ability in disability”, motivates them to enroll into our trainings, and stands out as Trainings with a Difference. They actually end up in an organized sector job, depending on their education levels and aspirations.
Can you tell us a bit about your new book ‘You Can’?
I wanted to change people’s mindset about disability, and a book was an out-of- the-box solution. The book is my simple effort to invert the world get the non-disabled inspired by the disabled.
It was released at the world’s largest literary festival, Jaipur Literary festival. The book has two sections: the first covers successful entrepreneurs with disability and the second looks at CEOs who have integrated disability into their business model.
The message is “If they can, YOU CAN”. The book is doing well and has been praised by academicians at Harvard, Cornell and leading chairmen and CEOs. Our Hon’ble Minister of Skilling and Employment has given a foreword to the book. There are requests for translations. Companies invite me to do workshops around the book on “ability in disability”.
There is a gap between education and jobs. What is your advice to the youth?
There are two paths to a job: education through degree or acquired technical knowledge. Young men and women should be clear about their aspirations and competencies and accordingly decide which path to take. Counselling is important to help the rural youth make these informed choices.
In India, because of this gap, it may be good to go through short term courses, which gives the requisite skills to prepare youth for jobs.