By Kavitha Srinivasa
Anudip Foundation, a not-for-profit digital skills development organization, has created a suite of offerings to digitally empower students from rural households. Many of them have found a footing in reputed companies.
When ActionAid and Reuters Foundation approached Dipak Basu to carry out an ethnographic study in the Ganges Delta region located south of Kolkata, little did Basu know that he would find his calling. The year was 2005 when he saw for himself that the children of the region were digitally deprived. He was then a former techie and saw technology in a different lens. It occurred to him that rural India needs to be brought into the fold of computers in order to bridge the digital divide and build the economy. This realization led to the establishment of Anudip Foundation in 2007. A beginning was made by starting Digital Learning Centers in Sundarbans. Right from the inception, these centres have aligned the courses as per market requirement. The training includes digital skills as well as e-commerce skills, along with spoken English and workplace readiness. “Through a partnership with Accenture, girls whose education didn’t go beyond Standard X and Standard XII became part of online projects,” said Monisha Banerjee, CEO, Anudip Foundation. This was the turning point. From then on, Anudip has grown from time to time evolving as an organization that leads marginalized communities towards a career path.
“Over the 13 years of its existence, Anudip has evolved from a localized computer training NGO in the mangrove forests of the Sunderbans in West Bengal, to a national social enterprise, serving tens of thousands of marginalized youth every year by delivering in-demand IT and behavioral skills. We are proud of our donor base, a veritable who’s who of global technology and financial companies, our relationships with leading Indian employers, and our 1 lakh plus alumni who are now responsible citizens,” stated Dipak Basu, Founder-cum-Chairman, Anudip.
Anudip partners with corporate donors as Accenture, Citi, JP Morgan, Cisco, Google, NetHope, ITC, ICRA, Wells Fargo, Capgemini, Microsoft, Bank of America, HSBC, mjunction and others whose support has enabled us to impact more than 100,000+ youth and women from marginalized communities and under developed locations. With this conviction, Anudip set out to build a team of students by conducting field work in rural belts. In order to get a pulse on the market requirement as well as to understand the youth of a particular region, regular meetings have been conducted with the Gram Panchayat and local education institutions, coupled with door-to-door campaigns. Together, they have helped bring a sizeable number of students into the 12-week programme. Students comprise boys and girls, who are over 18 years of age, and are dropouts or had to discontinue their education due to financial constraints.
Other than that, the employment exchange board and ITI (industrial training institute) are also channels for identifying youth. Moreover, the mobile has percolated into the rural economy. With the Smartphone penetration in India, we have been able to mobilize rural and per-urban youth through Facebook, Instagram awareness campaigns and Live Sessions. Accordingly skill training centres are set up and content is customized as per the company’s requirement. The outlook is aligned with the Digital India Mission.
“What is important is the application of tech skills to evolve pedagogy. The challenge is to teach digital skills to students for whom learning is equated to rote learning,” reasoned Banerjee. Anudip beneficiaries, youth and women, are from high-need, marginalized communities; religious minorities, tribals, political refugees, people with disabilities or victims of trafficking. They are led through a process of continuous improvement, in-depth and diverse training and continuous mentoring at the various skill development training centres across India. Our curriculum, enriched with educational technologies and customized content creates an immersive professional development program. Blended learning ensures that the student is engaged and drives smart learning experience. Our digitized curriculum with customized content, multimedia and games, creates an immersive professional development program generating digitally trained candidates.
By then, word had spread that Anudip had groomed rural students to be part of the IT world. For Basu, digital inclusion became his key concern. The idea has been supported by his wife Radha Basu who is the co-founder of Anudip and a leading tech entrepreneur, mentor, advisory and a pioneer in the Indian software business. Radha is the Founder and CEO of iMerit Technology Services, a leader in artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and other new age technologies. As a strategic partner of iMerit, more than 1200+ Anudip’s alumni have been employed at iMerit, working on new age technologies. The Anudip-iMerit collaboration has brought tech-based work to girls in rural suburbs of India. It has turned out to be a successful outsourcing exercise, whereby girls from villages were undertaking global projects that required the know-how of AI skills as well as data annotation.
Ever since the project took off, Anudip Foundation has had a rural outreach by establishing 100 centres across 16 states. The global certification programmes range from basic digital literacy, financial literacy, Work place English Communication and readiness to coding. One thing led to the other, enabling the Foundation to forge ties with leading employers like Tata Consultancy, Genpact, Amazon, iMerit, Wishnet, Tech Mahindra, Capgemini, Vodafone, Infosys, Doodle and others – who hire Anudip graduates, based on their requirement.
“As the training evolved, we realized that many students lacked social security and this urged us to create sustainable intervention models of various kinds,” explained Banerjee.
In all, Anudip runs four programmes, the flagship one being DIYA, an acronym for Digital Inclusion of Young Aspirants. This technology-driven skills development programme offers a fully digitized learning experience with employer-driven course delivered in a high-tech, blended-learning environment. DIYA is designed for careers in e-commerce, logistics, retail, mobile payments, banking and finance, telecom and other sectors.
As the programme got going, the core team found that a large section of the youth in rural India is represented by the differently abled people. That’s how SAVE or Specially Abled Vocational Education came up. These visually- and physically-challenged candidates are given IT-based vocational skills training and corporate job placement service. SAVE has worked out because the training centre is operated in partnership, with a local NGO working in the field of disabilities. With counseling, many such people have been acclimatized to the work environment. Many of them have moved out of West Bengal to Bangalore in search of jobs and are doing quite well for themselves. Like SAVE, Anudip has also arrived at 3D4D or 3D Printing for Development, which designs prosthetic solutions for less privileged amputees. These are lightweight, customized, 3D-printed prosthetics for needy amputees. Through innovation, the design has been conceptualized to keep costs low. Already 300 such prosthetic arms have been distributed to hospitals.
The fourth programme which evolved along the way is BEST or Building Entrepreneurs to Stop Human Trafficking. “Many girls as young as 15 years of age with low education levels have been sexually abused. We work with rehabilitation centres and shelter homes to build their resilience,” added Banerjee.
A combination of innovative methods, technologies and a specific market need has resulted in diverse programmes. It’s a hybrid model, comprising an instructor and digitized content with gamified tools to keep the students engaged. The organization has deployed an English learning app. From rote learning they’ve gradually progressed to enquiry-based learning.
Anudip is present in locations whose youth hardly have access to education, skills and employability. “Life. Transformed.” — Anudip’s philosophy — runs through all the initiatives, offerings, communications and experiences. The nonprofit organization connects the underprivileged with livelihood options. Its digital livelihood programmes has helped uplift youngsters from economically backward households since 2007. The handholding and mentoring has clicked because the organization has joined hands with a diverse section of employers and tailors programmes to meet their hiring requirements. With a footing in India and US, Anudip has brought small town India or aspirational India into the digital fold.