Wednesday, 7 April 2010
Keying their way to self empowerment
STORY: Going to office and working on computers was once a distant dream for them. Now it’s a reality for hundreds of women in Tikli and Aklimpur villages in Haryana, the neighbouring state of Indian capital of Delhi.
Life until six months ago was one shared by millions of Indian rural women-- doing household chores, tending to cattle, milking cows, raising children and going to fields.
Their way of life is still the same but has got a new dimension to it. They have started working in a BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) right in the heart of their village. The women-only rural BPO in India was started by 'Harva' which stands for harnessing value of rural India.
From cutting fodder for their cattle, clearing cow dung and cooking food to typing on computers, they are doing it with élan.
“I never thought I would be able to work on a computer. It was a big thing for me. But now working on a keyboard feels like a cakewalk. We come here for eight hours and do our job. I’m so proud of myself,” says 18-year-old-Puja.
Bimla, 35, can now type 35-40 words in a minute. She can mine relevant pieces of information from a pool of data and can do data entry job. All this she learnt during three-four months training course.
However, getting these women to shun their veils and come to training centre was no mean task. It took a lot of persuasion and persistence to get them out of the confines of their houses, breaking rigid cultural and social traditions in a male dominated society.
Ajay Chaturvedi, a business management graduate from University of Pennsylvania, an engineer from BITS Pilani and a banker visualised and started the company of which the rural BPO is an important component. He said it was his conviction in what he was doing made villagers believe him and his conviction gave a ray of hope to these women..
“When we heard of Ajay’s proposal we were elated that we would be trained and get jobs,” said Puja.
So, it all began six months ago and 500 women were initially selected to be trained on computer basics.
“Irrespective of their formal educational, they were selected on their ability to read and write and some basic understanding of English language, apart from their willingness to learn, which played the determining factor,” said Chaturvedi.
They were trained for three-four months for free of cost. During the course they learnt about office culture, basic English, communication skills, apart from MS Office.
The beginning was not easy, recalled 29-year-old Archana. “We were shy, a bit hesitant and all of a sudden had to cope with machines and technology. But gradually with training and motivation we picked up fast” she said.
Their determination not only got them through the training but also rewarded them with short-term employment.
Out of 500 women, 200 actually completed the course and 50 got deployed on various projects. Twenty women are still working on some projects which involve data mining, 30 more women are likely to get work as new projects are coming in.
While opening of the BPO has created jobs for these rural women, this is no way an NGO (non-government-organisation) which just aims at social welfare and no accountability, said Chaturvedi. He believes that the only way to capture the rural India market is by “socio-capitalistic business models”.
“This is a business venture with a conscience and social responsibility. I am a capitalist who would see whether a business model is viable and profitable or not. After ensuring this, social cause can be served. If I create value, create business and opportunities, it will benefit everyone including the villagers," said he.
He is frank to admit that he did not employ women out of charity. "Women are overall superior beings, far more hardworking and serious. They can do a job in half of the time men can. They are multi-tasking and efficient and can work at a stretch without taking breaks, whereas men would take many small breaks during work hours," added Chaturvedi.
He gave an example of a 25-year-old woman with just class VIII education who crammed an entire computer keyboard in just three hours, “a thing which is not so easy even for people like him,” he admits.
He believed in women’s strength and enabled them to put their skills to use by opening a window of opportunity for them in form of a BPO centre.
This entrepreneur left his lucrative job with a bank to tap rural talent and opportunities.
He has already dabbled his hands in community farming for non-rain-dependent cash crop in Uttarakhand. He now wants to expand it to 10 thousand acres across the country benefiting 10,000 farmers in the next 4-5 years.Providing credit to rural people through micro-financing and waste management are his next upcoming dream projects.
Providing credit to rural people through micro-financing and waste management are his next upcoming dream projects.
But for now, he wants to take this BPO model to other villages after seeing its success in Tikli, Aklimpur and surrounding villages.
Working at the BPO centre has given a lift to women’s image and bought them a ticket to economic freedom, even though in a small way.
Bimla was over the moon when she received her first salary of little over Rs2000. “Whatever little amount I got, it was mine. It was a result of my hardwork and I realised its worth. I feel
“City people always think rural women are illiterate and uncultured. But now we have proven them wrong. We are educated and all we need is just an opportunity,” says Reena, the most vocal among the rest, adding, “Since the villagers know we are getting salaries every month, they too want to send their girls and daughters-in law over here.”
The last six months spent at the BPO have made them better with time management and multi-tasking.
“Earlier we used to spend the entire day in doing household chores. But after joining the BPO, we finish all our work by 10am, come to office, work here and go back for the evening chores,” said Bimla.
Apart from being a source of their financial independence, the centre has become a platform for these women to make friends. Now they have their own space amidst 20 computers in this two-room centre nestled in sprawling fields
“We have bonded really well. During our breaks we share our happiness and sorrows, married life, problems and issues at home or outside. It gives us a lot of emotional support,” said 25-year-old Manju with a smile.
All they want now is some sustainable long–term projects which would guarantee them regular work and income. But for the time being they are enjoying their new avatar, and ‘keying’ their success story.