Thursday, September 30, 2010

Unnati, Bangalore

Transforming a million lives

Unnati identifies unemployed, economically backward youth, trains them to become job-ready and places them in suitable jobs, all for free, writes Aruna Chandaraju

Confidence boost:  Unnati‚Äôs training has become a life-changing process for many youngsters. Photo by Aruna ChandarajuConfidence boost:  Unnati’s training has become a life-changing process for many youngsters. Photo by Aruna ChandarajuAt the sleek, new building of Unnati, three young men, Santosh Sarvanan, Umakant Arya and KM Madesha are sitting across the table and talking to us. All of them are from very disadvantaged families, who live below the poverty line. One is a high-school dropout, and the other two have barely managed to pass their high school and PUC respectively. Yet, all three are impressively self-assured, articulate young men who talk with confidence about themselves and their future.

All this is thanks to their job-oriented training at Unnati, the programme of SGBS Trust which locates unemployed, economically backward youth, trains them to become job-ready, and then places them in suitable jobs in good organisations. For three months, a person is given rigorous training in a chosen vocation. The course is intensive and lasts from 8 am to 6 pm on week days. Each person is also taught soft and life skills, values, spoken English and computer-skills.

Free training, educational material

All training and educational material are provided totally free of cost and what is more, these youth are also provided free meals and bus passes. At the end of the course, Unnati fulfills its promise of job-placement.

This training has also become a life-changing process for Anita Joy, a young widowed mother of two who was working as a domestic servant while struggling to support herself and her children. After hearing of Unnati she enrolled here for a guest-care training course. “I was cleaning utensils and washing clothes in various homes. Now, I am acquiring valuable skills and have Unnati’s wonderful guarantee of a decent job. This means that not only can I lead a better life but also do more for my children. I studied only up to the sixth class. But now I can give my children a good education,” she says.
The young Monica Sharma, who has passed her 12th class and is undergoing the same course, is also seeing the difference. “Once I become financially independent with the job they will give me, I will study BSc and then MSc.”

Youth who would have otherwise faced a bleak future, or worse, fallen prey to anti-social elements are now turning into productive members of their family and society thanks to Unnati’s intervention.

It is not about their individual upliftment alone. Now that they can look forward to a decent job and steady income.

These youngsters are excited that they can also raise their family’s standard of living. Some are also planning to study further once they are financially stable. Many students express happiness at the prospect of being able to educate their younger siblings too. “From being helpless ourselves, we can now look forward to helping ourselves and our family in so many ways,” said one youth. It is an impressive illustration of what the term ‘empowerment’ means.

“It is not only about getting a good income because of Unnati but also better health, education, social security, and a higher social status, in short it means an inclusive growth for the beneficiary and his family,” says Ramesh Swamy, Trustee, Unnati. “And this transformation of the lives of so many individuals translates, on a macro level, into social and economic transformation of the underprivileged sections of society. And when the youth who are the future of the country, are empowered, the country itself benefits,” he adds.

Unnati works to make unemployable youth employable through a variety of vocational training opportunities into which the youth are slotted given their inclination and aptitude. The vocations offered: retail sales, field sales, guest care in hotels and offices, BPO (data entry), industrial training, industrial painting, chauffeur/driver services and security services. The trustees are planning to add training in paramedics, computer-hardware management, and industrial carpentry /electrical/plumbing.

Initiative of SGBS Trust

This humanitarian programme, which began in 2003, is an initiative of SGBS Trust. This Trust which was founded in 1978 with a mission to serve different sections of society also has other programmes, Shiksha which focuses on primary education for the underprivileged and Utsav which promotes art and culture especially through a well-known annual festival during August-September.

There are about 100 students in the current batch at Bangalore. To date, about 1,300 have benefitted from Unnati. They have been placed in many top-notch organisations. To be eligible to join Unnati, a person must be at least 18 years of age and belong to an economically backward family. Though many of the participants have done their schooling up to some level, a person is accepted even if he/she has never been to school if he/she is truly in need of help. Unnati also trains train physically challenged youth and slow learners.

The facilities at this centre include eight training rooms, two computer rooms, and an air-conditioned auditorium with a capacity of 500. Besides, there is a dining room and a large kitchen. There is also a hostel for outstation students. Unnati’s goal is to empower one million youth by 2020. “We are also looking at establishing 300 centres across India in association with like-minded NGOs, organisations and individuals,” explains Ramesh Swamy. “We are ready to partner with anyone willing and capable. Two more centres are already functioning, one at Sirsi in Karnataka and the other at Pune.” The number of one million is a practical target, we are told, as the Unnati model is replicable and cost-effective and thus can be easily applied in other regions or locations across the country.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Can Rs.2800 transform lives?

A lot of times I feel a little despondent and helpless when I realize that what we have been doing through Focus India is a drop in the ocean. This thought particularly gains strength when there is a natural disaster. That is why I really appreciate emails like the one I am about to share. Isn’t it incredible and humbling to read how Rs.2800 can transform a poor woman’s life? Please read and share your thoughts.

The Ant’s Jagruti Cycle Bank

Amiron Nessa of Simlabari Village

32 year old Amiron Nessa got on a cycle for the first time in her life in a cycle learning camp organized by the ant for Muslim women in November 2008. She was one of the six women so inspired by the carnival like atmosphere of the camp – complete with music from loudspeakers – that she was cycling very well in 2 days time!
Schooled till Class 2, Amiron lives with her mother after she was deserted by her husband not long after marriage. She is the first Muslim women to take a cycle on loan from the Jagruti cycle bank. She now cycles 15 kms to and fro from Odalguri village to Bongaigaon town to work as a construction labour. She now earns over Rs.3000 a month (Rs 36000 p.a ). Amiron also taught cycling to her friend Ayesha, a widow with four children who also works as a construction labour. Ayesha had to endure 2 rounds of beating from her brother–in-law for daring to cycle. But that did not deter her from learning to cycle secretly. She has also taken a cycle on loan and the two are able to travel far for work.

After reading this I called Sunil Kaul, the founder of The ANT ( to understand more about the cycle bank and their other projects. It was an eye opening conversation and left me totally energized!
Sunil was telling me how the village had only men’s cycles and the Assamese women’s clothes did not permit them to ride men’s cycles. So, they bought women’s cycles in bulk, taught the women how to ride and gave them a loan to buy the bikes from them. Sunil said ANT did not give subsidies. Apart from the fact that subsidies encourage wastage of resources and make people dependant, he said the tribal people have a lot of dignity and self-respect and would rather take a loan.

He told me that the cycle scheme enabled to go to work and that girl children were able to ride to a high school, which was far away. I believe that initially the Muslim community did not allow their women to participate. To entice them, ANT organized carnival like events where women cycled through the community carrying colorful flags, banners etc. Finally he was able to get them to participate as well.

The other project ANT has is solar lighting. Each household is given a solar panel, which comes with two lights, one night lamp and one mobile charger. This whole package costs Rs.4000. This is not given free of cost either. The villagers have to pay it back in one to two years. What was interesting was that he said the organization which makes this solar light is a Trust and has given this free to several villages through corporate sponsorships. I believe the villagers use it and if there is any problem they just junk it. In contrast, since ANT’s beneficiaries pay for it, they come back and give specific feedback. This has actually helped the company improve and innovate! This is an important lesson to remember about giving things free to the poor. If it is free, it carries no value.

I hope Focus India can work with ANT next year.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Spread some warmth this Diwali...

Most of the visitors to this blog will be familiar with GOONJ, the NGO in India which is turning urban India's wastage into a useful resource for rural India.

Just to share some examples:

1. Each Engineering College in our country uses several chart papers (thick papers that are fairly big in size) for their students. This is typically used on one side only. It is stored in the college for a few years before it is discarded. Can you imagine what a big resource this would be for blind schools? They only need thick papers for Braille and they don't care if one side or both sides have been used. So, Anshu, as an experiment has connected Engineering Colleges in Maharashtra with a local Blind People's home. Will post the exact numbers of this effort once I hear from him.

2. Every school bag, water bottle, lunch box, stationery items discarded by an urban school child is repaired and given in a dignified manner to a rural school child.

3. Cloth for work in Indian villages ensures that the villages get good quality recycled cloth and in turn they do some work for village development.
Can you believe that this entire bridge was built under cloth for work scheme and GOONJ spent only
Rs.2200 for extra materials?

One of GOONJ's latest initiatives is to make blankets from recycled cloth called SUJNIS. Those of you who have listened to Anshu will recall that GOONJ started to help people dying from winters. Anshu called winter an annual disaster for those who don't have enough to cover themselves. So, GOONJ started making SUJNIS.

Sujni is a blanket/mattress made out of stitching together many torn cloth pieces.GOONJ has involved over 500 women & their families from the remote villages to convert old waste cloth into Sujni. It’s not only generating large scale employment but will also ensure a warmer winter for a much bigger population. Each Sujni costs around $3.50 only!

So, this DIWALI, let us spread some warmth to a family in a remote village by donating SUJNIS. For just $10, a family will get three SUJNIS. This donation is meaningful for three reasons:

1. Made from recycled cloth. 2. Employs village women. 3. Useful to a family in a village affected by winter.

Please visit for more details and to contribute directly. If you would like to contribute through Focus India, please write to


Many thanks to all my friends, FIF members and well-wishers for supporting this cause.


1. Sujatha $10
2. Seema $10
3. Kiran $70
4. Alka $70
5. Lavanya $50
6. Anjana $10
7. Surabhi $10
8. Lakshmi $10
9. Manju $10
10. Ashwini $10
11. Mallika $10
12. Kavita $10
13. Shweta $10
14. Kalpana $10
15. Reena $10
16. Shalini $10
17. Ranjitha $10
18. Himali $20
19. Parizad $10
20. Viji $10
21. Mamta $10
22. Madhulika $10
23. Kakoli $10
24. Anonymous $10.70
25. Tina $20
26. Shweta $50
27. Ritu $10
28. Swathi $10
29. Anu $10
30. Mayura $50
31. Simrat $20
32. Simmi $10
33. Anonymous $100
34. Anonymous $100
35. Qais Consulting $260
36. Savitha $100
37. Renuka $10
38. Ritika $50
39. Chumkie $50
40. Gaurav $30
41. Vinita $10
42. Anu $10
43. Gauri $10
44. Kanta $500
45. In honor of
Sameer Ranjit Advani $100
46. Deepali $10
47. Meenu $10
48. Brigitte $10
49. Ella $10
50. Geetika $50
51. Mam $10
52. Niharika $10
53. Sukanya $10
54. Prianjali $50
55. Jayesh $10
56. Himaal $20
57. Nupur $20
58. Janu $10
59. Devi $10
60. Sherna $10
61. Jay $10
62. Minaz $10
63. Debraz $10
64. Anonymous $10
65. Meenakshi $10
66. Niti $10
67. Davi $10
68. Seema $10
69. Charanjit $10
70. Astrid $10
71. Ruth $10
72. Geeta K $11
73. Sangeeta $10
74. Lucky $10
75. Geeta J $70
76. Aparna $50
77. Raveena $50
78. Neeta $250
79. Caroline $10
80. Anu K $50
81. Bhavani $10
82. Savita $50
83. Siri $20
84. Swathi $21
85. Shivalik $50
86. Natascha $50
87. Vanitha $10
88. Sucheta $50
89. Lakshmi $100
90. Shubha $50
91. Bindu $100
92. Anupama $150
93. Rajendra $50
94. Anjali $50
95. Anu A Rs.2000
96. Priya K $20
97. Priya D $10
98. Indu $10
99. Karishma $20
100. Rakhi $1100
101. Annapoorna $30
102. Bhavna $30
103. Naina $30
104. Joyita $10
105. Nandini (S) $10
106. Nandini (K) $10
107. Neena $10
108. Neeta $10
109. Sonali $10
110. Chetna $10
111. Reema $10
112. Taruna $10
113. Madhulika $10
114. Anju $10
115. Ruchika $50
116. Rashma $50
117. Bhavna $10
118. Aparna $10
119. Purnima $10
120. Anita $50
121. Deepti $10
123. Nupur $20
124. Smita $10
125. Manisha $10
126. Sudha $50
127. Deepali $20
128. Puja M $40
129. Vandana $10
130. Sandhya $30
131. Reena $10
132. Usha $10
133. Chitra VG $10
134. Mona $50
135. Suma $20
134. Shilpa $54
135. Nety $10
136. Participants of Art Competition $31
137. Sagarika $20
138. Kavita $260
139. Ashutosh $500
140. Nidhi $500
141. Jasmeet $30
142. Indu $20
143. Priya M $50
144. Mayura $200
145. Ruchika $50
146. Insya's mom $30
147. Imran $10
148. Vidhya $10
149. Ayesha $50
150. Divya $10
151. Saahil $10
152. Neela $100
153. Kalpana and friends $100
154. Raashi $10
155. Dhanya Nageswaran $25
156. Shantanu $100
157. Priya G $50
158. Light a lamp drive - Wateside Indians - $1000


$ 230.00 also donated to the above cause.