As new members of the Acumen Fund family, we were excited about the opportunity to visit Edubridge, one of Acumen Fund’s most recent investments in the education space. The company was set up to create a bridge for the unemployed youth of the country by providing them commercially relevant training at their doorstep and arming them with the necessary skills and mindset to succeed in their professional careers.
This visit was our first glimpse into the impact our investments were having on the ground. We were faced with a little uncertainty at the outset, as the day we had picked was right after a very big local festival (Ganesh Chaturthi) and there was high likelihood that classes would be cancelled due to low student turnout. With our fingers crossed, our motley crew (joined by a videographer, and our London-based BD Manager, Vinay Nair) made an early start from Mumbai to drive 3 hours to Pune.
After we reached Chinchwad, an industrial suburb on the outskirts of Pune, one of India’s fastest growing cities, we managed to find the Edubridge center in the middle of a small marketplace. The location is perfect for their target customer: students who have completed high school and in some cases even undergraduate degrees, but have been unable to gain employment. Edubridge’s offering was simple – to provide a 75-hour crash course in soft skills and an additional 75 hours of coaching for a specific service industry of the student’s choice, including retail, BPO, banking and sales. The entire course has a fee of Rs 4500 (100 USD) which also guarantees the student an entry-level job in one of these industries, paying a minimum of 100 USD per month, so the student can cover the cost of training within one month of employment.
At the center we were greeted by Nilesh Tupe, one of Edubridge’s oldest employees and a star trainer. Nilesh himself had a very interesting background – having trained as a hotel management graduate, he worked in the hospitality and merchant naval industry for many years, before moving onto the world of education and skill development due to his passion for teaching. Given his background, the students could not have wished for a better role model for their entry into the corporate world. The students we met respected him tremendously and considered him instrumental in changing their lives for the better.
Over the next few hours, we listened to several stories of recent participants in the Edubridge program. Sangita’s story touched our hearts in particular. She had been forced into marriage by her parents at the age of 15 to a man much older than her. The next 15 years of her life were devoted to managing the house and kitchen, as well as looking after their two daughters who were now five and nine years old. Without the opportunity to pursue her education due to an early marriage, she was unable to help her children with their school work or even catch a bus to travel by herself – things we normally take for granted. Her month of Edubridge training and Nilesh’s coaching were instrumental in building her self-confidence. Edubridge helped her learn specific skills in retail and customer interaction, soft skills like improved body language, appropriate attire for a corporate setting and interview skills. Her self-confidence gained a tremendous boost and she landed herself an entry-level job at Dominos as a customer service executive.
Many similar stories emerged as the day progressed. We met a girl, Monali who was from an extremely poor family, who wanted to be the ‘best business woman’ of India. The hopes, dreams and aspirations of young people from such difficult backgrounds demonstrated the indomitable human spirit and the power of helping these people realize their dreams. All these young adults belonged to low-income families who are unable to enter the mainstream workplace due to a fundamental gap in the Indian education system – and Edubridge was able to provide them with that last push of skills, personality development, and career guidance.
Nilesh had another interesting exercise lined up for the second half of the day; we were invited to be sit-in students in one of his classes in another center nearby. The session for the day focused on soft skills training. He highlighted the need for appropriate attire in the work place, the importance of body language, and respecting people’s personal space. To drive home the key messages, Nilesh used simple but powerful examples from Bollywood. The course content also included games and quizzes, and the interactivity and fun elements ensured students paid attention throughout. Nilesh rounded the session off by taking them to the computer lab for typing practice, which was particularly essential for those entering the BPO industry.
With this experience in the morning and the class visit in the afternoon, we left convinced that this course was necessary in almost all schools in the country – these were very essential life and interpersonal skills that all individuals need. We also departed feeling inspired by the students who were changing their lives, and by Nilesh and the rest of the Edubridge team who are working hard to make that change possible.