The significant disconnect between the education imparted and livelihood skills needed in rural India is a major contributor towards the migration to urban areas. Educational curricula focus more on the needs of the urban population. Knowledge and skill-sets relevant to the daily lives of the rural population are not addressed in the educational curricula.
Sunanda Mane is bridging the gap between education imparted in secondary schools and real life skills required in rural India. By introducing trained local entrepreneurs into schools, Sunanda creates an environment where students are able to develop entrepreneurial skills. As a result of her work in over 60 Government aided schools in rural Maharashtra over the last four years, absenteeism and drop-out rates have decreased significantly.While working to develop entrepreneurial skills and qualities in the students, Sunanda seeks to ensure that the youth remain locally connected. Towards this end she trains local micro-entrepreneurs to act as role models and become instructors in schools to train the students. Students also acquire practical business skills such as timeliness, calculating costs, marketing and selling their products locally and ascertaining profits.
Sunanda Mane is bridging the gap between education imparted in secondary schools and real life skills required in rural India.
1. You have just been elected as an Ashoka Fellow. What impact has that had on your work?
- Suddenly Lend-A-Hand India and I have become a part of a big family which believes in similar values, approaches and goals.
- Much larger exposure and networking opportunity due to affiliation with Ashoka.
- Connections through Ashoka Fellows will be available not only in India but in other countries to spread the message of education quality and the need to establish strong links between formal education and job/career/entrepreneurial opportunities.
- Critical personal financial assistance and therefore more freedom and security to pursue the passion.
2. How did the Ashoka selection process impact you?
- Made me look at myself critically, analyze my work, identify my strengths and weaknesses, put the work in perspective, gave a time, luxury, and opportunity to look at myself.
- The Ashoka representative had really good listening skills and great patience. That developed confidence in me to share my fears and apprehensions with her.
- The selection process was a great learning experience. Very thorough, sincere and humble.
Aptitude test in progress in a village temple. (Image credit: LAHI)
3. What are some of the major challenges you have faced in your work and how did you overcome them?
- Changing the system, established norms even if we realize that they are not delivering, are working – tendency for status quo.
- How to motivate people to change. It is always a long process and in the span of the project period, it is really difficult to achieve it. Therefore sometimes there is the danger of a top-down approach
- NGO – Govt. working together and synergy.
- Local politics at village level – how to stay out of it and still get the work done.
- Deal with culture of subsidy and free services.
How to over come:
- Patience, conviction, well thought strategy, freedom to operate on the ground with flexibility (donor relation, trust in partnership)
- Be open, don’t give false hopes, least ambiguity in operations, be up front, show through actions, behavior of staff is your sincerity, show concern.
- Take advice from local people and incorporate as much as possible.
- Deliver your promise.
4. Where do you draw inspiration and strength?
- People who in spite of all odds still hold hope for better future and want to change their lives.
- My family and their influences (mother and grand father)
- Opportunity that I got to understand the lives and challenges of the poor and under privileged through my career of over 15 years in the development sector.
- Confidence and trust of the people who support LAHI.
- Incremental change that I and my staff witness after lot of hard and challenging work.
- Looking at examples of people who have been able to change the world for better.
'Road play' is one of the important skills taught in the Community Leadership programs. A group of participants works on the Road Play assignment from identifying an issue, script writing, to conducting the road play in a community. (Image credit: LAHI)
5. What are some books and films which have had impact on you (if any)?
- I used to read a lot during high school and college years, everything that I could find, including the “Raddi” news paper used as a wrapping. Though I studied in Marathi medium, I used to read a lot in English.
In my late twenties I read Tolstoy, Ayn Rand, Vivekananda and many business magazines including Economists and Time.
The wide spectrum of exposure through reading, I think, helped broaden my perspective of issues and understanding. My education in Economics also helped.
Among the movies, watched many mainstream movies along with Satyajit Ray, Bimal Roy, and Marathi theatre. The movies helped me understand facets of human mind and their lives. The most recent, movie which I think every one must see and I liked very much is “Three Idiots”.
6. Sometimes although people close to us may be doing inspiring work, we are not influenced by them. What is it about your grandfather (who implemented adult education around your village) and mother (who ran a local library) and/or you that enabled you to be positively influenced by them?
When both of them were doing their own bit, I was too young to have the perspective of what difference they were making or how important it was. But the sheer exposure of going with them to remote villages, mixing with all kinds of people, doing lot of things by hand, the discipline that they enforced, not as a regiment but as good habits, I suppose helped in later life.
7. What have you have learnt from the youth you work with?
LAHI youth learning about the solar eclipse. (Image credit: LAHI)
They are smart; they know much more about things around them, they are e-savvy, and they are ambitious.
About learning from them, how to be bold, outgoing.
8. You re-designed the business management course at the University of Pune so it would better meet real needs. Despite criticism, you convinced Enron to invest in the some of the most urgent issues in the region such as environmental pollution. What lessons did you learn in making change within bureaucracies and successfully going against the institutional grain when you saw an important need? What light can you shed for others who may also be striving to do the same?
Re-designing the MBA course was a team effort, so I do not get all the credit. In making change, I think what makes a difference is how much you are really convinced and do you have the conviction to make it happen. It is very easy for others to see through, if you are not. Once people know your sincerity, they are ready to at least talk with you. That is an opening and your way in to working with them.
Give a long rope for the things to work out, be patient. Things may not happen always your way but stick on, be flexible but strong.
9. What have you learnt about yourself from this journey?
I am a strong person (and do not necessarily come across as such and many times it helps). I can generate enthusiasm, energy around a good idea and make a team work. I am patient and serious. I manage small talk but really not very good at it. I am more comfortable working on my mission than talking about it public forums. I underestimate myself and the work LAHI does most of the times. I trust in the goodness of people and sometimes the trust is misplaced.
LAHi's vocational training program encourages innovation and creativity in its students. One student, Kasim Inamdar, designed and built these domes as low-cost housing options that are also earthquake-proof. (Image credit: LAHI).
10. Which strengths and virtues of yours have been most useful during your journey? Could you give examples of how.
Patience has paid in personal and professional life. Long term vision. Invest in team. Trust people. Take responsibilities and not afraid to take decisions.
Some examples are:
In mid nineties the organization with which I was working was developing its corporate donors’ portfolio and the program I was leading was the first active corporate partnership program on the ground. There was strong opposition from the local NGOs to do any work in the area as they opposed the particular corporation. The NGOs had point blank indicated that we (my organization) will not be able to work in that area, that they will not cooperate, and I will have to wind up and go back in six months’ time. Amidts this, against the long established practice of my organization to not get involved in ground level implementation, in the given situation, I was able to convince my management that to show our conviction and ability to deliver to the needy communities, we should get involved in direct implementation. We chose to work through the least area of resistance in primary schools and through the schools, undertook few community level interventions (quick impact programs) such as cleaning of wells prior to the monsoon season to avoid water borne diseases among the children. Within a year we were able to forge partnerships with several NGOs and launch much needed livelihood programs in the area.
In my two previous assignments which were entrepreneurial in nature – establishment of voluntary action center and a training institution – because of the great team that I was able to put together and the systems approach to the working, both the organizations flourished and expanded their programs.
11. What are some suggestions you have for those who want to have deep impact on the world?
I would repeat what I have said in part of Q3 and Q10 above.
Is there anything else you would like to add to help others understand and learn from your journey?
Not really. Mine has been relatively smoother journey because of the help from my family, complete support of my husband, and good colleagues and staff that I was fortunate to have.
I would add, make many friends as it provides many opportunities to learn and connect with the wider world.
For more information:
Watch a video on Plan100, an initiative to equip 20,000 girls and boys from 100 high school based in rual India with job and life skills.