On February 23, the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship announced a partnership with US-based billionaire Romesh Wadhwani's philanthropic initiative, Wadhwani Operating Foundation, for the Pradhan Mantri Yuva Udyamita Vikas Abhiyaan (YUVA), the central government's entrepreneurship development mission. The aim of the mission is to provide entrepreneurship education/training in 2,200 colleges, 300 schools, 500 government industrial training institutes and 50 vocational training centres through massive open online courses. YUVA will also connect entrepreneurs, especially from remote areas, with mentors and credit markets. Ajay Kela, Chief Executive Officer of Wadhwani Foundation, talks to Joe C. Mathew about the ambitious programme. Edited Excerpts:
What is the connection between the foundation and YUVA?
Our primary aim is to accelerate development in emerging economies through large-scale job creation. When we started this journey 10 years ago, India was entering a demographic boom. Even if seven million people out of the 12 million who turn 18 every year seek jobs, it is a very large number. The Birlas and the Ambanis are not creating these many jobs. On the other hand, thousands of problems are screaming for solutions. So, we realised if we can take the best and brightest from IITs and IIMs and get them to solve the nation's problems, and in turn create companies and jobs, it will be a win-win for all.
Did you have a template which the government adopted as YUVA?
Our goal was to create entrepreneurs en masse. We started with IITs and IIMs. Entrepreneurship is tough. Even in Silicon Valley, 80-90 per cent start-ups fail. So, you need the best ingredients, and then you need to train and coach them. Even then you expect that only eight out of 10 will make it. So, in 2003, our journey started with signing up with institutes and telling them to start entrepreneurial courses. We developed the content and trained their faculty members. We continued to add colleges. We have trained around 3,000 faculty members in 500 institutes over the past 12 years. Around three years ago, we said we have a proven model, and so let's scale up. We realised the dependency on faculty and decided to digitise content to target students directly and have faculty members as facilitators. The YUVA project (modelled on this) is delivered in a class room, with teacher as a facilitator, but the content is online. We approached the government with the model, and after two years of discussions and scrutiny, signed the partnership.
What will be the governments contribution?
We designed the structure for them. The government has identified more than half the participating institutions. Now, it will select the faculty members. Then, we will train the faculty members and give them the content. In the YUVA model, the beneficiary is the institute; it gets courses on entrepreneurship that it can offer to students. To make that happen, you need content, which we will provide, you need bandwidth, for which he government has to pay. Faculty also has to be paid, either by the institute or the government. We train the faculty. Faculty salary and infrastructure/training costs will be taken care of by the government. Institutes can also charge the students. The government is paying `3-5 lakh per institution.
Do you also give ideas?
We don't come up with ideas, the students do. An entrepreneur has to learn a lot of things. The first thing is how to identify an idea. How to validate that idea to know if it will have market value? How do you select team members? These are six-semester courses.
Is there a timeframe? Are any targets set?
It is for five years. Along with the 3,000 institutes through YUVA, we will have 1,500 (including the existing 500 colleges) of our own too. The programme we are running now is for entrepreneurship. Once the person starts a company, the failure rate is high. You need to minimise that. Three years ago, we started a programme called Entrepreneur Support, which will also be scaled up. We already have this ecosystem in Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai. But if India has to progress, you need to get to both Tier-I and Tier-II cities. So, our goal is to get somewhere near 50-100 Silicon Valley ecosystems, where institutes produce entrepreneurs, and once you step out, your meet mentor and investor networks. We also train high net worth individuals to become angel investors. They have the money, Rs 50 lakh is not an issue for most of them, but they don't know how to find a deal, how to structure a deal, how to evaluate a deal. We are working on that. Our goal is to create 5,000 angels across the country.
Which are the most promising sectors?
There are certainly some sectors such as health care, education, retail, etc, that are growing. There are opportunities there. But entrepreneurs have to go deep and find a niche; it can be in any sector. The opportunity can be across sectors. You have to identify the consumer, your target segment. Just like you need machines, you also need drama classes. You need beautician stores and beautician chains.
How many success stories so far?
Over a hundred. Practo is an example. As I said, success is not easy. These 100 are from the thousands that we have trained.
How much money has the foundation put in so far?
We have spent more than $100 million in the past 10 years.
Do you have partnerships with governments on skilling also?
Multiple. We have partnerships with Haryana, Orissa and Rajasthan governments. Here, we upgrade skills of high school students. It's a four-year journey. It begins with 9th grade. All these three-month skilling programmes are useless. You cannot take 12th graders with a power to earn `5,000 to `6,000 a month, give them a month's training and equip them for a better task. All these short-term skilling plans are in the name only. You need at least 12-18 months training.