You do not need a million bucks to make a difference; personal motivation and belief are enough. Proving this true is Ramesh Swamy, co-founder of Unnati, a Bangalore-based social initiative that provides vocational education to poor youth. Swamy launched the aptly-named initiative - Unnati means progress in Sanskrit - in 2003, along with about 50 donors under the Sree Guruvayurappan Bhajan Samaj Trust. "We decided to fund a few students when we realised that young people from poor backgrounds were in dire need of training," says Swamy, who earns his living from his family's logistics business. Unnati provides food, shelter and training to poor people for free during its 70-day programmes.
In the first five years, it trained 350 students and helped them get jobs in sectors such as retail, hospitality and security services. It picked up momentum in 2008, when it set up the Unnati Centre with help from Infosys Foundation. "Their support has changed the pace of our initiative," says Swamy. Unnati has also tied up with nongovernmental organisations and expanded its footprint outside Bangalore. It set up three centres in Ahmedabad, Chennai, and Delhi in 2012.
4,000 number of people Unnati has trained in vocational skills since 2003.
Organisations such as Unnati are bridging a critical gap in India which needs an estimated 500 million skilled workers. According to a McKinsey report released in December 2012, 53 per cent of employers in India feel that lack of skills is a common reason for entry-level vacancies. Today, Unnati trains 600 youth every year. Since inception, it has changed the lives of about 4,000 people.
One of them is G. Sathyamurthy, 29, the son of a poor farmer from Gullahatti Kaval village, on the outskirts of Bangalore, who joined Unnati about six years ago. Sathyamurthy completed his graduation in arts from a government college, but could not find a job because of his lack of vocational skills and fluency in the English language.
At Unnati, he learnt English, picked up social interaction skills and customer-service etiquette. Since then, he has worked with coffee retail chain Cafe Coffee Day and the pizza chain Domino's. With his savings, he has also built a house for his family. "I am so grateful to Unnati that I now want to start a similar initiative," says Sathyamurthy, who is now pursuing a Masters in Physical Education at Bangalore University. "I often talk to people who need counselling, and I intend to start an orphanage."
As Unnati's influence increases, its list of donors also grows. Swamy says many organisations, such as Alcatel Lucent, the Global Fund for Children and Applied Materials Inc, have supported Unnati. "But at the heart of our initiative is the individual donor contribution and the success of our students," he adds.