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Dr. Ajay Kela, President and CEO, Wadhwani Foundation in an exclusive with Hindu Business Line

Wadhwani Foundation set to create 25 million jobs

Over ten years, Wadhwani Foundation has attempted to create jobs through a range of initiatives spanning training of young people to inspiring entrepreneurship at institutes. Adding the non-profit’s Research and Innovation Network and policy-related campaigns to the ongoing work by its National Entrepreneurship Network, the big picture is about ‘high-value’ job creation, according to Dr Ajay Kela. The President and CEO of Wadhwani Foundation told BusinessLine that the organisation aims to create 25 million new jobs in India over the next five years. He outlined how the organisation will go about realizing this goal, even as its working models in India get replicated in other geographies. Edited excerpts:

What kind of salaries do you foresee for ‘high-value’ jobs?

We’re not focused on poverty alleviation, but rather on providing jobs to individuals that help support a family. That means not the ₹5000 p.m. kind of salaries, but a minimum of ₹15,000- 20,000 p.m… this has an enormous transformational impact not only to the individual but for generations to come.

But when we say ‘high-value’ jobs we’re talking of India creating the next Ciscos and Googles of the world, and that high-value entrepreneurship will eventually have a trickle-down effect when those companies start to employ people.

How do you see your target of 25 million jobs being realised?

Continuing to create a pipeline of next generation start-ups and SMEs, we’re also now scaling up our network of mentors and investors so that the entrepreneurs we’ve nurtured over the last decade have the maximum chance of success. We’re looking at 5 million jobs coming from those start-ups. We’ll also pick half a million SMEs out of the 40 or 50 million in India to identify their challenges and help them scale up.

Meanwhile, we’ve been skilling up 12th graders. We look at providing them 6 to 12 to 18 months of intervention so that they can earn a ₹20,000 salary per month across a variety of jobs and roles. Take the $20 billion BPO industry – it’s served by graduates when it can be better served by 12th graders with training. And that’s a mistake today, because we hire graduates who don’t find the jobs exciting enough and the industry faces a 60% attrition rate.

What’s your target with schools?

We work with about 1,400 schools across the country. But in India, every year, about 9 million exit 12th grade and about 4 million go to 4-year colleges. We’re trying to build a vocational track for the 5 million that are left behind so that many of them can earn ₹15000 – 20,000 a month. Today, a 12th grader can’t earn that much.

Have you kicked off entrepreneurship training outside urban centres and the IIT cadre of institutions?

Over a 10 year period, at NEN, we’ve now trained more than 3000 faculty across 500 institutes to teach entrepreneurship. Typically, it has taken us about 5 years from when we signed on an institute to when we started producing entrepreneurs from those institutes. And yes, if you want to create an impact at a national scale you cannot limit yourself to the IITs – you may start there, but you have to go beyond that. When half a million students were exposed to our initiative, about a 100,000 show deeper interest and we have worked with them to provide practical training and skill development. Some 1000 companies get started this way. But these are young entrepreneurs, so we also have to make sure they succeed. Even in Silicon Valley among VC-funded companies the failure rate is about 90%, so entrepreneurship is tough.

And you’re taking your working models outside India…

We started global expansions one and half years ago. We’ve been experimenting in Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia. But in many countries outside India, we will have to customise our training content for local requirements – some things that work in Silicon Valley won’t work elsewhere. By the end of this year, we should have a good idea of whether our replication model will work in the 23 countries that we want to take this to.

Hindu Business Line

Hindu Business Line

Hindu Business Line

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