In our travels across rural Tamil Nadu we met many women who had a great deal of experience in working in the large garments factories of the state – in Tiruppur and Chennai. But, after getting married their family responsibilities forced them to leave their jobs and return to their villages. Now these young women have put their years of experience to use and are setting up small enterprises in their home villages, sewing garments for India’s huge domestic market. It is a win-win situation for all. Working out of thatched huts and refurbished cowsheds, the newly-minted women entrepreneurs not only turn in a tidy profit but also create much-needed employment for others. The large garment manufacturing companies, faced with crippling shortages of skilled labor, now outsource orders to these units. Today, these fast-growing women’s enterprises have not only opened up new avenues for rural women to work, boosting female labor force participation, but also added a new grassroots and gender dimension to the idea of Start Up India.
As we entered the small hut of rammed earth thatched with coconut leaves, the sounds we heard belonged to a different world. Amidst the whir of industrial sewing machines, nine young women were busy stitching bolts of fabric into men’s shirts, destined for India’s vast domestic market for low-cost garments.
This was Inam Koilpatti village in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu. Even though many villages in the state were rapidly urbanising, this village still had many huts, and prosperity was yet to arrive.
Two young women, Indhurani and Gurupakkiam, ran this tiny unit. Born with an entrepreneurial spirit, these women have unwittingly given a much-needed boost to the idea of ‘Start Up India’ in this poor region.
“We were both working at a company in Thalavaipuram,” they began. (Thalavaipuram is an emerging garments hub nearby.) “But, with family responsibilities it was getting hard for us to travel 20 km to work. Three years ago we approached our employer with a proposition. We would set up a unit in our village, if he would give us orders,” they narrated.
Foreign delegates to Digital Youth Summit 2017 reflect on their experiences, and the bright minds of youth in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Many thanks to all the foreign delegates for visiting Peshawar from May 5-7, 2017!
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Entrepreneurs and technologists from Pakistan and around the world converged last week at the Digital Youth Summit (DYS) in Peshawar to share their knowledge, inspire local talent, and bring digital investments.
Over four days, 4,000 attendees, some as young as age 10, interacted with industry leaders, engaged in technology demonstrations, and benefitted from hands-on training. Everyone learnt a lot about digital entrepreneurship and was inspired by many cutting-edge innovations.
Here are six of them that struck a high note with me:
Travel Startups that made me want to travel across Pakistan. Let’s face it, I have a serious case of wanderlust and few things make me happier than going to new places, connecting with people, and gaining insights and perspectives I was unaware of before. For people outside of Pakistan may know of it as a country full of beauty and tourism potential. However, two of the winners of DYS’s Startup Cup in which budding companies presented their products and services to prospective investors changed my perspectives. Watch these two videos made by travel platform Find My Adventure and home-sharing company Qayyam and tell me if they also inspire you to travel across Pakistan!
India’s North-East Region (NER) – comprising ‘the seven sister’ states plus the small state of Sikkim - is a uniquely rich and complex tapestry of social, cultural, natural resource and biological diversity. This remote region, of poor connectivity but with an eager and literate workforce, is increasingly being transformed into a key frontier under India’s ‘Act East’ policy and its NER Vision 2020 . The World Bank supported North-East Rural Livelihoods Project (NERLP) is working with nearly 23,000 women’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs) in Sikkim, Nagaland, Mizoram and Tripura. It is steadily adding value to the region’s labor pool – scoping out economic opportunities for the poorest of the poor, training the young workforce in the skills they are hungry for, seeding SHGs, providing them credit, and enabling them to set up new enterprises and improve their socioeconomic status.
An Eggless Bakery in Sikkim
Tucked away behind the monastery at the popular Buddha Park, on one of South Sikkim’s many serene hilltops, stands the eggless Tatagatha Bakery. The bakery is run by a Self-Help Group of local village women with funding through a microcredit program supported by the NERLP. A bakery is an unusual, innovative idea for microcredit, but the Buddha Park attracts many pilgrims, and the bakery is always in demand. Going eggless and dairy free has meant it can better cater to its core clientele of monks, pilgrims and visitors; it has also reduced the need to transport perishable supplies up the steep hilltop.
The project team mobilized a veteran baker from the rail head town of Siliguri to train the local women initially. The project ran into teething problems early on: a single SHG was rallied, but not all members were equally committed, which saw high dropouts after training. The team changed tack, and elicited individual interest regardless of membership. Twenty women have now been trained. Uptake by SHGs has undoubtedly been gradual, but it is early days yet – the bakery only opened in May 2016. These women see the bakery’s potential and are willing to bet on its success, accepting lower wages for now.
It is possible today to be sitting almost anywhere in the world and -- provided you have access to a computer and the internet -- you can be working on international projects, learning through online courses, or collaborating with other young people worldwide.
These kinds of connected communities can be a great short-term solution to some of Pakistan’s challenges in creating jobs.
Pakistan is home to a large youth population, with nearly 100 million youth under the age of 24. Creating more and better jobs for this new generation will be a major development challenge. According to Pakistan’s own estimates, the country will need to grow at around 7 percent a year to absorb all these young people into productive economic participation. But constraints on energy supply as well as budget and capacity constraints on government are going to make this challenging in the short term.
What we have seen working in Pakistan over the last few years is that there is an emerging cultural shift that is becoming more accepting of self-employment and entrepreneurship as legitimate employment pathways for young people.
Given the constraints of the domestic economy to absorb all these young people, many of the employment opportunities will come through the establishment of new businesses. And the tech industry in Pakistan has shown a steady and healthy growth rate in recent years, with the potential both to drive growth through the development of new business models, startups and innovation.
One of the major issues we have seen working here is that many young people are curious about how the internet and technology can offer employment, but are not sure where to start.
Want a digital career? Here’s how to get started:
For those interested in learning some skills and linking to work through international marketplaces—also called freelancing—there are resources available to help with training.
Many of the top freelancing sites offer introductory materials to learn basic freelancing, such as Upwork and SamaSchool. Independent online learning sites also offer courses and certificates, most notably Coursera.
South Asia concurrently holds the greatest opportunities and the risks of been responsible for the world’s largest youth populations in transition, therefore facing reality and addressing those contemporary needs should be key to those respective stakeholders such as governments, for a more stable and prosperous economy. Common challenges faced by young entrepreneurs in Asia are “fundamentals” concerns, which could easily been eliminated if there is right focus and continuous review by the relevant authorities in these countries. Those concerns that caught my eye included the need for updated knowledge and curriculum development at all level, need to not jail but celebrate failure, revamping of “extensive” government and organizational procedures allowing to reduce the lead time.
One day, I was driving in a remote town in Sri Lanka, when I saw this encouraging scene. A few school kids were playing cricket on a rainy day, and they had made a wicket out of three umbrellas. It might look simple, but a very powerful message about innovation is hidden right there. An innovator in my view is somebody who practices to ask two simple questions: 1) is there a better way to do this, or simply, is there a way to do this? 2) why did it happen that way? The second question is driven by the curiosity to learn the rules of nature, while the first question is driven by a very healthy attitude to get things done by exploiting the rules of nature. The kids who used the three umbrellas for a wicket simply asked if they could find something in their environment to serve the purpose of a wicket. Quite subconsciously, these kids, by embedding in nature, by walking barefooted on mud, grass, and sand, have mirrored natural laws of nature in their brains, that provided them with the basis to change the utility of an umbrella to a stump of a wicket. Therefore, in my view, best innovators are those who are active outside the classroom as well as in the classroom and laboratories.
The Dalai Lama once said - that if you ever feel you are too small to make a difference then try sleeping in a room with a mosquito. And the same goes for business. Every big business starts as a small business. General Electric was at one time the world's biggest company and it started with a simple but revolutionary idea - the invention of the incandescent light bulb in 1878 and the vision of just one person Thomas Edison.
Walmart started with a single store in 1945 and is now the largest private employer in the world. Starting with one store and the idea of making lots of cheap goods available all over the US, Walmart has created more than 2 million jobs. And of course more recently we have lots of examples in the technology and innovation space Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Ebay, Dell and Facebook. All are multi-billion dollar companies that started out in a single room, a basement or garage with a simple idea shared at first by a one or two people.
“If you think the most important thing you need at a startup is capital, you will be wrong. It’s the wealth of mentoring and handholding you will have getting your business up and running.”
I have been asked to write a few paragraphs on the use of ICT for creating jobs and solutions in Sri Lanka. Even though I am an entrepreneur of an upstart, the question really stumped me. Why? As an entrepreneur my main objective is to establish a profitable business venture guided by some core values; this question has made me rethink where ICT stands in the context of job creation and solutions.
Well, the short answer to the first question is YES. It creates jobs; in the short time we have been in operation we have seen rapid growth and have hired several people to join our team. In the future we will continue to need additional staff as we expand our operations. One can argue that through job creation, our site is playing a role in alleviating unemployment and thus a part of the solution. But, ICT can offer Sri Lanka so much more.
A quiet revolution has been sweeping the Indian political landscape. Last year, the reservation (quota) for women in panchayats — rural local self-government — was increased to at least 50 percent, bringing women into the political fold in vast numbers.
However, economic empowerment may not have kept pace with political empowerment. When it comes to female labor force participation, gender disparities remain deeply entrenched. The 2012 World Economic Forum's Gender Gap Index ranked India 123rd out of 135 countries on economic participation and opportunity.
It is hard to talk about South Asia without invoking its demographics. The region will contribute nearly 40 percent of the growth in the world’s working age (15-64) population, and will need to add a staggering 1 to 1.2 million new entrants to the labor market every month for the next two decades. Absorbing the influx of youth into the labor force is one of South Asia’s core challenges. But while economists grapple with employment statistics and economic policy, jobs are created at the grassroots. Entrepreneurship is the spark that lights the fire, and the engine that generates opportunities in local communities.