It has been a long journey for Shekar Nalla –from a small tribal village in Andhra Pradesh, India to selling insurance products in the metropolitan city of Hyderabad.
Shekar’s family lived a hand to mouth existence, and he thought that maybe someday in the future he would earn Rs. 24,000 (US$400) per year. But now, Shekar earns Rs. 156,000 (US$3000) annually through his new job with an insurance company.
His widowed mother no longer has to struggle because Shekhar sends her Rs. 60,000 (US$1500) a year. With his new job the status of the family has risen among the village headman and higher caste members, especially when he sent home a colored Samsung TV—the first in his village. “Richer relatives who avoided us, call me saying, ‘Shekar can you show me a job’,” said Shekhar.
The United Nations commemorated the International Year of Youth  from August 11, 2010 to August 11, 2011. To promote youth participation towards progress and development, the Rural Livelihoods team at the World Bank has put youth like Shekar Nalla at the forefront of poverty reduction and maximizing rural growth.
Shekar belongs to the Padmasheela family in the tribal area of Seetampeta in Srikakulam district. His father was a night watchman who squandered all his money on drinking. With barely Rs. 1500 (35$) a month and four children to feed, meeting the basic needs of just food and clothes was hard. If anyone fell sick, it meant higher debts. When Shekar’s sister—a member of a self-help group (SHG)—told him about the Employment Generation and Marketing Mission (EGMM), which identifies, trains, and links youth to private sector jobs, he joined the program with a goal to improve his life. “Youth, especially children of SHGs, have different aspirations and yet are not connected to markets. The EGMM Jobs mission achieves this with a public-private partnership strategy,” says Parmesh Shah, Project Leader for the World Bank Andhra Pradesh Rural Poverty Reduction Project, who is overseeing the project.
Shekhar proudly says, “In three months I learnt how to speak English, how to achieve my life goals, and having the right attitude. Now my dressing has changed.” In the campus placements, EGMM linked him to a job as a Sales Executive in Tata Indicom with an annual salary of Rs.63,600 (US$1500). After six months he moved to Religare Insurance & Broking, Ltd, with a starting salary of Rs. 120,000 (US$3000) as a Relationship Manager.
In his free time Shekar focuses on improving his English by learning one new English word each day and using it the next. Many youth have realized that English is not just a language skill but a life skill which gives them a better job,
EGMM created the English and Computer Academy with industry and technical experts. The Academy has training modules suited to the rural and tribal poor; a pedagogy that involves role plays, games, and learning English through songs and watching interactive CDs and innovative ways of teacher training such as village immersion and understanding corporate needs. Over15,000 youth like Shekar have been trained in this Academy and linked to new economy jobs.
Shekar explains the secret to his success. “I do not sell but explain to potential customers the HLV formula which is human life value,” he adds. His ambition is to go back to the village and start a small business. “I have already saved and bought some land to build a concrete (pucca) house”, he said proudly.
Indeed, empowering more rural youth through employment and skills training will help the region not only cope with its large workforce, but also reinforce sustainable livelihoods for rural families.