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Slumdog Entrepreneurship

Sonal Kapoor's picture

I work with street and slum girls and their mothers in India. Each day, as I walk through those dark lanes embroidered with brick and mortar, dungeons languish in abject obscurity and poverty, I cross many a road on which stand half naked women who stare at me with sad eyes. Most of them are mothers of the children I teach. I ask myself, 'Without the holistic development of the entire community, will just educating these children ever be enough to bring sustainable change?'

The issue of more and better jobs will stand ill addressed if this illiterate, non skilled, yet potential workforce is not tapped. I call this group the 'potential workforce' because I have seen the resilience of even the mediocre ones among them come out victorious in their struggle for survival. It is this group that needs to be effectively trained. For two years at Protsahan, we have trained some of these women how to make candles, sanitary napkins and hand bags. Just one skill was enough to increase their personal incomes by more than 400%. Although still at a very nascent stage, the economics of the entire community have shifted favorably. Better incomes resulted in better healthcare for their children and, more importantly, it created a sense of dignity that was essential to complete their womanhood. This sense of dignity might be an immeasurable metric, but it sure could be a direct index of the economy's well being, although on a micro-level.

India’s economic future to a large extent lies in the entrepreneurial skill based training of this section of its citizens. India’s slums do not need blind charity from foreign organizations but high- impact investment in skill training, especially of its women and girls. Entrepreneurship is not just the forte of the holders of management degrees. There is untapped brilliance in these future ‘slumdog entrepreneurs’ who, if trained well, will rise up to be the next Asian tigers. This approach will harness the locally available resources for generating more employment and incomes, lead to more capital formation, as well as balanced regional development, and end up creating a talent pool of entrepreneurial women in the slums. Also, it is a known fact that the poor, especially the women, have a better record of loan repayments than their richer counterparts. They are not scared of taking risks; living in the slums, they anyway deal with harsher risks every day.

At the global level, it is highly unlikely that the millennium development goals will be achieved with the clichéd and mundane approaches and resting on only what the public sector has to offer. The governments, more often than not, have failed to deliver highly innovative solutions. They however can scale up approaches that work. These approaches have to be thought of by young people now for it is they who will create history tomorrow. If we are to end poverty, it is essential that we mould our education to promote entrepreneurship, even in extremely poor communities. This way, the entrepreneurs that arise out of the slums will not only end up addressing the pain points of their own low household earnings, but also end up creating a higher happiness index for their entire community, starting with their own selves.

When hope is hungry, everything feeds it" ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic's Notebook, 1960


Submitted by Anonymous on
Hi There is an endeavor by the Indian govt in collaboration with NIIT Foundation to educate and empower the youth from the slums to take up blue-collared jobs in sectors like Retail, BPO, Fast Food, etc. They have come up with around 1000 NIIT Yuva Jyoti centers all across India where students are groomed, educated and trained to join these industries at an entree level. NIIt also helps them with placements and provides career counselling. The courses are almost free, however, I think education till 10th or 12th standard is mandatory to enroll in these courses. I personally liked this project so thought of sharing it here. Following are some links to know more:

Submitted by Anmol Shekhawat on
Protsahan to me is not just another social initiative. It is a genuine effort to make a difference to the lives of the less privileged. In India, when NGOs have become a way to earn a quick buck, Protsahan comes as a breath of fresh air. The sole motive of this effort is to make the lives of these women and children more meaningful. Protsahan has grown from a small room to an organissation that is recognized at global level in just 2 years. It is all because of the relentless efforts of Sonal Kapoor, Founder-Director of Protsahan. I remember that day when she decided to shun corporate life and fill the lives of these beautiful kids with colour. We were all a little skeptical, a little worried about her. But today we are all so proud of what she has achieved. It brings a smile to our faces everytime we see the pictures of the kids she teaches, the women she encourages to stand on their own feet. But most of all, it inspires us to take a step in the direction of making a difference. I wish Protsahan the best of luck and hope that it keeps growing and touches thousands of lives.. Regards, Anmol Shekhawat

Submitted by Shruthi Komandur on
It's wonderful to see your blog.. very thought provoking indeed, how you to want young world citizens to promote entrepreneurship in the smallest of the smallest slums in India and possibly around the world. Yes, I truly believe that micro entrepreneurs will save themselves, their families, their children but most of all mostly they will uplift the economy. Such is their power. But often, it is very difficult for lets say, a woman from a slum, to break out of her shell, break from the bond that she owes her family of taking care of them, break out from the carefree life of living off her husbands or even child's money while she takes care of the young ones until they grow up to earn. Of course because of this, for generations together her girl-children and grandchildren will not uplift themselves or even remotely develop, yes the status-quo. Because its catch 22 you see. This might be unrelated to the blog, but definitely its connected. How do you think its best for young people to bring change? I know there are many ways, but what's the best and what works to make the woman sitting in her little shack to get moving?

Submitted by Heath on
I agree with your comments. Empowering individuals is an important component to eliminating poverty. Check out for an organization that empowers individuals to make positive changes in their communities by promoting the entrepreneurial spirit.

At the global level, it is highly unlikely that the millennium development goals will be achieved with the clichéd and mundane approaches and resting on only what the public sector has to offer. The governments, more often than not, have failed to deliver highly innovative solutions - It's true!

Submitted by Ratheesh Nair on
I have been following the blogs from Protsahan for some time now. One thing that I have observed through all the communication and especially this article is the common aim of making all those people whom we call underprivileged, self sufficient and independent. Protsahan has been successful in showing us that one does not need rocket science for achieving this goal. It simply requires a mix of determination and a belief in the cause for which you stand. The article is successful in highlighting that the country is wasting a large reservoir of talented and skilled man power and at the same time suggests the best solution one can give for the problem of poverty and deprivation. The initiative taken up by Protsahan, that of instilling the entrepreneurial spirit in the minds of the under privileged population is commendable and shows that such an idea can only come to a person with a similar zeal and spirit. The article reminds me of a Chinese proverb that all of us have known but seldom practiced. “Give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Protsahan has come out with an aim to spread smiles not just for a day or two but for an entire lifetime. I wish Team Protsahan all the very best for all their future endeavors.

Submitted by M. Shahjahan Bhatti on
Education is an expensive process to achieve excellence. Due to spread of meaningless education the world has failed to produce genuine leadership. Planet earth is in danger because of our defective education. If we don't change in near future earth may stop nurturing life any more. Poor countries are basically uneducated. They use muscles to resolve conflicts rather than use their brain. Today we confront critical situation. The only way out is education but alas education is expensive process.

Submitted by Anonymous on
Your voice, and words which bring to light the lives of India's Slums, reach me although I am miles away, oceans away. These slums are actually taking place around the world, and as you tell the story all I can do now is listen, so I do listen, from across the world, far yet close. And so I wonder, what is poverty? what is power? and aint it strange that voices of slums have the power to cross the oceans? Again, all I can do now, is listen to your words that speak of the lives you see every day, and so I listen, far across the oceans but close.

Submitted by Anonymous on
Environmental education can leads to action. Examples of small group and family group environmental programs are varied. They range from varied recyling business, to small organic food production, clothing, housing, energy, use of rain water, etc. They all require certain skilling and have beneficial proven results. Furtheremore, the study of environment and the use of nature given resrouces is exeptionally interesting.

Submitted by Sonal on
Thank you everyone for your comments and feedback. I went through each of the links you guys have shared here. The way some corporates are coming ahead to support initiatives like PROTSAHAN working in urban slums is worth a mention. @Shahjahan: Education is sure a luxury for most. That is where the importance of skill based training chips in. For most families on street/slums, sending their child to school is an opportunity cost vis a vis their survival, so obviously the choice is latter: SURVIVAL, by sending the child to work. @Shruthi, Anmol, Ratheesh: Thanks for your words again! @Shruthi: Youth is crucial here. The easiest way they can initiate change is by VOLUNTEERING. The road is only endless after that. Participate in policy discussions, write, photograph, blog, put your voice across, especially with so many amazing youth organizations starting up in every country! Go ahead, pick the road for social entrepreneurship if you are up for the ensuing challenges. But START.

Submitted by DT on
I think ,India’s economic future lies in the entrepreneurial skill based training of this section of its citizens. It is essential that mould education to promote entrepreneurship, even in extremely poor communities. The entrepreneurs that arise out of the slums will addressing the pain points of their own low household earnings,also end up creating a higher happiness index.

Submitted by Ella Harris on

I think that micro entrepreneurs will save themselves, their families, their children but most of all mostly they will uplift the economy...Youth is crucial here.

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