By Neeraj Kumar and Ruchil Sharma:
In January 2016, after more than three years in the Information Technology industry, I did an introspection of what I had done and where I planned to be. I realised there was a lack of happiness and satisfaction in whatever I was doing as I wanted to work on something challenging with a noble objective and an opportunity to create a huge impact. After pondering for a long time, I decided to leave my job in pursuit of the unknown.
Higher Education Department, Government of Andhra Pradesh, advertised for summer fellowships to engage highly competent individuals for a fellowship of 8 weeks to provide impetus to their initiatives in making AP a knowledge hub and improving the quality of higher education. I applied for the summer fellowship and got selected.
During the orientation week, over the course of different sessions, we got to understand the problems and challenges the government faces and pointers on how we could make these two months productive. We were asked to identify roadblocks, formulate strategies, identify local champions and implement a sustainable solution. It was an opportunity to lead and execute from the front.
During orientation, I met Ruchil Sharma, another graduate from the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, and we were supposed to do field work for the next six weeks at Andhra University. Apart from our complementary skill sets, it was our vision that brought us together as a team. We made absolutely clear to ourselves and everybody around us – “We are here to change something and create an impact.”
Some of the excerpts from the initial interactions we had with students –
“I am not interested in startups. Also, I am getting married soon and mostly I won’t…”
“Entrepreneurship is a way to make quick money and become a millionaire.”
“I come from a farming family and my parents want me to just get a job.”
We wanted to attack the problem and meet our objectives in a structured way, and thus we designed our solution on four ideas – Awareness, Opportunity, Sustainability and Pedagogy.
We felt there was a lack of awareness of what entrepreneurship is and how being entrepreneurial can propel them in their respective careers. We conducted a series of workshops for the students and also invited local entrepreneurs to speak about their journey. We conducted workshops on “Understanding student problems”, “Understanding Entrepreneurship and demystifying related myths” and “Being Entrepreneurial”. As a result, students became more comfortable with us and openly discussed their problems and aspirations, on the basis of which we improvised our approach.
Now that we had a core group of students, we wanted to create some kind of opportunity through which they could learn how to create something from scratch, teamwork, communication skills and build confidence. In the process, we conceptualised and created one of the biggest entrepreneurship festivals termed-Audacious’16 in Vizag conducted completely by a group of students from scratch to completion. The event was a massive success where more than 250 students and startups participated. The focus of the event was to provide an opportunity to learn what it takes to build something from scratch, assume leadership positions while working as a team and overcome difficult challenges in the process.
Since our vision was to make Andhra University a breeding ground for entrepreneurship and related activities, it was vital to institutionalise a student body to carry forward the work we had initiated. We tabled the proposal for an Entrepreneurship Development Cell which would act as an umbrella body for all the entrepreneurship and innovation related activities.
Finally, no discourse on education is complete without classroom pedagogy and how it is failing spectacularly at producing next generation innovators and entrepreneurs. We proposed a module of skill based courses as an addition to classroom education, utilising technologies like E-Learning, MOODLE which will help students to acquire relevant skills.
We learnt immensely in those six weeks. We have started to appreciate what we have, as many of the students don’t get privileges we easily take for granted. Moreover, we feel socio-economic background plays a huge role in shaping their mindset and thus, education, especially for women is imperative for a better future. Our investment in the education of the underprivileged today will reap benefits for many years to come. Also, we believe there is no dearth of talent but only lack of awareness, skills and opportunities at every level. We need people who understand their problems and empathise with these students. On a personal level, some of the things I’ve learnt during the fellowship have become my guiding principles for life. I have learnt that a team with a vision can overcome any obstacle. We faced a lot of challenges and opposition due to our approach, and there were some really difficult times, but we stuck together and kept executing our plans. As I take first few steps towards my entrepreneurial journey, I have put more impetus on building a strong team which shares the vision and sticks together during crucial times. I have also learnt that a leader’s biggest role is to create an environment where there are ample opportunities for the members to grow and always take an inclusive approach towards decision making. I have learnt to take more risks and get out of my comfort zone more often because it provides me with an opportunity to learn and grow.
Different state governments are coming up with various opportunities to engage with talented individuals in the education sector and I urge people who have the will to improve the education system to utilise such opportunities.