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What Happened When I Quit My IT Job To Work With Students In Andhra

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.

Neeraj Kumar- IT professional quits job for fellowship
Students attending workshop in the fellowship.

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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