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How 12 Young Graduates Are Helping Bihar’s Poor Villagers Start Their Own Businesses

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This is the story of how a few young graduates, who aspire to be entrepreneurs in the future, are trying to bring a change in the perceptions among the youth of the rural villages of Bihar.

When it comes to Bihar, many of us have the misconception that it is a very poor state with a high illiteracy rate, a large number of unskilled youths, etc. But don’t you think it’s like judging the quality of wine through its packaging and brand, and not by its actual taste? Or how any can judge the taste of a mango by seeing its outward appearance and not tasting it?

Unless people gain insights into and see the realities of the villages and their ecosystem here, we cannot judge them while sitting on the top of an ivory tower. The people I am talking about today are young graduates, some of whom want to become politicians, while the others want to be entrepreneurs, social workers, etc. But, what’s stopping them from taking a small step towards achieving their dreams is that lack of motivation and support from the outside world.

In the race to be successful, we try to walk alone and fast. We do not even think of walking together along with everyone. We have to look after each other. We have to make sure we all get to reach our individual destinations together. It’s so incredibly easy to forget other people, hurt them and even betray them. But that’s no way to live in this world.

In my opinion, the same thing has happened with Bihar’s youth. We ignored them by putting forth and spreading a few false misconceptions that Bihar is always poor and that its people are uneducated and unskilled.

The following story is not the story of celebrities or businesspersons or politicians who may catch your attention or fascinate you. This is the story of a few youths who have the strong desire to become social entrepreneurs and have taken bold steps to bring some changes in the villages of Bihar.

Ezaz, Musharaf (Ezaz’s brother, who’s been suffering from polio since childhood), Arvind, Rajanikant, Parmeshwar, Sanjeet, Sangeeta, Rani, Ranku M, Rinku P, Rinku R and  Rinki – these are the 12 young graduates who hail from different villages in the Dhanarua block of Patna district. In Bihar, it’s quite common among the youths to prepare for government jobs after completing their graduation. However, these graduates are exceptional in the sense that they did not want to pursue government services. Instead, they wanted to work for the development of their own villages. They wanted to change the scenario in the villages and make them an example for the other states to follow.

In 2016, when the centrally-sponsored project, the Startup Village Entrepreneurship Project (SVEP), was launched in the block in collaboration with the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society (BRLPS), these youngsters got a golden opportunity to serve their own community through the project. The Startup Village Entrepreneurship Program (SVEP) envisages the promotion of rural livelihoods through community-led enterprise promotion at the block level.

In a country like India, where more than 90% of the population is dependent on the unorganised sector as a means for their livelihood, it is important to create an ecosystem where entrepreneurs are equipped with adequate business skills, get incubation support and are provided with necessary financial assistance. Kudumbashree NRO is one of the institutions which has been selected as a national resource organisation (NRO) for the Government of India’s 4-year (January 2016 – March 2020) entrepreneurship programme. The programme was announced by the Hon’ble Finance Minister in his 2015 budget speech.

Musharaf, member of the MEC group

And this opportunity became the turning point of their lives. They became a part of the project as micro-enterprise consultants (MEC) who are the pillars of the project – and whose prime responsibilities lie in supporting the enterprises in the block. Apart from this, their roles include identifying viable business opportunities appropriate to the conditions of the entrepreneur and the market, developing bankable business plans, linking them with financial institutions, helping entrepreneurs with the sourcing of raw materials and facilitating market linkages.

“Every young guy like us mostly looks for a government job in the railways, banks, PWDs, etc. which provide a secure and decent life. But we have chosen to work for own village. And we feel this is our biggest achievement. Getting a government job is tough and it needs a lot of struggle. However, the same struggle is needed to take the decision to work for your community. We are proud of our decision and work,” Musharaf says.

After becoming MECs, they started supporting and mentoring the poor people of the villages regarding how to become entrepreneurs. Each of them, have supported and mentored nearly 40 to 50 people to start their own micro-enterprises. Under the SVEP project, they provide financial support and skills required to run the businesses. And they are proud of their contributions to the people. Even the people of the villages respect their contributions.

“Poor people usually run away from taking loans from the government even if they are at low interest rates. They are not habituated with taking the risks of doing a business. But it is not their fault. It’s because of their lack of awareness regarding how businesses operate. It’s also due to the lack of skills required to run a successful business. We the MECs are trying to bridge the gap between these two entities and helping them improve the quality of their lives by becoming entrepreneurs,” Ezaz, the president of the MEC group, says.

Many members of the MEC group state: “We can walk with honesty and pride in the streets of our village, since we can see the smiles of the people whose lives we have helped improve. And we do not expect any greater gratitude and satisfaction in our lives than this. At least, we can sleep peacefully at night when we return from our work.”

They have observed that most of the youths in their village either spend many years of their lives preparing for the exams to get a government job, or they roam like taporis (roadside loafers) in the name of lack of unemployment. So, in order to inspire these people, the graduates have jointly showcased an entrepreneur’s skills by opening a petty shop in the mela conducted in village.

Each member of the group has different skills which make them different from each other. If there’s someone who’s proficient in soft skills and attracts the customers, then someone else is good at accounting and maintaining the records of the payments. Uma Abhilasha, who hails from Kerala, is the lady who guided and motivated the MEC group to come up with this idea, which would be exemplary for the others. She also mentors the MEC group in the implementation of the SVEP programme.

Uma Abhilasha, mentor of Kudumbashree NRO, Kerala

No work is big or small. It’s the grit, intent and turmoil that matter.

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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.

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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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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.

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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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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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