Chief, Skills and Business Development, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
We need to work not only with the girls, but also with the community to break the social norms, thus providing these girls with better opportunities beyond the traditional roles, says Chauvet.
T he United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has worked in India since 1951 in almost all areas of human development, from democratic governance to poverty eradication, to sustainable energy and environmental management. Clément Chauvet, chief, skills and business development at UNDP since 2015, talks to Biz@India about the recent projects undertaken by the organisation, particularly one called ‘Disha’ that aims to improve the lives of at least one million women and girls over the next three years.
The ‘Disha’ project is a very ambitious one, can you give us an overview of the project and the progress so far?
UNDP launched the ‘Disha’ initiative two years ago. It’s a project that is founded by IKEA Foundation with the objective to improve the lives of one million women and girls in the country by providing them with opportunities to get a job or to start their own business. Generally, we work very closely with the government counterpart at central or state level in India but this time what was really important to us was to get closer to the private sector.
The issue of skilling won’t be solved by one of the stakeholders, it cannot be solved by the government on its own. It requires collaborative aspect, a new and innovative PublicPrivate Partnership (PPP) between the government at state and central level as well as with the private sector and the civil society organisations. So, this is the journey that we have embarked on right now. It has been quite successful till now. Over the course of the last year-and-a-half we have reached more than 50,000 girls and have been able to provide them with opportunities, to make them get a better idea of what they want to do in future and linking them with opportunities for job or entrepreneurship.
One of the critical aspects of this programme is the education and sensitisation of the people towards this topic. What is UNDP doing in this regard?
We started the project by doing some kind of study to understand the exact needs and aspirations of the women and girls we want to reach out to. We actually found out that the critical obstacle they were facing was the lack of information. They rely only on information coming from the family or relatives and generally they are limited in their scope to the traditional way for women, which is mostly food processing or stitching. They don’t understand that they can actually do something more than that. They can become an engineer, they can work in factories, etc.
So, one of the most important part of the project we are doing now is to try to bridge that information gap. And we are doing it by a network of career guidance and counselling centres, which we do in school and out of school. And the other part that you are saying, the sensitisation is actually very important and it doesn’t stop with the girls only.
India is very particular in what we call the social norms, the culture and the tradition is actually very important and sometimes a little bit heavy, so we need to not only work with the girls but with the community and specially with the parents. For example, we worked with a company called Jindal Stainless Steel that is a steel factory in Haryana, one of the northern states of India. With this company, we worked for the first time ever to make sure that there’ll be women on the factory floor. One year back there was only one woman in a 500-employee factory who was working in the accounting department. As of now, there are about 90 girls working on the factory floor. To get the first batch going, of 30 girls, to come to the factory, to get trained and to get an employment where you get a salary at the end of the month, it was almost impossible.
And we spent hours and days trying to convince the parents that actually it was safe for the girls to leave the house, go to the factory, be trained and to work within the factory settings. We also worked a lot with the factory to make sure they sensitise the male co-worker, that they provide the basic infrastructure within the factory like a separate toilet for the girls as well. We are already on the fourth batch of girls coming to the factory to be trained and right now we have kind of a waiting list because the community could see what was the direct outcome.
So, is this something that you would like to work on in other parts of the country? How many projects do you have presently?
With the ‘Disha’ project, we have a total of three years to be able to test and try new methodology in terms of PPP or working on this idea of the broken link between education, skill, job and growth and to find new and innovative ideas that strengthen the ecosystem. So right now, we have 60 pilots on the ground. Small pilots in different states of India. We believe that this pilot could become a model. And that the model can be scaled up at later stages by different stakeholders from the government to the private sector. We also work in different sectors. So, right now we are working with the steel sector but we’ll be working with the hospitality sector as well, with The Taj hotels. We’ll work in the retail sector with IKEA directly.
The skilling ecosystem in India over the last few years has been driven by very high targets – hundreds and millions of people to be trained over the next few years. And sometimes we forget about the people themselves. So, we deliver much more in terms of output, the number of people trained, and not so much in terms of outcome. What we believe with ‘Disha’ is to put the girls back at the centre of the skilling ecosystem by understanding their needs and aspirations, their capabilities, and what they want to do.
Skilling is finally a process that starts from the sensitisation to the placement. What UNDP is doing vis-à-vis the placement?
Exactly! We believe that skilling shouldn’t be taken as a standalone activity but it is actually part of the process. Skilling, especially the technical skill, is one piece of the puzzle. We also make sure that the private sector comes into the picture so that the technical skills will correspond to their requirements and expectations.
We work a lot in the entrepreneurship segment as well because we do believe that employment is not always a solution, especially with girls coming from rural villages, some of them don’t want to migrate. In their villages, there is a support system within the community, the parents and the environment.
So, we are trying to find opportunities for women to gather themselves and create cooperatives or start a company, linking them with the market to find the access to finances directly, so they can get empowered from the very place they are living in.
We also make sure that there is post-placement support. That’s the problem with skilling system in India, as soon as they get placed, they think their job is over but there are a lot of drop-outs. Retention within the job is actually the problem because some of them haven’t really chosen the skill development programme they are in. They haven’t really chosen the company they are working in. They are pushed into it. Take a tribal community living all the time outside in the open, they suddenly find themselves in big cities, in a factory working from nine-to-five. It doesn’t correspond to their way of living, what they are used to, and requires too much of adaptation, which doesn’t work.
What would be your advice to the corporates looking at India for such skilling project?
I do believe that India is not an easy country to settle in, especially for foreign companies. I’ve spent a total of seven years in India and I don’t think I’ve grabbed even the tip of the iceberg of what India can be. It’s a very complex country. From the diversity of the states to the diversity of the environment. The tradition and the culture are always there all the time. It requires a lot of humility to come to India. Because everything that you believe and all the references that you have, coming from another county, they are completely irrelevant in the Indian setting. So one should not be depressed by the fact that things are taking time because there’s always a solution. A good thing in India is that it is a land of opportunities for sure, especially in terms of business. From the government to the private sector to the NGOs, everybody wants things to happen at some point. That’s very appreciable because you see that there’s always a solution coming.
The main and the most important thing is to make sure that there is more engagement and involvement from the private sector. So, UNDP will be more than happy to facilitate it.
Besides ‘Disha’, what are UNDP future goals, vision in india?
The goal is to improve the lives of one million women and girls but it’s just the beginning of the story. The idea is to reshape the skilling ecosystem differently, to make sure that India reaps the benefit of the demographic dividend. India has the largest youth population in the world. Unfortunately, most of them are unskilled and don’t know what exactly they can dream of in the future. So, we create models that will be replicated and held up all over India. We believe that this solution that we have put up will not only work for India but for other countries as well, especially the neighbouring countries. Some of the things that we’re doing in entrepreneurship and connecting companies with market using innovative technologies through web-based platforms, etc. – this is something that can work very well in other countries as well.