A single phone call shortly after her graduation in 2013 changed the course of Aashna Singh’s career. Having completed her Masters degree at the London School of Economics, which included an exchange at the University of Sydney’s Business School, Aashna was initially planning to work at a major multinational company in India’s booming economy. That was until her fateful phone call with Param Singh, the Founder and Director of a leading Indian vocational training organization called Uday.
Meaning ‘Rise’ in English, Uday is the first company in India to offer short, skills-based courses adapted from the Australian Vocational Education and Training (TVET) system to suit the Indian context. With 70 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people living in rural areas, and 500 million under the age of 29, often unable to access practical and affordable vocational training, Uday’s focus is on supporting young people, farmers and women to gain marketable skills.
After speaking with Mr. Singh, Aashna was inspired.
“I was excited about the impact that I could make,” she says. “[At that time] we were already working with youth, but there was a huge part that we were missing, and that’s the rural women … they have so much potential,” she says.
Under Aashna’s leadership, Uday trialed Australian TVET-adapted entrepreneurship training for 500 women living in several isolated villages scattered throughout Hariyana State.
Often unable to travel far from their homes or villages, due to family commitments or social restrictions, Aashna and her team worked with the women in their homes to help turn their hobbies into viable businesses.
In one such village, on the outskirts of India’s sprawling call-centre capital, Gurgaon, Susma and her three friends – who had been producing handmade dolls and selling them to a middle man for years – participated in the five-day entrepreneurship training.
The training was a mix of classroom and practical sessions, including a market survey where the women traveled to a Gurgaon mall to showcase their products and to see how their dolls compared to others on the market.
“Their comfort zone was their house, and probably their neighbouring lanes, and they haven’t stepped out of their village,” Aashna explains. “If not for the training, they would have never thought to enter a mall and showcase their products.”
With growing confidence, new skills and information, the women reworked their dolls into highly marketable items. Uday then linked the women with eager buyers in Australia. “I never thought that something we make in a village in India can be valued and sold all over the world,” Susma says as she and her three colleagues pack their first shipment of 100 handmade dolls for export to Perth. “I have never been on a plane, but my dolls will fly,” she laughs.
With the pilot initiative proving successful, Uday is now working on expanding their support to women in other rural areas across India, using the TVET-adapted courses.
“Women in India have so much potential … we want them to be part of the entire [business] ecosystem,” says Aashna. “[Our aim is] to tap into their potential, to train them, and help them go to the next level,” she says.
Aashna looks back on her experience studying in Australia at the University of Sydney’s Business School fondly. “It was so practical,” she says, “it was so related to the corporate world, [especially considering] the case studies… it was a great experience”