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Encouraging youthful entrepreneurs

Arecanut sheaths are grown by farmers in Assam (© Dhriiti)
Arecanut sheaths are grown by farmers in Assam
© Dhriiti

To reduce youth unemployment in India, a Delhi-based NGO is encouraging and supporting youths to set up sustainable small-scale enterprises. Founded in 2004, Dhriiti (The courage within) organises workshops and integrated training programmes in Indian schools to promote entrepreneurship as a respectable and profitable career option.

In insurgency-hit Assam, in north-east India, Dhriiti is helping unemployed youths to set up small manufacturing units for making disposable plates and bowls using the sheaths of Arecanut which is abundantly grown by farmers in Assam. So far, 67 manufacturing units have been created, with each one directly employing three people and providing indirect employment to another 15, who are involved in transportation and sale of the products. "The only way to tackle underemployment, unemployment and frustration is to get the youth to dream," explains Nidhi Arora, one of the founders of Dhriiti, "and then provide a support system to help them start-up on their own."

After receiving enterprise management training from Dhriiti, Dalima Patgiri, a 37-year-old woman, started her own manufacturing unit with a 50 per cent subsidy on a loan of 75,000 Indian rupees (US$1,785) from the Khadi and Village Industries Commission. She is now earning up to US$110 every month. "I take a lot of pride that I have achieved something as a woman from a remote village," she says. "I want people to come and see how we villagers are changing our lives."

Financing and marketing

The demand for disposable plates and bowls is increasing (© Dhriiti)
The demand for disposable plates and bowls is increasing
© Dhriiti

To improve market linkages for the producers in Assam, Dhriiti has also established the Tambul Plate Marketing Company (TPMC), which provides a 100 per cent buy-back guarantee for the producers. "There has been a very good response from the market for the product," adds Arindam Dasgupta, Dhriiti director. "Most of the consumers and shopkeepers who have purchased the products once have placed repeat orders." Dhriiti also facilitates bank financing and helps the youths procure machinery.

According to Dasgupta, the initiative in Assam has made a significant impact. "First of all," he says, "rural people are relishing the fact that they can manufacture and sell products to people living in urban areas. Secondly, and most importantly, it is also providing them with employment and reducing the risks to their livelihoods. For example, it gives them confidence that if a flood or drought destroys their crops, they have a small business to fall back upon. They are no longer relying on a single income from crops."

"Our vision is to be the most innovative and professional organisation in India working for the development of the smallscale sector," Dasgupta explains, "by creating a pool of entrepreneurs, promoting and developing micro-enterprises and increasing the efficiency of existing small-scale industries." In Assam, Dhriiti is currently working with more than 3,000 youths in 470 villages. "And, in the next five years we expect to be working with 12,000 youths in 1,880 villages. Our target is to scale up production to US$22 million," he added.

Overcoming challenges

Youths are trained how to operate the manufacturing equipment (© Dhriiti)
Youths are trained how to operate the manufacturing equipment
© Dhriiti

The biggest challenge, according to Dasgupta, is the negative attitude of people towards entrepreneurship. "It's not easy to motivate people in rural India to set up their own businesses. People in India have the attitude of hankering after government jobs which of course is not only their fault, but the system in India has evolved like that. So, motivating them has been a big challenge," Dasgupta observes. "But our success stories motivate many people."

Dasgupta added that insurgency in Assam is also a major challenge though they have not encountered any incident so far. "We go to places where no NGO has worked so far. These areas are insurgency-hit areas and we have to take a lot of care," he said. "And then, we also have to work on simple and appropriate technologies and bringing them to the doorsteps of the people in a form which would attract them to it."

In India's capital, New Delhi, Dhriiti is working with different schools to promote the idea of entrepreneurship among the student community. "We are trying to introduce students to ideas of entrepreneurship. Our approach for engaging with the students is different from the usual stuff within the four walls of classrooms. We involve them in exercises wherein they get to know their strengths, weaknesses and understand themselves in a big way," says Nidhi Arora. According to her, the idea is to inculcate among students the idea of taking initiatives on their own and to start small-scale businesses.

Written by: Athar Parvaiz

Date published: May 2011


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