Last week I participated in the valedictory ceremony of the Mahatma Gandhi National Fellowship (MGNFs – Telangana cohort), at IIM- Udaipur. I thank the Program Leadership for this opportunity and congratulate the Fellows on successful completion of the Fellowship and wish them a fulfilling career ahead!
Having contributed to communication and advocacy support for MGNF in a variety of ways, I feel the completion of the program marks a new beginning in India’s quest for strengthening the skilling, vocational education and entrepreneurship system. The post-MGNF mandate could be to build on the base created by the Fellows at the ground level and deepen the impact by empowering the rural, tribal and challenged communities.
Why MGNF program is a significant milestone in India’s skill development agenda
Passion, purpose, perseverance, persistence, and patience – the MGNF program needed all five traits and many more! This was well-demonstrated on most occasions by the fellows working in different districts in India. The unique fellowship that focused on strengthening the skilling ecosystem at the district level by aligning it with education and entrepreneurship is a part of the flagship SANKALP scheme.
I’m glad to share that the National Skills Network – (NSN) directly or indirectly played a small role in helping the fellows overcome information asymmetry and we connected with them, and their program leadership to bring visibility and share stories of their initiatives, challenges and accomplishments. As a certificate program in Public Policy and Management offered by nine IIMs in collaboration with the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) under SANKALP scheme, MGNF has opened new avenues to work closely with states/districts in fulfilling the agenda for gainful employment and self-employment.
For me, personally, being a mentor to a few of them from Telangana, my home state, was the most rewarding experience to learn from their collective journeys, experience things vicariously and understand the challenges in my state in a much better way. Thank you, IIM-Udaipur, for this opportunity and recognition!
Also read: Convocation ceremony held for 581 Mahatma Gandhi National Fellows across 9 IIMs: https://www.nationalskillsnetwork.in/convocation-ceremony-held-for-581-mahatma-gandhi-national-fellows-across-9-iims/
Turning challenges into opportunities and being self-driven
The unforeseen and the unknown don’t deter us when we step out of our comfort zone. I always felt and believed that there are two options for all of us when we see things aren’t going well: one, just ignore things around us even if we know something can be done, and two, involve ourselves, take responsibility and make a difference. It’s a matter of choice! But when we get involved and get immersed in things that are close to our hearts with conviction – the journey is simply incredible. It’s the unpredictable that excites us and we don’t complain: rather, we become responsible and try to find solutions to the problems around us.
What mattered most in the case of MGNFs is how they could bridge the chasm between theory and practice through their study at the district level, how they could be a part of policy implementation working in close collaboration with administrative officials.
The fellowship was about learning to lead by driving change, even in a small way, and experiencing self-discovery while immersing in the ground realities. And, confidently share their perspectives, learnings to influence decision making, positively.
Many skills include cultivating and nurturing a growth mindset along with unwavering self-belief. Empathy towards others, which involves curiously listening to them and understanding their situation, is a valuable skill. Additionally, persisting and exercising gentle pressure on higher-ups to approve and act is crucial in various situations. Problem-solving and critical thinking round out the skill set, making them essential for navigating the challenges of life and work.
Also read: Explore success stories and valuable resources that showcase MGNF’s impact on livelihood promotion and community development here: https://www.nationalskillsnetwork.in/mahatma-gandhi-national-fellowship-mgnf/
The change makers: MGNF journey, impact and road ahead
Being a member of the project evaluation team for the Telangana MGNFs at IIM-Udaipur along with Prof. V. Venkat Rao, Mr. Janakiram P, I had a chance to participate in their presentations. I listened to the first-hand account of stories from the ground and their personal transformation as they traversed through tough terrains, demographics and interacted with government officials and non-government organizations, met people, and created processes where there were none or refined and optimized them in their pursuit to contribute to the district-level skilling and entrepreneurship.
The evaluation parameters indicated their analysis of district economy, skilling ecosystem and livelihood options. The MGNFs were tasked to identify drivers for growth through income and employment generation and suggest/implement interventions for self-employment, entrepreneurship as a means of sustainable livelihoods. Their recommendations are expected to serve District Skill Committees (DSC) and other organizations in reducing migration, creating self-reliant communities by preserving the local and blending it with modern technology.
Being a participant in the public policy discourse, the MGNFs set out to explore how appropriate skilling and training can lead to economic development. The diversified needs of skilling, when properly analyzed, could also play an important role in reducing the distressed migration of rural youth and equip them with competencies that can enable sustainable livelihoods.
As change makers, they were playing the role of initiators and catalysts in streamlining the skilling system by finding and suggesting solutions to the issues in making it convergent, robust and efficient. Their curated experience of meeting and working with officials from the government and industry can be best applied to current and future programs, leveraging their rich lived experience at the ground level – phenomenological, ethnographic, and qualitative research – all these can feed into the current and upcoming projects at the national and state levels.
MGNF Telangana: Districts level development through skills and entrepreneurship
The immersive experience for most MGNFs began with conducting the skill gap studies and convening the district skill committee meetings after their initial academic orientation at the IIMs. Later, as they got into analyzing the depth of the issues pertaining to local opportunities, resources, industry and more. Their aspiration to work at the grassroots level and commitment to achieve the desirable outcomes made them even more determined to try new models. With support from local administration they could organize events like Job Melas and initiate innovative activities to engage with people who needed support and guidance in many ways. Most importantly, they had a key role to play in influencing the mindsets of the local people in embracing and managing change.
Charting the industrial landscape in Telangana districts includes PSUs, MSMEs, and informal and unorganized businesses from sectors like Power, Hospitality, Tourism, Agriculture, Horticulture, IT, Manufacturing, Services, Food Processing, Pharmaceutical, Healthcare, Construction, Electronics, Renewable Energy, Handloom and Handicrafts and many more.
Understanding the skilling and vocational training ecosystem and connecting with entrepreneurship involves ITIs, short-term training like PMKVY and DDUGKY, Polytechnics, Junior and Degree colleges, Engineering Colleges, Secondary Schools, RSETI, JSS. The need to improve infrastructure and forge connections with the industry has been the most critical findings in many districts and move towards convergence.
Rural economic development focuses on how rural youth can be shown different ways to create sustainable livelihoods since their first preference would be to stay in their own districts, creating linkages for Village Level Entrepreneurs (VLEs). And, orienting them with the benefits of various government schemes, implementing the schemes with the help of district administration.
Encouraging farmers and women SHGs to adopt technology, explore new ways of branding and packaging products, widen their network and diversify is the need of the hour, as per the projects of most MGNFs, irrespective of the location they were placed. Also, in the case of the tribal population, the need was to connect them with organizations like KVIC and ITDA for financial assistance and infrastructural support.
Need for immersive research in skills and vocational education through fellowships
The question of why we need to offer more fellowships for ground-level research and how it can be applied to improve the work-integrated education system in India is an important one. The dearth of research in skills and vocational training, even as MGNFs might get absorbed in government positions, consulting firms, non-profit organizations, or other sectors, underscores the necessity to prioritize research in this area.
We need to continue with similar programs and focus on how the research can be applied to achieve the desired outcomes. So, as we reflect on the future of education and workforce development in India, we must ask ourselves: Shouldn’t we invest more in these vital research fellowships, and how can we ensure they become an integral part of our nation’s work-integrated educational landscape!