What keeps you driving?
For Meera, it is the smile, satisfaction, and confidence that she gets to see on the face of her amazing folks every time she meets them — the sense of gratitude and the art of being self-reliable!
What started 8 years back with one centre in a city turned into 100s of centres across 22 states and a family of 160 people.
Meera Shenoy, 60, started Youth4Jobs with a dream of making young India self-reliable despite all the odds and conditions like physical/ hearing/ speech disability. It was her sheer dedication and love for others that made her initiative recognized by people across the world as well as the government.
According to Equiv.in, ‘only 34 lakh of the about 1.34 crore people with disabilities (PwDs) in the employable age have a job in India’ — an unemployment rate of more than 70%.
“I decided to focus on youth with disabilities, as 80% of the world’s disabled people are in developing nations like India,” Meera says. She started the country’s first skilling mission for the government of Andhra Pradesh, EJMM, for rural development which became very successful and influenced the policies of the government further. After that, she also consulted for the World Bank across south-east Asia and the United Nations before starting Youth4Jobs.
“We started with very little money but a lot of passion. When we looked around, we realized there was no one training youth with disabilities coming from rural areas — and I felt that was the real need. We did the first residential training program for youth with disabilities and faced a lot of challenges. We had to find differently-abled youth from rural areas, the companies had to understand their needs while recruiting them — so we started the All India Connect team — to help companies hiring differently-abled youth,” Meera tells about the initial phase of the foundation.
There are three major programs that Youth4Jobs offer —
- The Village Connect
- The College Connect
Youth4Jobs trains the rural youth with disabilities for two months, without any fees, in which they help them in developing their life skills, communication skills, computer skills, etc. and helps them in getting a job in different services sectors like retail, BPO, hospitality, logistics, etc.
She also has a dedicated team that keeps on checking the current job vacancies and helps the youths in getting a job. The government is also very supportive, and the state/ district level officials help them in reaching out to the interior parts of the villages.
“These young people coming from low-income families are seen as a burden. But a lot of them who we trained actually became the highest-earning member of their family and the whole community started looking at them with respect,” Meera shared the plight of the rural youth with disabilities. “We have trained girls who are financially weak, differently-abled, and hail from villages — for them, getting a job actually made them economically empowered — gave a voice to stand for themselves. Such things keep me energized — the magic of ‘before and after’ — keeps me going,” she further continued.
On asking how the people in remote parts treat the person with any disability, Meera tells that their attitude towards a differently-abled is appalling and they do not think that they are capable of earning or doing any job.
And as the parents of these young people start getting older, their worry for their differently-abled kid increases, as the rest of the family may not look after the kid in the future. Youth4Jobs helps such families and ensures that the kids can rely on themselves.
The CSR arm of different companies helps the NGO in surviving financially. As of writing this, Youth4Jobs have trained 23,240 youths with disabilities — including online training and is the biggest NGO in south-east Asia.
Because of the lockdown, they had to close down their residential training centers but increased the online training sessions to help the youth in finding jobs. “We had set-up helplines for assistance, helped visually impaired young people and others, and also did relief operations to tackle the lockdown effects, but we also continued doing what we do. Though a lot of people don’t have a smartphone, they had to borrow and attend the training sessions. Our trainers and mentors have to teach them a lot of things as most of them are not well-versed with smartphones. We introduced online video calling apps to them and also helped them to understand the basics of online work,” Meera talks about the recent challenges that her team faced. When most of the skill development activities are at a standstill due to COVID-19 and the subsequent economic slowdown, Youth4Jobs is scaling its skilling and placing in jobs a vulnerable segment — youth with disabilities.
“When you become a social entrepreneur, you make a choice — a choice of keeping others before you. I like the fact that our work is highly impactful — we try to give differently-abled youths a voice that they dream of and enable them to give back to society,” speaks Meera as she puts the interview to an end. She urges everyone to help in building a young inclusive India, where everyone has an equal opportunity for education and employment.