Making Girls Career-Ready: A Grassroots Initiative
By Potshangbam July

Key Highlights

Project Name: Puthri
Program Start Date: 15 July 2017
Cost until FY 2021-22: US$200,000
(INR 15,922,220)
Project Execution: Avtar Human Capital Trust

Puthri, which means daughter, is an initiative that seeks to create ‘career intentionality’ among adolescent girls from disadvantaged backgrounds who are studying in government and corporation-run schools in Tamil Nadu. Puthri is fostering career-mindedness in girls aged between 13 and 18 years, and equipping them with skills that will make them economically self- sufficient.

A report by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) states that 39.4 percent of adolescent girls aged between 15 and 18 years are out of school in India. To address this issue, in 2017 Avtar Human Capital Trust (AHCT) launched the Puthri program with the aim of providing girls access to a well-rounded skilling program to supplement their formal education. Puthri expects that the training will empower the girls to break the shackles of poverty, pursue white-collar jobs, and contribute to India’s economic growth.

The concept of career-intentionality was created by Dr. Saundarya Rajesh, founder of Avtar Group and managing trustee of the Avtar Human Capital Trust. Through Puthri, the non-government organization (NGO) plans to support 10,000 girls from government schools every year.

AHCT won the ‘Project of the Year award’ in the NGO category for the Puthri program at the PMI South Asia Awards 2021.

The program kicked off after AHCT secured approvals from the government authorities to conduct a year-long intervention in schools in Chennai, Coimbatore, and Puducherry. The approval came after the program team spent time engaging with officials at the district level to explain the initiative and its potential impact. Considering the organization’s track record of previous engagements with the Department of School Education, Government of Tamil Nadu, it received approval to implement the program in higher secondary schools across the state.

However, school administrations had initially allotted a limited time to conduct the sessions that the Avtar Trust had proposed under Puthri. The NGO then engaged heads of schools and teachers and created an annual time-table for the program that did not interfere with the academic calendar. It was also decided that the schools would receive comprehensive reports after analyzing the data on the activities conducted. That would help the school administration make informed decisions about the impact from Puthri.

During 2020-21, the pandemic affected the program after classroom-based activities came to a halt as schools shut down. The NGO addressed the challenge by transitioning the program to a virtual mode, thereby making it feasible to conduct more than 200 sessions during this time. This opened up various possibilities for students. Among these sessions was a special one in which industry leaders virtually interacted with the students and provided them guidance on how to prepare for a sustainable career.

"Our research shows that for young girls to rise to their full potential, they need mentors, role models, and career coaches. These three form the pillars of career intentionality. We have been able to take our program to greater heights with the support of experts who fit these roles. We are also thankful for partners such as PMI Chennai Chapter."

Dr. Saundarya Rajesh, founder, Avtar Group and Managing Trustee, Avtar Human Capital Trust

Avtar Human Capital Trust runs more than 60 programs under Puthri across the state of Tamil Nadu, in cities such as Chennai, Kancheepuram, Chengalpattu, Puducherry, Thiruvallur, and Coimbatore.

The program beneficiaries get trained on 40 different life skills across three levels. Students undergo sessions on health, financial acumen, digital literacy, entrepreneurship, and self-defence. Level 1 comprises introductory sessions for those in grade 8. Level 2 provides advanced skills for students in grade 9. Level 3 teaches the application of real-life skills on the areas covered to those in grades 10, 11, and 12.

The organization has collaborated with PMI Chennai Chapter for this program, with the latter sharing project management methodologies and processes for better outcomes. The chapter also volunteered to train the internal program team members on project management concepts and their applications. With the help of PMI’s responsibility assignment matrix, the organization built an internal tool, Asthra, that enables them to capture program progress.

To ensure quality and genuineness, potentials mentor go through a screening and evaluation process. The selected mentors then undergo training by master trainers and hand-holding by peers before they are inducted into the program. At the end of the year, the mentors go through a refresher workshop to help them stay abreast of new techniques and trends. These include new training methodologies to bring in more physical activities like games, role plays, and dramas in the classroom to make the students understand and apply the skills well. They are also exposed to creative methods to deliver the skills through anecdotes, stories, real case studies, and project work, and tech-based learning tools for better engagement.

The program has signed up more than 300 mentors from various walks of life - graduates, post-graduates, PhD holders, corporate professionals, homemakers, retired professionals, professional trainers, and teachers.

A similar process is also being followed for career coaches before they are brought onboard. The role of a career coach is to encourage the girls to make informed decisions about their careers.

The NGO also organizes an annual event, ‘Udyog Utsav,’ where students, trainers, and teachers meet, learn, and network. Since the pandemic, it has been held virtually. Besides the learning, students get exposed to potential scholarships, jobs, internships, and career paths during the event.

The NGO also organizes industry tours for students to gain first-hand knowledge of how companies function. They also offer scholarships to deserving students, in partnership with various foundations and institutions. So far, 18 students have received scholarships, of a total value of INR 7,22,400 (over US$9,000).

Since 2017, the NGO has expanded Puthri program to 62 schools across Chennai, Coimbatore, and Puducherry, impacting more than 5,000 beneficiaries. It has signed up 380 volunteers, who have together contributed more than 11,500 hours of service. So far, 140 girls who have completed their 12th grade are engaged in Puthri’s post-school program to help them realize their career aspirations.

The Puthri program has won many recognitions for its contributions toward empowering girls through education.

In 2018, Britt Worldwide, a training company, awarded the program for its role in encouraging women in leadership. Dow Chemical, a global player in material science, provided the program a financial grant after shortlisting it among many global projects. Five Puthri beneficiaries have earned scholarships from Dow Chemicals for their under-graduate education. These young women, who were being mentored by the company in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education before their 12th grade, graduated with distinction in the high school examination.

Such success stories continue, with many Puthri scholars scoring well in their 10th and 12th board exams in 2022.

"It is extremely heartening to see young women who have undergone the skill development program at Puthri join reputed educational institutions for their tertiary education. That is a mark of the success of Puthri."

Dr. Saundarya Rajesh, founder, Avtar Group and Managing Trustee, Avtar Human Capital Trust

With a bold vision for the future, Avtar Human Capital Trust is planning to replicate the Puthri model in other states of the country, and enable more of India’s puthris to reach their full potential and contribute to the country’s economic progress.