India is located in South Asia and has a population of about 1.3 billion people. The country is mostly known for its agricultural work, multiple languages and cultural communities. Also, India has been a part of the U.N. since its creation in 1945. Currently, the country is attempting to grow its economy and reach the technological level of first world countries. Yet, among many issues that India needs to recognize is gender and class inequalities within its workforce. One solution is uplifting women through economic empowerment.
The Legacy of India’s Caste System
In India, caste and ethnic background still play a major role in the workplace — which can lead to people remaining stuck in underprivileged communities. Many believe that women may be educated but should nevertheless, remain housewives after marriage. Recently, many women have married, subsequently left their jobs and then attempted to return to work after many years of absence. Saundarya Rajesh, who holds a doctorate in Women’s Workforce Participation and hails from Chennai, recognized that there were not many women in white-collar jobs and that class differences were preventing women’s acceptance, when restarting their careers. Rajesh herself was a second-career woman in a white-collar job, who felt the pressure to choose between work and family. Her experiences led to her beginning Avtar I-Win in 2005, with the aim of helping women in similar situations to her own.
Avtar I-Win Empowers Women
The first step for Avtar I-Win was connecting women with job opportunities — helping showcase their resumes or launch their careers. Rajesh wanted the corporate workforce to create or allocate jobs for women — many of these jobs only men held. The Avtar I-Win group has completed 15,000 successful placements and the group continues to place women in new careers. The group’s main goal is to uplift women through economic empowerment in India. As the program grew, the organization cultivated a counseling service with a focus on life decisions and career development, called WINSIGHT. The service, run by qualified experts, provides a way for women to gain mentorship themselves and grow into mentors for other Avtar women.
With the growth of the organization, Rajesh and her board have added new aspects to their organization — always seeking to instill career intentionality and independence in girls, from a young age. With this mindset, girls can make their way out of poverty, forced marriages and sexual and domestic abuse — eventually increasing the corporate talent pool of India. Seeing the success and positive impact of Avtar I-Win, Rajesh began Avtar Human Capital Trust (AHCT) in 2008, which is a charitable not-for-profit organization.
Reaching Women in Poverty
Rajesh and her team noticed that even though they helped women restart their careers; education and financial barriers prevented them from reaching all women. Headquartered in Chennai, AHCT addresses gender inequality across the states of Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry — providing financial help for women and students in underprivileged communities. By doing so, AHCT allows women to focus on preparing and aspiring for professional careers.
With the support of companies willing to hire more women, AHCT and Avtar I-Win have launched programs such as Project Puthri and FLEXI Careers in India. Project Puthri focuses on helping girls from a young age, so they can graduate with the purpose of attaining corporate jobs. The organization’s current goal is to help 10,000 girls per year across Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry. The board believes that with more women contributing to India’s GDP, the country will become more prosperous and communities will rise out of poverty. FLEXI Careers supports this mission through diversity and inclusion consulting. The organization focuses on an array of services to make the corporate world an inclusive workplace for women from underprivileged communities.
Female Empowerment and the Future
Saundaraya Rajesh founded her organization on helping and believing in women from communities of poverty. Yet, she understood that women needed assistance in obtaining careers for which many (especially family-oriented women in poverty) experienced great barriers to entry. Along with other pioneers in workplace inclusivity, Rajesh is uplifting women through economic empowerment in India — introducing programs on technology, economic empowerment, health and hygiene education for women who need extra support to succeed in the corporate world.
– Sumeet Waraich