Friday, Jan 28, 2022

The Great Indian Dream: How Youngsters Are Creating Wealth With Offbeat Ideas

An MBA degree is no longer a ticket to a cushy corporate job. For many, the degree is just the beginning of unconventional careers.

The Great Indian Dream: How Youngsters Are Creating Wealth With Offbeat Ideas
The Great Indian Dream: How Youngsters Are Creating Wealth With Offbeat Ideas -

Shimla-based Pranav Sharma is appearing for his boards next year. Like any other teenager, he is perplexed. His parents are successful businesspersons and want him to chart the same path, while Pranav is keenly interested in the medical sciences. “I wish there was a course that would be an amalgamation of medical sciences and business administration,” the 15-year-old would often wonder. Pranav spends all his free time searching the internet about career options and the best colleges/universities. His parents support him in this.

While the hunt was on, the family stumbled upon something called Junior Programmes off­ered by Mumbai-based startup Clever Harvey. The programmes are meant to enable kids from the age group of 13-18 years to explore the world of Junior MBA Technology, Junior MBA Strategy and Junior MBA Marketing, to name a few.

Sriram Subramanian, co-founder and CEO, Clever Harvey, says the advantages of the Junior MBA programmes are that high school students get a preview of the topics they can learn in a regular MBA programmes, so that they can identify the field that would best suit them. It helps teenagers get behind-the-scenes exposure to practical problem-solving through case studies based on the company’s industry partners such as Puma, Samsonite and Infinity Cars. The projects offered during the 10 to 15-day programmes help teenagers write about their practical experience, their real-world portfolio of projects and their ­industry certifications in their application statements for regular MBA programmes in India or for admissions to leading colleges abroad.

“About 35 per cent of our audience opts for the Junior CEO option—a combination of Junior MBA programmes in strategy, marketing and technology. Our second most popular option is Junior MBA Strategy, where teenagers learn to develop and present their own business plan and work on a data analytics challenge by Samsonite,” says Sriram, adding that the startup provides exploration in 15 careers on their platform.

Taking cues from this startup, Pranav and his family have worked on a solution. “He will try for such an experimental programme. If he feels fit for it, he can go ahead and work for an MBA programme, and if he doesn’t, he can pursue medical sciences,” say his parents Deepti and Pankaj Sharma.

Every year, millions of young people in India have to take serious decisions about their careers and MBA has turned out to be one of the most preferred programmes. On October 26, the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) released its first ever report on the gaps in business schools across the world. According to the report, women are interested in business education, but not as much at the graduate level. In fact, in the 20-34 age group, more women (26.4%) around the world earn bachelor-level degrees in business administration or law than their male counterparts (24.6%). But at the graduate level, women fall behind considerably: 29.4 per cent women compared to 33.7 per cent men.

The report states that China and India have the highest numbers of both bachelor and graduate degree holders in business and business ­administration, followed by the US. Other notable inclusions in the top 10 business graduates were youth from Pakistan and Turkey, who now account for 28 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively, of their country’s total bachelor’s degree-holders.

“Many management graduates today lack the understanding of emerging technologies and are compelled to upskill themselves to achieve success, even after earning their MBA degrees,” says Dr. Bibek Banerjee, dean, School of Management and Entrepreneurship, Shiv Nadar University. “B-school curriculums need to be re-imagined in response to the changing business environment. Expect to see a more heightened focus on exclusively digital domains such as data analytics, big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, digital marketing, the Internet of Things and digital transformation as a service. Management curricula will have accents of a variety of contiguous disciplines drawn from psychology, mathematics, cognitive sciences, engineering and technology—as business professionals of tomorrow will have to summon all these elements in seamlessly navigating their decision-scape in the digital economy. Equipping graduates with managerial principles will no longer be enough. MBA programmes will need to inculcate an entrepreneurial mindset that combines the ability to harness data with technology in order to make smart decisions.”  

In 2021, employability among Indian business administration graduates was about 47 per cent, falling from 54 per cent in 2020, according to Statista Research Department. It says overall employability of the youth in the country has been stagnant at around 46 per cent over the past four years. As per market estimates, around 3.5 lakh people complete management courses in India every year from both private and government colleges.

“In the last one-two decades, the mushrooming of business schools created a glut,” says an IIM director who requested not to be identified. “But what they failed to address was the changing needs of the education system as management programmes need to be altered and updated regularly with evolving business environments and needs. This failed a lot of MBA graduates and the reputation of the degree too. That’s one of the reasons why a lot of people now prefer to go overseas for an MBA degree by taking educational loans rather than pursuing it in a second- or third-rate institute.” He adds that the system failed these students as it didn’t kept a check on what kind of course study and faculty was being used by these B-schools and institutes.

While the figures may seem depressing and are a warning signal for some, but there are many ­inspiring stories of those who used their MBA learning to charter new and unconventional territories. These examples show that MBA programmes provide a curriculum and lay a foundation stone that may be basic in nature, but is applicable in many fields. It is a kind of transferable ­degree that could be used in different paths. It brings confidence, makes you well-versed in business, human resources, marketing and sales fundamentals, and strengthens your abilities to work well with others.

Bangalore-based voice coach Shilpi Das Chohan says her MBA has helped her throughout her car­eer. “I was a telemarketer and pursued people in a certain way. When in the hotel industry, I used to get business in different ways. Marketing and sales courses were most useful for me,” she says, adding that when she charted her path as an ent­repreneur, her first task was to create a market for herself and the MBA lessons did the wonders.

Similarly, Shivani Khetan’s executive progra­mme in human resource made it a cakewalk for her when she started working on her clinic Mudita that provides help for holistic mental health. “The basics of dealing with people with empathy and systematically helped me categorise people as one approach for all doesn’t work in the healing process,” she says.

Those who have done an MBA earlier or recen­tly say learning never goes waste. It’s just that one has to find a “new sky” just like the famous song with the same title says:

“I wanna go, I wanna fly
I wanna take myself to a new sky
I wanna live, I wanna die
I wanna thank myself for getting out
Take me to another place…”

Photograph by Bimal Chunni


Nalanda (Bihar)

His parents took an education loan of Rs 5 lakh to help him obtain the coveted MBA degree from the prestigious IIM Ahmedabad, oblivious of the fact that their son nurtured a radically different idea. On his return from IIM-A in 2007, Kaushlendra told his family that he wanted to sell vegetables in Bihar. This was despite the fact that most of his batch mates had by then joined different MNCs and were drawing handsome salaries.  

“I did not take that decision on an impulse,” says Kaushlendra, 14 years after he returned to his native Ekangarsarai of Nalanda district in Bihar. “During my IIM-A days, I was part of a group of a few teachers and students that used to regularly discuss various ways to ensure social and economic upliftment of different regions. I knew that Bihar had the potential to turn into the vegetable capital of the country.”

Kaushlendra says he realised that despite an ideal climate and soil, local farmers had stopped growing vegetables and switched over to other crops simply because they did not have access to the markets. The realisation led him to set up a farmers’ cooperative called Samriddhi for creating a supply chain by procuring fresh and organic vegetables directly from farmers. “The only thing the farmers needed was a proper marketing avenue, which we provided,” he says.

Initially starting off with only 5 kg of vegetables, his cooperative had a turnover of Rs 2.5 crore within three years, thanks to its network of hundreds of farmers. Among its early innovations was a customised ice-cooled pushcart, which kept vegetables fresh for five to six days.

Kaushlendra soon came to be known as “MBA Subziwallah”, getting ­national and international attention for his pioneering initiative. “I also wanted to create enough job opportunities for unskilled people at the grassroots level in my home state,” he says.

Later, when his main clients—the educated urban class—began to drift away because of the entry of malls in the retail sector, he chose to diversify into other crops such as pulses. His foundation then left the retail business in vegetables, except at a few small centres, and became an aggregator to provide the know-how and other support to any entrepreneur who wanted to set up a vegetable business based on his model.

At his initiative, more than 9,000 farmers began to grow pulses in Nawada and East Champaran districts in Bihar. “I impressed upon the local farmers the need for rotation of crops instead of depending on monoculture,” he says. “They were cultivating only paddy and wheat crops earlier, but I told them that apart from economical reasons, protein-rich pulses could also help their family fight off malnutrition.”

Over the past five years, Kaushlendra’s main focus has been to groom the farmers not only economically, but also for environmentally sustainable farming. “We are focusing on creating agricultural entrepreneurs at the panchayat level,” he says. “We are concentrating on how best the rural youths can earn their livelihood. We have also set up basic schools in some villages.”

Kaushlendra says that his experiences at IIM-A have not only helped him at each and every step of his entrepreneurial journey, but also in his day-to-day life. “Whatever we do in life is a lesson in management for all of us. Isn’t it?” he asks.  

—Giridhar Jha

Oshin Goel

Vibrantdots (Shimla)

For kids from Shimla, moving out of the city is the only option to achieve professional success. But 28-year-old Oshin Goel loved to beat the odds. Her five-year integrated programme in management from IIM Indore was a good setting ground to carve out a promising role in any multinational or corporate giant. But she chose to be different. She used her learning skills and entrepreneurial spirit to become a travel and training entrepreneur in Shimla.

Oshin believes her venture Vibrantdots is an example for those youngsters who believe in their ability to create their own market, rather than waiting for some miracle. “I could have easily picked up any high-paying job through campus placements. But I wanted to do something where I could be master of my own destiny and decisions, apart from being a leader charting out my own path,” she says.

Vibrandots, which was set up in 2017, imparts out-bound learning programmes to youth from schools, colleges and management institutes across India. The programmes are designed to build leadership skills apart from imparting practical training in administrative functions. Her MBA course has come handy for this. Her father, Dr S.K. Goel, who retired from the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, joined her in the venture.

She has conducted a series of programmes for students from Delhi-NCR region, Bangalore, Indore and IIM Kashipur (Uttarakhand), to name a few. She also keeps experimenting with her travel destinations and tailors them according to the needs of the programme.

“We organise residential camps and travel. The youth, both boys and girls, from the educational institutes and colleges are taken to out-bound locations in Himachal Pradesh where they interact with experts from various fields. These interactions can be in the form of open-house, games and some practical experiences,” says Oshin. Spelling her success mantra, she points out that the joy of travelling to Himachal Pradesh is an attraction for many institutes and their students.

She believes her unique leadership development programmes impart skills through experiential learning methodology. It enhances the capacity of an individual to lead the self, the team and the organisation well. The focus remains primarily on developing essential leadership skills like communication, planning, organising and people management, which are needed for developing new leaders.

Oshin admits that the Covid pandemic was the only tough period for her venture as it hampered travel and educational tours. Educational institutions were closed and everything was happening remotely. However, things have picked up again, she adds.
Asked what real-time skills she has been able to impart, Oshin claims these programmes have helped her clients in building common vision, values and team spirit, besides developing team strategies, enhancing creativity and handling of complex situations, and maintaining work-life balance.

Taking cue from her daughter’s venture, her father has now started a separate venture for training school children in personality development and out-bound learning. “I became a role model for my father,” she quips. 

—Ashwani Sharma

Shubhi Jain

Fashion Blogger & Founder, Me Time Aromas (Bangalore)

After completing her MBA in finance and banking in 2010 from Banasthali Vidyapith, Shubhi only knew one path to follow: land in a metropolitan city, apply for jobs in the Big 4s and investment banks, bag a decent job with good pay so that her parents could boast in front of the relatives. She appeared for an open campus interview for IBM and made it through. On September 1, she arrived in Bangalore for her job. The days just flew by. On weekdays she was either slogging in office or sleeping like a log in her PG accommodation. Weekends were booked for piled-up laundry, evening strolls and ­occasional meet-ups with friends for lazy brunches or window shopping. She switched companies and got better packages, though at the cost of longer working hours and less time for herself.

“I yearned to have a life outside work and a profession that allows me to decide my hours. Also, something I look forward to doing every day with thrill and passion,” says Shubhi. After resigning from the corporate job, she spent a few days reading new books, cooking, baking and soaking in the sunlight. Six months later, she figured out that apart from reading, fashion gave her an “adrenaline rush”. Styling different pieces from her closet to create a piece of art, upcycling her mom’s saree to a pretty maxi dress, mixing and matching outfits for hours in front of the mirror filled her soul with joy.

She found her calling in starting a fashion blog. The first few days were spent researching the process to create a self-hosted blog. She forayed into this uncharted territory on April 12, 2018, and named it ‘Sangria Hues’. Sangria because it’s one of her favourite colours and, like the Sangria cocktail, she wanted her blog to be of a mix of different flavours (fashion hacks, DIYs, lifestyle posts etc).

“I was surprised that I started getting a good readership within a few days. It included my dad too. People approached me with messages and comments on how a specific mix-and-match outfit gave them ideas for their own, how the post about my dad moved them enough to shed a tear or two, and how the DIY ripped jeans post saved them lots of bucks,” she says. Eventually, Shubhi built a profile and community on Instagram, and started collaborating with fashion and lifestyle giants like Fabindia, Westside, Cadbury’s and St Botan­ica. She has collaborated with more than 350 brands, attended lots of fashion events, and got featured in three lifestyle magazines, ­besides winning a fashion styling event hosted by Fabindia.

Last year around January, she launched her aromatherapy skincare brand called ‘Me Time Aromas’. The pandemic brought a pause, but she is hopeful of scaling it up in the coming months along with full-time blogging. “I am so glad life panned out the way it has and I am working on my passion every single day,” says Shubhi, adding that she has realised her MBA was the stepping stone to where she is.

“Education is never wasted” as they say and an MBA comes with added exposure and life skills. “It not only helped me with my communication skills, but also taught me time management and business skills. I’m so fortunate to be able to share my journey from F as in finance to F as in fashion. I honestly enjoyed both the Fs and continue to do so. I hope my story inspires someone out there to take a step forward and give their passion a try,” says Shubhi. “Life is not supposed to be spent in boxes.”

—Lachmi Deb Roy

Photograph by Tribhuvan Tiwari

Shivani Khetan

Holistic Mental Health (Noida)

For Noida-based Shivani Khetan, leading a ‘normal’ life comprising profession, family and being social was ­always easy. Belonging a family that has been in the field of teaching spirituality, she always had an inner calling. However, her father kept her away from this as a professional pursuit.

Shivani did her graduation and became a textile ­designer. For over a decade, she did a daily 9 am to 6 pm job, barely getting any time to think about her life. Then she married into a business family that exported home furnishings to countries like the US. When she joined the family business, she took care of the emp­loyees in their industrial unit, being adept in the art of engaging well with people. This persuaded her to do an executive MBA in human resource development from IMT, Ghaziabad, in 2008-10. Unfortunately, the family business had to close down due to recession in the US.

Shivani, who believes there is no end to learning, started pursuing her education in mental and holistic development. These included a certified UNESCO-CID (28012) art expressive therapist course with the Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare, in 2019, and a PhD in tarot as a healing tool from the Open University of Sri Lanka. “While talking to people, I realised they were not into healing themselves, but get into situations where they feel nice so they can run away from their problems,” she says. This convinced her to enter the field of holistic mental health.

“I didn’t want to go into the concept of temples and spirituality like my parents because my father always kept me away from it. I wanted my holistic mental health healing to be more acceptable to people, where they could feel and see the difference,” says Shivani. According to her, expressive art therapy awakens the imagination and creativity to help individuals discover who they are and how to engage their senses. It helps people to know more of themselves, which in turn helps them know others around them, and become more humble, respectful and mature beings.

Shivani now runs a clinic called Mudita. The clinic helps senior citizens who struggle with loneliness and isolation or need therapeutic alternatives for anxiety, depression, dementia and stress. “Mudita gives them the opportunity to exercise their social skills and make new friends in a relaxing, casual setting,” says Shivani, who has been a practitioner of tarot, Reiki and expressive therapy. She has clients across India, the US and Australia. Now with the Covid pandemic subsiding a little, her physical sessions have also resumed.

Shivani says her MBA degree has helped her in managing people. “I was taught how to manage resources and people, and that helps me while charting out plans for individuals who come for sessions,” she says. Shivani believes learning is an endless process and ­always brings out something new in an individual, which can surprise him or her too.

—Jyotika Sood

Photograph by Selvaprakash L

Shilpi Das Chohan

Voice Coach (Bangalore)

In the 1990s when she started her career, being an engineer, a doctor or an MBA were the only ways of being acknowledged as successful. Moreover, as the daughter of a naval officer, she was supposed to be disciplined, successful and obedient. She sacrificed her dream of being a photographer and pursued an MBA.

Trying to leave these shadows behind, Shilpi Das Chohan went to Mumbai. The change of environment and circle did help her. For 11 years she kept going, working as a corporate professional. She also got married and had children. Sometimes she would take out time to pursue her new interest of being a voice-over artist.

Shilpi moved to Banagalore with her family in December 2011. After a break of around eight years to raise her daughter and son, it was in 2014-15 that she thought of working again. Going back to a corporate job didn’t interest her though. She kept thinking about what could keep her motivated and eventually zeroed in on being a voice coach.

“The idea of voice coaching had been on my mind when I was a corporate trainer in Mumbai,” she says. “While delivering content, every voice artist has to bring emotional expression in the voice. If the same is done at leadership levels in corporates, it would lead to more effective communication.”

Explaining her work, she says people send her part of their Zoom or audio recordings, and then she gives them a detailed analysis. They realise the need of supervision and understand it takes long time to bring in those changes as the talking style has been developed over years, she adds. In the beginning, she did a lot of brainstorming trying to figure out who would be her clientele if she had to start coaching people with a specialised and personalised approach. Why will they hire her? What will they want?

“So, I didn’t even say, I was a personal voice coach. I started as a voice coach and used the word ‘personal’ later on because of the customised approach for each client,” says Shilpi. She adds that one can learn on one’s own to a certain level, but the real nuances and techniques can be taught and supervised only by a coach—for eample, where to pause and for how long, how to inflect a pause, which word should be stressed, discovering the right pitch, tapping one’s own emotional intelligence, visualising the sounds of spoken words etc.

She says her MBA has helped her throughout her career. “I was a telemarketer and pursued people in a certain way. When in the hotel industry, I used to get business in different ways. The marketing and sales course was most useful,” she says, adding that when she charted her path as an entrepreneur, her first task was to create a market for herself and the MBA lessons did the wonders.

According to Shilpi, what she does is very intangible. “A public speaking or communication coach will talk with technical correctness, but a voice coach brings to you the art of making an emotional connect while speaking, making it more impressive,” she says, adding that she only gives training on a one-on-one basis as she has to work on the entire person and the session normally goes on for two hours a day.

(This appeared in the print edition as "In Search of New Skies")

—Jyotika Sood


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