Hi everyone,

So, finally I have finalized the blog entry to talk about my experience with EduBridge in Mumbai, India, during the month of April 2015 as part of SAP Social Sabbatical.

Who is EduBridge? EduBridge is an organization that focuses on building employable skills in rural and semi-urban youth in India through quality training, and providing them with jobs and a livelihood upon training completion. Additionally, Edubridge trains college age youth to build employable skills and also provides corporate training to junior and mid-level staff at organizations and corporations all over the country.

EduBridge is an organization started by a group of Indian Institute of Management (IIM) alumni and professors in October 2009 and it is headquartered in Mumbai, India. It aims at furthering the government’s objective of developing employable skills among the youth and connecting them with job opportunities within Corporate India by connecting corporates with talent from semi-urban and rural areas and vice versa.

With this, it has partnered with and has been approved by the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), an entity setup under the Ministry of Finance, Government of India. NSDC is a public-private partnership tasked with funding and directing private skilling programs.

I will write more about EduBridge and their work later.

Corporate Social Responsibility at SAP and the Social Sabbatical program

But let’s start from the beginning. What is the SAP Social Sabbatical? This program was launched in 2012, and it is “a unique short term assignment for SAP Top Talents who work in international, cross functional teams to solve business challenges for the entrepreneurial and education sector in emerging markets, while strengthening their leadership competencies, cross industry sector know-how and intercultural sensitivity”. And I am using the ” ” because I am basically quoting the information from Alexandra van der Ploeg, from the Corporate Social Responsibility team at SAP, and in charge of the program management.

The vision of SAP is “Help the world run better and improve people’s lives” and the Corporate Social Responsibility programs at SAP have the focus on equipping the world’s youth with skills to tackle society’s problems and thrive in the 21st century workforce. More specifically, with these two key areas:

– Building the capacity of innovative social enterprises that put young people on the path to successful (IT) careers

– Building a skilled workforce for the IT sector with training and workforce development programs

Back to the SAP Social Sabbatical, since this is getting very generic. Why did I end up in Mumbai? Well, there were many different locations worldwide for the SAP Social Sabbatical in 2014 / 2015. But given my many years working with customers, partners and colleagues from India, I thought it was time to get to know this country from a different perspective. So I was really lucky to be selected to be here!

Meet the SAP Social Sabbatical 2015 team in Mumbai with some additional SAP CSR and Pyxera Global colleagues in our first dinner together the night before the kick-off event!

SoSa team kick off dinner.JPG

Why EduBridge?

Well, now we also need a bit more of background on the selection of the different projects.

Corporate Pro Bono programs and Global Engagement

In every location, SAP generally chooses 4 different projects for the engagement. This selection is performed by three main players: (1) the global team of SAP CSR, to ensure the adherence to the program priorities and strategic goals, (2) the local SAP CSR team, who know the situation in the country at best and (3) Pyxera Global, organization that is now celebrating 25 years of global engagement all over the world and SAP is partnering with within their “pro bono” program.

Members of the different teams assessed several companies and organizations in Mumbai, and four projects were selected. EduBridge was one of them.

Before moving forward, I would like to leave you with some interesting links that you might find interesting if you would like to go deeper in some of these topics:

The growing popularity of pro bono, on how employees, non-profits and the enterprises benefit from this type of program.

Article in the New Global Citizen from Deirdre White, CEO of PYXERA Global, in which I learnt about the wrong that can be done under the idea of “Development” and how important it is to have the focus on “Purposeful Global Engagement”.

Another interesting article on how Skill-Based Volunteering can works as an exceptional executive development program.

– Last but not least, a fantastic TED Talk from Ernesto Sirolli called “Want to help someone? Shut up and listen”… where you can learn how in the 70s, one of the best results of international development was (unplanned!) feeding of hippos, but not much more and the reasons why.

While reading some of these articles I could not help but remember some the words of Rafael Correa, the President of Ecuador, in an interview with the Spanish journalist Jordi Evole in his program “Salvados” in December 2014 regarding the support that Ecuador receives from multinational corporations and how (for example) painting schools might not be the best use of the volunteers time and resources, since you can find enough workers in Ecuador that could do this.

Why did I join for the SAP Social Sabbatical?

Now that we have gone this far about the SAP CSR, Social Sabbatical, Global Engagement… it is time to share: why did I want to join? Because I imagine you might be thinking “it sounds great, but I am not sure if I would go away from home for a month for this type of engagement…”.

Well, here is my reason: I am a guy who believes that the P&L should not be the only motivation for a company to exist, neither should one get up every morning to go to work thinking only of their salary and bonus. In my opinion, it is everyone’s responsibility (companies of all sizes, governments of all levels, volunteers…. in general, people!) to help make the world become a better place.

So, along with my professional career, I have always been working in the areas of Diversity and CSR in different forms. Here are some examples:

– Working in the area of LGBT Diversity (for Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual and Transgender) since 2004! Some recent examples to highlight were “It Gets Better” global initiative from SAP in 2012, working with several German NGOs and my participation in an event hosted by the IE Business School in Madrid in 2014, joinlty with the US Ambassador to Spain.

– Being a volunteer manager for the Human Rights Conference of the World Outgames 2009 in Copenhagen.

– Being a mentor of a social start-up in Berlin as part of the Social Impact Lab program, sponsored by SAP, in 2013.

Participating in the delivery of the “Increase your employability with SAP” program with the partner “Fundación Tomillo” in Madrid in 2014, to help unemployed people (big issue in the Spanish economy) rejoin the workforce with updated SAP skills, complementing their education and/or work experience.

I guess the combination of this type of experience, together with my international work experience in the area of consulting in different companies and countries (see my LinkedIn profile if interested), is what got the colleagues in Corporate Social Responsibility to accept my application.

As part of my cover letter introducing myself to the potential projects I wrote: “If you were to ask me about my preferred assignment, I would say working with an organization that focusses on integration of social minorities with activities related to education and training, communications and / or business planning and management.”

And EduBridge could not have been a better match!

India, the economy and the job market

As a major country and one of the largest world economies, there is a lot being written about India and its economy. After doing some reading previous and during my engagement, I found really interesting the chapter “Connecting India’s youth to jobs” of the book “The making of India” by Akhilesh Tilotia.

Here are some key messages that I am taking, mainly from this book:

  • India’s current labour market is not knowledge intensive, dominated by traditional skills like farming and manual labour.
  • Indian agriculture employees approximately half of its 484 million strong workforce (as of end of financial year 2012) but produces only a sixth or less of India’s GDP.
    • On this topic, I found also very interesting this article in The Times of India, “Why it doesn’t pay to be a small farmer”, from which I learned that 75% of the Indian farmers own on average less than 1 ha and work in a loss producing business model. This indicates that the immediate future of this sector is highly dependent on government investment.
  • Only 18% of India’s workforce has a regular salary and even less is part of the organized workforce. Unorganized workforce accounts for 90% of the total, but produces only 35% of the output. This means that the average Indian organized worker produces 17 times the value-add compared to an unorganized one. And to make things worse: due to the lowest return on the financial savings of the unorganized workers, these are condemned to a life-long working situation.
  • Over the next 10 years, until 2025, 250 million people will be eligible to join the workforce: Providing to these young people decent income-generating opportunities will produce massive boom in India’s GDP. Failing to do so will mean (at the very least) a significant delay in pulling millions above the poverty line and condemning many more to a poorer life.
  • A study conducted by the Ministry of Human Resource Development shows that 97% of Indians finish the primary school, but only 66% go to secondary school (Class VI – X) and then even less, 31%, go to higher secondary school (Class XI – XII).
  • A study commissioned by the NSCD (National Skill Development Corporation) to evaluate the employment development in several industries until 2022, points out that the majority of the jobs will come from the following sectors:
    • building, construction and real estate (48.7 million)
    • transportation, logistics, warehouse and packaging (41.1 millions)
    • auto and auto components (35 million)
  • It is important to highlight that most of the employment opportunities will be in lower-level skills (Skill level 1: meaning skills that can be acquired with short/modular and focused intervention -63%- or Skill level 2: skills that require technical training and supervision skills -18%-).
  • Current excess of Engineers and MBAs: India in 2016 will graduate more engineers annually (1.5 million) than China (1.1 million) and the US (0.1 million) together. And the MBA cohort will increase to 0.4 million from 0.1 million in the same period of time. Actually, according to statistics, India needs around 1 million graduates a year and is producing 2.5 million.
  • However, employers seem to still be unable to find graduates with the right skills. An interesting article on this topic is “Time for course corrections” in India Today, highlighting (among other topics) that, depending on the degree, employability can range from 10 to 26 %, while India’s industry is unable to fill up as much as 36% of the entry level positions!
  • Over the last decade, India’s labour productivity has been rising in the range of 4-5 % per annum, which is half of the growth in China. And this is not due to low working hours but mainly due to lack of access to technology and education.
  • For the author, the key takeaways / learnings of these observations are: Creation of more jobs in the organized sector is required in industries that can employ the upcoming youth and there is a need for the creation of matching centers that will prepare the youth for these jobs. This is the basis for the concept of Vocational Training.

Vocational Training in India

Simply put, Vocation Training is training that emphasizes skills and knowledge required for a particular job function or a trade.

Continuing with the learnings from the book  “The Making of India” by Akhilesh Tilotia, poor employability creates a difficult problem for the various stakeholders in the employment market:

  • From one side, a candidate that is not well-trained but has spent some money on formal education will normally be reluctant to invest further without clear job prospects.
  • On the other side, employers are unwilling to pick up untrained students and not very likely to invest in their training due to the uncertainty on whether the trained youth will stay in the company.

This highlights the need for training institutions with these having a shift in their focus from education to employability.

A quick look at the vocation training market tells us that the Skill Levels 1 and 2 (defined in the previous section) represent 84% of the potential students but would contribute only with 24% of the top-line of the potential of the total education business. This is the reason why so many private players were attracted by the pareto of the higher skill-levels and now India has the exceed in MBA supply mentioned above.

What does this mean for the companies willing to enter the lower skill-levels market? Efficiency in their processes is key in order to be able to have profitable business delivering training for such a volume of students. But also the government needs to invest if they want to have the necessary, qualified Indian workforce they need (as per the reasons above).

I hope that this now clarifies the need for the NSDC and the importance of their investments in equity funding. In its 2014 annual report, NSDC helped train 1 million in the financial year ending in March 2014, through training institutions accredited by them, like EduBridge.

(Further information about NSDC and the vocational training can also be found in this pdf report, “Skill Development in India – Frequently Asked Questions”)

And now, finally… EduBridge and their amazing work

You have read a brief description of EduBridge and their business at the beginning of this blog entry. It was founded by their current CEO, Girish Singhania, in 2009 and since 2012, he has Utsav Kheria, as COO helping him run the business. Both of them are IIM Bangalore alumni.

To be honest, while reading the “Connecting India’s youth to jobs” chapter of “The making of India” and the recommendations of the focus areas and key success factors for companies working in the vocational training field in India, I could not stop thinking of what a role model / success story EduBridge is.

EduBrige works on achieving the employment of youth in the Services industries. To be more specific in the Banking / Financial Services, in Retail Services and in the IT Services in the area of Business Process Outsourcing. Looking at the research from the NSDC and Kotak Institutional Equities these represents an estimate of 16.4 million jobs for skill levels 1 and 2 to be created in the next 15 years. Definitely a large market opportunity for EduBridge to work on!

When looking at employers in these industries, according to Akhilesh Tilotia, the main lack of skills they see is in the “Soft skills” area: communications, English language… etc.

Therfeore, the main product of EduBridge is TeamBridge in which students can take the full training of the GCIP (Government Certified Industry Professional) program and learn about Communication at work with Conversational English, The Art of Selling, Computers & Typing skills, Essential Analytical skills, Personality Development and Professional Development and then go deeper into the specialization of the sectors or Retail, Sales and Marketing, Banking and Finance and IT BPO processionals! If necessary, the students can also take the STC (Short Term Courses) to focus mainly in one particular area of the soft skills (e.g. Communication at work with Conversational English).

In the first week of our assignment at EduBridge we were lucky enough to have full access to their Executive team working out of the Head Office in Mumbai and also have a field trip to two of their centers: in Pune and Satara. Thanks to that we could get a better view of how these programs are delivered. I think I will remember how the English teacher was focusing on the topic of “Greetings” in English. And helping students understand the difference between a casual interaction with friends, family, schoolmates, teachers… and greeting and talking to a customer in a retail store!

Pune.JPGSatara.JPG

So, their main product is training the youth at their own EduBridge training centers all over India: who pays for this? Well, it can be both the state governments, with the dedicated programs to help employ the youth (as explained earlier in the blog entry) or the student himself or herself. I found quite amazing how the presentation to attract students explains to them the business case for this investment: comparison of the course of the training with the salary they can expect to get in an entry level position (and therefore, the return-on-investment) and also the salary development with the career progression.

In a report prepared by Firefly Millward Brown Delhi for the NSDC in June 2013 (not found online), it was found out that the skilling target the NSDC had set was not being met yet, basically due to two main reasons:

  • Low enrollments of students in skilling institutes
  • Employers hesitant to recruit such students

This is how EduBridge tackles both issues:

The student enrollment is led by Parth Thakar, VP of Sales and Marketing and quite active in social media through his Twitter account. He manages a sales workforce for EduBridge that involves a very diverse way of reaching to the potential students, not only directly through sales reps, but also through interaction through the student’s network, especially in the schools and colleges. After all, in India the student’s family, the school teachers, friends and the social circle play a very important role in their daily life with a large influence in their choices and decisions.

One additional comment regarding schools and colleges: EduBridge is also very successful at training students at their schools / colleges, since many of these institutions are smart enough to know that there are a certain number of skills that their students need to get a job and they are not getting through the current textbook education. This is the EmployBridge program.

In order for employers to trust the students that are introduced to them by EduBridge, Anand Natarajan is the VP – Head of Corporate Relations. His team of placement officers understands the set of skills are required by entry level jobs that companies like Reliance Retail or P&G, aswell as local employers, and presents to them the students that, having gone through the EduBridge training programs, match those skills. Placement officers accompany students along the whole process until all of those interested in placement find a job!

This part of the training value chain is key of the whole process: it is about guaranteeing jobs to the students that have invested their time and money into training and keeping the corporate customers satisfied with the quality of the professionals they get for their entry level positions.

This is working so well that actually some corporations are taking a step further and request training from EduBridge to train some of their junior employees in key skill areas. This is what EduBridge calls their SkillsBridge program, also led by Anand.

Anand’s team is the one that has the responsibility of understanding the latest needs from the corporate customers in terms of necessary skills to ensure the most successful deployment of students as new employees in their organizations.

And who transforms this input into actual, updated, high-value training content? The organization of Lovina Anthony, VP of Training that makes sure that GCIP content stays relevant and can build content for dedicated training projects with corporate customers, schools and colleges and government institutions.

And due to the scope of my work with the organization, I cannot finish this blog without mentioning Prakarsh Jain, the CFO.

If everything is working so well… why did EduBridge need the SAP Social Sabbatical program?

This was actually the question that I had in my mind in the first days of the assignment… but even when you have highly intelligent people and you are performing very well, companies need to remain innovative and efficient. Continuous improvement is a “business mantra”. Not only the external changes need to be taken into consideration, also the internal development of organizations is important.

EduBridge, being so successful, is growing a lot and their previous processes could have struggled when looking at the scalability of their way of working.

For obvious reasons I cannot share in this blog post the details of our collaboration with them, since the three SAP colleagues got into their core business with them, but during these four weeks our main focus areas have been: Organization & Leadership, Communications and Business Planning & Performance Management.

My main areas of work with them were related to Business Planning and Business Performance Management and it involved understanding their business processes and current usage of IT applications, delivering suggestions for process improvement and business KPIs, preparing the communications to their training centers, enabling the Operations team, etc.

Speaking today with one of the EduBridge executives while asking for his feedback, his comment was: “From time to time, every organization should get external consulting to look at your business, understand what your situation is and give you recommendations for improvement”.

I am completely sure EduBridge would have been able to overcome issues coming their way, but talking to all the people in their organization and seeing how grateful they are for the contributions from the SAP Social Sabbatical team, I must say, I am also very happy with the outcome myself!

EB SAP SoSa Final Slide.JPG

My own experience: what did I get from the SAP Social Sabbatical program with EduBridge

So many things that it is difficult to know where to start! Trying to summarize the key messages that I take:

  • A company can have a focus on achieving a good P&L result and still have mainly a social focus. This is something that Girish and his team have taught by seeing the level of passion they put into helping improve the situation of the youth in rural and semi-urban India while still running a business!
  • It is amazing what can be achieved in the area of youth employment if governments choose the right focus: Coming from a country like Spain where the unemployment rate, especially in the youth, is unfortunately in historically high levels, it has been a pleasure for me to work together with a company that has as main business solving this problem.
    • But not only with EduBridge: on April 17, Pyxera Global organized for the participants of the SAP Social Sabbatical a Service day in cooperation with the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. The TISS, together with the Indian Ministry of Youth Affairs & Sport and the Office of Advisors to the Prime Minister on Skill Development, run the NUSSD (National University Students’ Skill Development) program. As part of this program, cooperation with corporations is key. That is the reason why SAP employees were asked to come and spend the morning with undergraduates of the Sree Narayan Guru and Acharya Marathe Colleges helping them how to prepare, behave during and follow up after a job interview.
  • Visionaries are always more progressive in terms of acceptance of diversity in the ways of life: I mentioned earlier in the blog the type of work that I do in the area LGBT Diversity. Coming to India, a country where homosexuality is not only not socially accepted but it is even illegal, I was concerned about how my sexual orientation could affect my work relation with the EduBridge executive team. For this reason it took me a bit longer than usual to come out, but once the conversations had moved into the personal area for all of us, I did so. I must say none of them had a bad reaction towards this, and were even interested in my perspective about the situation for the gay community in Mumbai, since I was lucky enough to get to know some cool gay guys (that I hope to keep as friends for the years to come!). I guess that if you are very smart men and women like EduBridge’s executive team, having a privileged education, and decide to change your careers in large, successful corporations to help unemployed youth get jobs, you understand what inclusion means in all life aspects.

I hope you have found this reading interesting! If you have any comments or questions, feel free to leave them here… or reach out to me through other social media channels!

Miguel (@macpaz10)

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2 Comments

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  1. Carrie Van Sickle

    Excellent write-up Miguel!  Thank you for sharing about your own experience, as well as providing the background on the need in India and the steps EduBridge is doing to help fill the educational gap.  Very informative!

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  2. Lise Tcheng

    Great research, Miguel. A really cool article. I knew something about India, but now I know a lot more thanks to you. Edubridge is remarkable initiative. I fully understand your pride in having contributed to their goals and success. Good for you  and good for all of us at SAP. Congratulations to our CSR team too!

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