October – December 2016
by Philipp Juen
This report describes the workings of Medha Learning Foundation, a Social Enterprise in Lucknow, India, with the mission to better prepare youth for life after school. It improves employment outcomes for exisiting and would-be college students, providing 21st century skills and employability training, career counselling and workplace exposure, and ongoing job placement and alumni support at the existing educational institutions. The organisation was founded in 2011 by Byomkesh Mishra and Christopher Turillo and is still managed by them. At first, I will give an overview of the current situation and the planned future development of MEDHA in northern India. The following chapter then describes my role, tasks, and experiences during the internship in the head office in Lucknow. In the last part, I will give a personal assessment on Medha.
II. About Medha
A. Current Situation
Medha improves employment outcomes for youth by providing skills and employability training, career counselling and workplace exposure to students, directly at their existing educational institution. Since 2011, Medha has trained over 3,000 students across 30 educational institutions, placed them into internships and full-time jobs with 200 leading employers, and built a public-private partnership with the Government of Uttar Pradesh.
Medha is supported by leading global foundations like Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, Citi Foundation, and EdelGive Foundation, and has received numerous awards and recognitions for its work, including the Echoing Green Global Fellowship, the Dasra Girl Power Award, and the Sitaram Rao Livelihoods Asia Award. The organisation is based in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh and is registered as a not-for-profit company in India and the US.
Currently, there are 33 full-time employees and counsellors working for Medha in four different locations within Uttar Pradesh. As the organisation is currently in a high-growth phase, expanding across Uttar Pradesh and into Bihar, the team will grow rapidly in the next years. In 2016, Medha did many steps towards professionalization of the organization, its structure and the management of the team, in order to be ready for this growth. Amongst other things, a new chart of account and useful cost centre structure has been created, the necessary papers and licenses for establishing a pension fund and for getting larger amount of funds have been obtained, much of the HR department has been updated and standardized, and a number of professionals have been hired to build up Medha’s capacity, as well as to be less dependent on individuals.
Furthermore, Medha is also constantly evaluating and updating the curriculums of the different programmes they deliver at the public schools and colleges, and exchanges information about the needs and goals, amongst others, with employers and educational institutions. Through the recently much strengthened Alumni support, Medha has now also a better access to the evaluation of the impact on individuals and of direct suggestions, coming from people that actually completed the trainings at the colleges.
B. Planned future development
In the next years, Medha aims to work with over 20,000 students across 100 educational institutions. The rollout of this plan has been temporarily interrupted in 2016, as it was not possible to get some funds into India, due to some missing legal paperwork (that take a longer time if an organisation – such as Medha – decides to not bribe anyone). This problem is now solved, and it seems that there are no further major obstacles hindering the execution of the growth plan in the near future. Some of the centers, as for example in Rai Barielly, are already established and experience could be gained during the first months of its operation.
III. My Internship
I am a Swiss student that holds a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration at the University Of St. Gallen (HSG) in Switzerland. Before starting my Master studies in Accounting and Finance, I wanted to gain some practical experience in a very different surrounding. This is why I decided to work for an NGO with a good cause that operates in a completely alien cultural area. Medha’s vision and contribution to improve the employability among young women and men from rural areas that don’t have the funds to invest in good education inspired me. The unemployability problem that India faces is well known by now but still there are few initiatives that tackle this issue, especially in Northern India, where the problem is even more significant. In the end, Medha’s vision combined with my personal curiosity and search for a cultural challenge led to a ten weeks internship at the head office of Medha, in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India. The internship took place between October 3 and December 9, 2016.
A. Activity Report
The working week of Medha is from Monday to Friday with some flexibility regarding the working hours. Officially, the office opens at 9:00 and I was supposed to work for eight hours. Most employees arrive between 9:00 and 10:00 and work for longer hours in the evening, which allowed me to work a bit less on one day and a bit more on the next day, depending on my plans. During my internship, I worked for various departments. The tasks shall be explained in the following passage.
Implementation of the new HR software:
The project that lasted for my whole stay with Medha was the implementation and updating of the new HR software. The first part of the task was to evaluate what the system is able to do and if it fits the needs of the organisation. Based on Sharia’s and my work, it was decided to implement the free version of the software and to use it until the end of the financial year to make the employees familiar with the programme, before switching to the paid version with some adjustments related to the special needs of Medha. The second part of the task was to update all the information that had to be entered into the system, to create all the user profiles, and to train the employees on the new software. This included creating manuals and presentations for the employees.
Updating Job Descriptions:
Some of the jobs didn’t have a proper job description or the ones there were, were outdated. My task was to talk with all the jobholders to understand what they are actually doing and to update the job descriptions. Further, I had to standardize the descriptions, so they fit for all 4 the holders of the same job title. This was particularly necessary in the department Students Relations, as the capacity was limited and some employees did more than one job at the same time.
Creation of Excel Spreadsheets for Monitoring & Evaluation team:
As there was a new survey in use for evaluating the CAB programme, the existing Excel Spreadsheets couldn’t be used for the data entry any more. My task was to create new Spreadsheets for the automated evaluation of the survey.
Review of the Agreements for Appointments of all employees:
In order to establish the pension fund, the Agreements for Appointments had to be issued for all the employees. In coordination with Sharia, I reviewed these agreements and corrected the mistakes.
Finding possible employers for final year students (Employer Relations):
The employer relations team is at the moment quite busy collaborating with existing partners and with the ones that they have already established some bounds and are now seeking to place students at their organization. To ensure a sort of pipeline of possible future employers for further Medha students, more employers had to be identified within the broader region of operation of Medha. My task was to identify the number and field of study of the last year students of 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, as the students’ information database was not able to do this automatically. Furthermore, I had to identify and try to contact possible employers, mainly in the field of Agricultural, Electrical, Electronical, and Mechanical Engineering, as well as in Computer Science and Engineering.
During my time with Medha, I had the chance to see different programmes of Medha and various schools, colleges, and even a branch office. I was twice observing LAB (life skills advancement) classes at public schools, also twice at a CAB (Career Advancement) class, and went to branch office in Rai Barielly. In addition to taking pictures for all sorts of reports, I could talk with the students and later give my modest inputs to the trainers. These field visits made me understand better the necessity of an organization such as Medha, but also showed me how much there is still to do, especially in making the students understand the importance of the trainings and work exposure.
First of all, I have to say at this point, that it was a very good experience working with Medha for those ten weeks. From the beginning, people took care of me, introduced me to all the employees and places, and helped me with the SIM card, with how to get around, and a bit with the language.
From the beginning, I had my own projects to work on and could make my own schedule, depending on my work. In addition to these projects, I often helped with the daily tasks that came up in the organization, especially designing templates, excel sheets, and reviewing documents. Furthermore, I had the chance to get an insight into the Indian education system and to discuss with Indian students about their aims and goals, problems, and other related topics.
I have never worked in an NGO before, nor in a Social Enterprise. But the experience with Medha went beyond a normal voluntary service at an NGO, as Medha is at the same time managed as a start up, empowering the employees and motivating them to contribute with what they can to make the whole organization grow and succeed. This made my internship in Lucknow so different from my work at other places. One thing, I particularly liked, was the open door policy, as it was lived in Medha. Chris and Byomkesh surely have the competencies that are needed to manage such an organization, but they are always open for suggestions and criticism. I have never seen employees speaking with their superiors in such an open way. During my internship, Byomkesh also organized a team building day which, in my eyes, was a great success and helped to build stronger bounds between the employees.
However, I also got to understand during my internship, that there is still a lot to do in Northern India, when it comes to improve employability. I was especially struck by the fact that a lot of students don’t really consider work exposure as important. Also, there are a lot of students that don’t want to go into the private sector but would prefer the government sector. I hope that with Medha’s contribution, this attitude will slowly change and allow the empowerment of students coming from rural areas, especially women.
I would like to add here some experiences that I had thanks to Medha, but not with the organization itself. On the weekends, I sometimes spent time with other employees and was lucky to be able to go on some trips with them. On my first weekend, I went to the former king’s palace, where I attended a procession and a Muslim festivity and met the king himself as well as the prince, who happens to be a professor in England. Another weekend, I went to a horse race with people from the office. I felt like sent back for some decades, as I have only seen this in movies before. Furthermore, I went on a trip to Varanasi and also to a trip to Jim Corbett National park and Nainital, where we rented motorcycles and were staying at one of the co-workers’ friend’s house. I build some friendships that will last and am very happy to have met such amazing people.
Photos of my time with Medha