Katalysing change, opening new doors

EDUCATION FOR EMPOWERMENT

Katalysing change, opening new doors

A notable feature of the programme is the assigning of a personal mentor to each of the girls. The mentor  is always a senior corporate executive.
Devika Rani M was a bright student at school and dreamt of becoming an engineer and getting a good job. However, as the daughter of an autorickshaw-driver and a factory-helper, she felt it was beyond her reach. So, after completing her schooling, she opted for an engineering diploma from a government polytechnic and quietly began searching for a job. “I knew my parents couldn’t afford my higher studies so I didn’t want to hurt them by even discussing my ambitions.”

 However, fortune smiled on Devika in the form of Katalyst, an organisation which empowers economically-disadvantaged girl students. She heard of them, applied for assistance and was selected. They spoke to her father and convinced him about the need to permit his daughter to study further. Devika passed her engineering entrance exam, and joined RV College of Engineering in Bangalore. Katalyst has been supporting her with fees, books, counselling sessions and, moreover, a personal mentor––Vibha Shetty from TCS.

 Devika has learnt spoken English, time-management skills, interpersonal skills, how to ace an interview etc. Today, Devika, through campus placement, has a lucrative job offer from Schneider Electric India Pvt Ltd.

 Another heartening story is that of Jyothi R, whose parents are farmers. Jyothi grew up studying and helping out in the fields in her village. She had enrolled for BE at Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering when Katalyst came scouting for deserving students and selected her. Today, she is receiving similar help and her mentor is Cisco’s Alka Manchanda.

One of the best-performing students of the college, Jyothi has been topping her subjects and is a confident and articulate girl. “When I joined college, I could barely speak English.” Today, Jyothi is a prize-winning topper, manages fairly well in English and anchors programmes in her college.

Katalyst identifies intelligent, deserving girls, offers financial support and provides them with soft skills training. The girls are schooled in communication skills, including spoken and written English, corporate etiquette, social skills, and personality development.

The students are then helped to get good jobs, thereby increasing the management bandwidth of corporate India, through the talent pool thus created and giving India Inc access to hitherto untapped talent. Donors and well-wishers include Tech Mahindra Foundation.

BNM Institute of Technology, JSS Academy of Technical Education, Shri Venkateshwara College of Engineering, Acharya Pathshala Polytechnic, RV College of Engineering, RN Shetty Institute of Technology are some of the colleges from where the students have been selected for the programme.

The value of mentors

A notable feature is the assigning of a personal mentor to each student. The mentor  is always a senior corporate executive.

Besides scheduled one-on-one sessions, the mentors are also available for email and telephonic consultations. Devika recalls with visible happiness, how her mentor Vibha Shetty went so far as to take her to a posh restaurant––it was for a fun outing combined with a practical lesson in dining etiquette and table manners.

Shweta N, a final year student of Information Sciences at BMS College of Engineering, is the daughter of a woman who worked as a domestic help to bring up the girl almost single-handed. Shweta has landed a job at an MNC with a whopping salary and a one-year training course in New York. Her mentor is Venkat Subramanian of Dell.

All these girls share certain common goals and traits. All of them display a mature acceptance of their disadvantaged family situation and the understanding that a good education and career are the best ways to rise above these circumstances.

They exhibit determination to optimise their time and opportunities — apply themselves to their studies, shine academically and make the best of Katalyst’s training sessions and their mentors’ guidance.

Their positive thinking and great enthusiasm for self-improvement shine through.
 Besides, all of them display a healthy ambition and determination to build on the current advantages Katalyst has given them.

Shabnam Arief wants to work for a few years after her BE degree and earn enough to support herself for an MBA––she even names a few institutes she is targeting.

“The MBA will give me the scope to do more good for myself, my family and society,” she says with an impressive clarity about her future.

There is a steely deter-mination in topper Jyothi’s eyes as she says, “I want to continue to ace my exams and keep my first rank till I pass out of college. I then want to join a good organisation, excel in my work and rise to the topmost position. I want to earn recognition and make my parents proud. I will help my younger sister become a doctor.” Jyothi is preparing for two options –– MTech in India or MS in USA.

Rachna Achar, in third year of engineering at JSS Academy of Technical Education, wants to become a software engineer and Project Manager. Manasa also plans to help her younger sister realise her dreams of earning an MSc and PhD.

And significantly, all the girls want to reach out to other disadvantaged girls once they are well-settled. Jyothi says, “I will do something concrete for needy girls.” Brinda wants to become an IAS or IPS officer. “I want to contribute to a better society and better work culture. I want to reach a position where I can do charitable work… maybe adopt a village.”

Selection criteria

Talented girl students with a strong academic track record, family income of less than Rs 60,000 a year in rural areas or Rs 1,50,000 a year in urban areas, and pursuing  professional degrees in Engineering, Architecture, Law, Medicine, Business and Chartered Accountancy are currently being considered for the programme.

The girls are identified and interviewed by programme coordinators with the help of college principals, and NGO partners. In some cases, word-of-mouth references by friends, volunteers and mentors are considered. All the relevant certificates, marks cards, photographs, address proof and  income proof (salary slips of parents/ earning family members) are collected for short listing. Once shortlisted,due diligence survey is carried out to confirm the actual need and monetary status of the family. Home visits are done by a professional agency. Reports are submitted to along with reference checks.

Way to go, girls!

Living in a slum, and hailing from a community where girls are encouraged to early marriage than careers, Shabnam Arief says her car-driver father and homemaker mother always wanted to give her a good education and career despite disapproval from the extended family. After securing good grades in school, she cleared the CET and enrolled for BE at BNMIT. The initial fees were paid by her father’s generous employer.

But the philanthropist’s sudden death meant the evaporation of further funding besides a loss of job for her father. At this point, Katalyst took her under their wing. Shabnam’s mentor is Venkat Subrahmanian of Dell. He has taught her communication skills, confidence building measures, and how to conduct herself at job interviews.

 Twenty-year-old Manasa RS, who is a class-topper at Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering, was already into her BE course when she was short-listed along with several students by Katalyst. Finally, she was selected along with two others. The cheerful and confident Manasa has been benefiting ever since from the programme’s support and the mentor that Katalyst has given her––Arun Kumar V from Cognizant Technology Solutions.

 The daughter of a homemaker and a clerk, Manasa had nursed ambitions of higher studies but resigned herself to taking a job to support herself and her family after completing BE. But now, thanks to Katalyst’s intervention, she is pursing her dream of an MS degree from USA and preparing for the entrance tests.

Brinda Badarinath Hampiholi (21),  a former child artiste, is currently a final-year student of BE at BNMIT. Two years ago, the unexpected demise of her father meant that she faced several financial problems, considering that her mother was a primary-school teacher and the family had no resources to fall back on. Brinda heard of Katalyst and contacted them. She was selected. “Besides the financial help, the building of communication skills and social skills and all-round development have enriched me personally and professionally,”  she says. Her mentor is Dr Suryaprakash Kompalli of HP Labs.

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