Enough Ado About Problems, Let’s Talk Solutions

Emancipation of the disenfranchised: Rethinking the enablers of education, entrepreneurship and Edtech to retool working age population for the next century

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There is no doubt that the right education can lead to economic security and financial independence. It’s almost a linear path — if possible, get an elite education that can place you in a high paying job. Or, take the other fork in the road — use your strengths and/or your education and experience to launch a startup.

Honestly, although there is a lot of press around entrepreneurship, it is hard to launch a startup without a backup plan i.e. an earning spouse or family wealth or the optionality to return to a high paying job.

So while there is a lot of discussion around education as well as the right kind of education, there needs to be a robust discussion around enablment.

Software coding, artificial intelligence, robotics including drones, healthcare automation and machine learning offer solutions to an overarching demographic problem of a graying population in USA and other developed economies of the west.

Japan, Europe including Germany and China also depend on automation, computers and machine intelligence to combat a demographic time bomb. Hence, there is a need for skilled manpower in the west.

Globalization shifted manufacturing to inexpensive Asian countries resulting in a hollowing out of the manufacturing sector and consequently the middle class that depended on factory jobs in USA. Thus, there is a need to re-skill manpower.

In India, 49% of the labor force is employed in the agricultural sector whereas agriculture accounts for only 17% of the GDP by sector(source: CIA factbook). Rural hinterlands and tier 2 cities in India have not grown as much as the metropolitan cities. Lopsided growth is a phenomenon affecting many emerging economies as well as developed nations. While, India will have a healthy middle class and labor force, it faces the issue of overpopulation and inflation.

In the United States, the service sector contributes roughly 80% of it’s GDP. 61% of it’s labor force is employed in managerial, professional, technical and sales roles which calls for a different skill set and education compared to an economy heavily reliant on manufacturing.

While there is universal consensus on the need to skill people in the emerging economies and to reskill people in the developed world, there is a dire need to focus on enablement of education and entrepreneurship.

Without a conducive environment and access to opportunities, education and entrepreneurship cannot flourish. The discussion around enablement can be a very protracted one. However, the root causes of disenfranchisement require a daily dialogue. Lets look at some enablers of education and entrepreneurship and solutions for lack of these enablers:

1. A loving family: While a lot of us were born into a loving family, some werent. Economic hardships, too few earning members, single parents, abusive parents, lack of parents or guardians are all realities that exist today. Some children just cannot find a way out of a difficult ecosystem. However, some of them do. Lets look at a few solutions:

A) A family away from family: there are no shortcuts in life just as there are no free lunches. Underprivileged children do have a very difficult and arduous journey out of poverty. It is not impossible to escape a harsh life but there is a price to pay. In addition to their duties as a member of the family, such children may have to put in extra effort to gain an education or learn a vocation.

This would require creation of a family away from their family of birth. A like minded group of mentors that are protected by local elders who believe in progress.

B) Tapping into a reservoir called will power: The real trick is to turn the switch on in the minds of young children by showing them a life they can aspire to. Willpower alone can even the odds. It’s about turning them into dreamers but also showing them a path to make those dreams come true. William Wheeler wrote a book ‘Queen of Katwe’ which is a very good story of a girl who lives in a slum in Katwe, Uganda. She learns to play chess as a way of escaping her otherwise hard life and turns into a very good chess player competing in international tournaments. Such a transformation is rare but possible. She had a family away from family.

C) Security: Quite often, crime and alcoholism or drug abuse is rampant. If one peers through the veil, it’s almost always lack of employment opportunities or a closed mindset dependant on handouts.

2. Steady income:There needs to be an assessment of the most economically backward villages or dilapidated towns. Quite often, the local economy has died down or factories have shifted elsewhere leading to mass unemployment. This in turn results in a vicious cycle of disenfranchisement.

One of the solutions is tax breaks for entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs can focus on skills that can be utilized in cottage industries to begin with. Exporting unique products can be a means of generating jobs especially amongst women. Shri Mahila Grih Udyog Lijjat Papad is a great example of women empowerment. Scalability is vital though. An earning woman can change the fortunes of the family.

The other options is the government buying a portion of the entrepreneurs produce as an insurance against an unstable

3. Access to education and infrastructure: Think of the solution as a three legged stool with government providing a secure environment (through public policy) to the entrepreneurs (who can use technology to create efficiencies and reach). But truly, the most important third leg is the willingness of the people to fight all odds and overcome obstacles on their way up. There is always a price to everyrhing. The price for a better future can be blood and sweat spilled on a truly difficult path. One generation will truly be sacrificed to create a foundation for the subsequent generations to flourish.

It’s truly a public private and individual citizen partnership. In the search for economic solitions, public private partnership has always been highlighted. But, what about the individual in question. Each individual is also responsible for making the best possible attempt to alleviate his/her condition. The failure of one party puts pressure on the other two participants. Ultimately, the village, town, city and country in question is only as strong as the weakest link.