Bridging Academia, Under Privileged In India: Chocko Valliappa Improves Life In Mass Scale

Every year, YPO recognizes members fostering positive social change on both local and global levels through its Social Enterprise Network (SEN) Sustainability Awards. Read on to learn how one winner has leveraged his family’s multi-sector conglomerate to not only educate economically disadvantaged individuals in India but create jobs for them as well.

Years ago, in pre-independence India, a man named Kalaithanthai Karumuttu Thiagarajan Chettiar was determined to enhance India’s economic development. He believed that the best way to do this was to set up world-class institutions of higher learning, especially in engineering, that would result in the employment of Indians. Today, four generations later the seeds of that plan are the foundation of The Sona Group — a family-run multi-sector conglomerate with four higher-education institutions.

A collaboration between one of The Sona Group’s institutions — the community college Thiagarajar Polytechnic — and India’s National Skill Development Corporation, resulted in the creation of a company called Sona Yukti. Designed to offer impoverished Indians in rural areas marketable industrial skills, employment and a chance for a prosperous life, Sona Yukti is led by CEO and Founder Chocko Valliappa.

“In India, we have 200 million people earning less than USD1.20 a day,” says Valliappa. “My focus has been creating schools that offer skill development in three, six and 12-month blocks. Graduates are then connected with one of the leading corporates we partner with for assured jobs. Our goal is to take one million people out of poverty by 2025.”

To date, Sona Yukti has set up 50 schools across India’s rural areas, which have collectively trained 50,000 students, all of whom have jobs today or become micro entrepreneurs.

It is this very focus and identifiable success that led to Valliappa receiving this year’s SEN Sustainability Award for Education.

“The idea is to grow society together,” says Valliappa. “Growing alone, you only have shade; when you grow trees together, you create a forest.”

A structured education

Thanks to an innovative closed-loop system, the vast majority of students attend Sona Yukti schools for free.

“The government ensures our schools are the right size and adhere to a specific infrastructure,” explains Valliappa. “They monitor us to make sure that at least 80 percent of our students get jobs. Once we train them, the government typically pays us about USD145 dollars. If 80 percent of the people get jobs, then we get another 20 percent bonus, which makes it very sustainable. Any proceeds are used to launch more schools.”

“In India, we have 200 million people earning less than USD1.20 a day. My focus has been creating schools that offer skill development and connecting graduates with corporations to take one million people out of poverty by 2025.” — Chocko Valliappa, CEO and Founder of Sona Yukti

For Valliappa, one of the most thrilling aspects of his work is seeing the number of entrepreneurs Sona Yukti has created — graduates who have gone on to launch ventures and create jobs in their own villages. One notable story is of a woman who started a beauty parlor in a village in the middle of nowhere. Valliappa recounts, “Women all over India see the same television. Whether they’re in Mumbai or Delhi, or some small town somewhere, they’re watching the same programs and aspiring to have the beauty products they see advertised. But there are no beauty parlors in rural areas like in the city, so we started a beauty technician program called Yukti Wellness.

“One incredible lady bussed her way 100 kilometers back and forth every day to study,” Valliappa continues. “When she graduated, this budding entrepreneur didn’t have money to set up a beautician center in her village, but thanks to her lessons in financing, she was familiar with how to borrow money, rented a neighbor’s house and set up the first beauty parlor in her village. Today, she is close to adding 80 beauty parlors all over the region. This is the power of education.”

Urban rural divide

In India, there are many remote areas where industries and businesses do not exist. This makes it very difficult to be part of the working economy’s ecosystem. Without proximity, it is nearly impossible to know who is looking for employees. If you were to hear of a company that was hiring, not living close by can hinder employment as companies are used to recruiting from their backyards. Thanks to Valliappa’s phone-based recruiting platform HireMee, that’s all changing.

Hiremee’s free state-of-the-art app and web portal are ensuing graduates from colleges across India are discovered by putting powerful profile tools in their hands. Students can upload video profiles to their resumes and take a 100-minute skill assessment test, which offers companies and recruiters comprehensive insight about each candidate.

“It’s a combination of Linkedin, Whatsapp and Tinder,” Valliappa explains with a smile. “The platform is designed to bridge the geographical divide and enable people to get jobs via a pre-filtered, match-making format. My goal is for it to fill three million jobs by 2025. So far we’ve generated about 100,000 opportunities.”

“The idea is to grow society together. Growing alone, you only have shade; when you grow trees together, you create a forest.” — Chocko Valliappa, CEO and Founder of Sona Yukti


It’s all about the skills

As Valliappa sees it, the big problem in India is skill shortage, which is why everything he has created is meant to educate and create jobs.

“Many business leaders are intent on creating schools and colleges helping the disadvantaged find their way out of poverty, yet they’re not training or enabling them to be job ready,” Valliappa points out. “You speak to any industrialist and they will say the big problem is skill shortage. This is why we are putting the two together and skill building, job creating and making profits to plough back, exemplifying SonaYukti’s brand promise to ‘Grow your future.’”

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