It was just a little over a month ago that my mentor, Rajendra Joshi, first briefed me on the first component of my project as a Clinton Fellow. A marketing strategy needed to be developed in order to recruit students for Empower Pragati’s Vocational Training Program. Since then, my colleagues and I have focused on a creating marketing campaign based on door- to-door sales to target Ahmedabad’s youth who would benefit most from this program.

Empower Pragati is a private company with offices across India, intended to provide workers of low-income backgrounds with the skills they need to compete in India’s market place. With these skills, they are able to obtain a substantial increase in their overall salaries. Various programs, including our Home Managers (housekeeping), Chauffeurs, and Vocational Training have focused on specialized skills in order to accomplish this goal. Obviously, however, these programs must first be promoted in the target communities.

Following the mass preparation of our salesmen positions, in which we promoted, interviewed, and trained them, we were ready to go into the field and have on-the-ground training first hand. This type of promotion was nothing new to me. I volunteered and worked on campaigns in the United States, which involved constant voter contact, including both canvassing and phone calling in the evenings. In a setting with different demographics, a new product, and a language that I am just starting to learn, I knew there would be challenges. However, the stories I was about to hear regarding the constraints on the ability to obtain a greater income of our potential clients was a major shock.

Walking through the Sabarmati district in Ahmedabad, my colleague, Manish, and I came across one lady sewing garments for one rupee a piece. She told us that at most she was able to prepare 100 garments in a day for a local shop. Although she was not of our target age group for our vocational trainings, we decided to tell her more about the Home Managers Program instead. I waited for the look of shock and happiness on her face when we told her that her income could double her income with specialized trainings and job benefits in the same number of hours she already worked. She kindly told us that housekeeping was not an appropriate sort of work according to her father because of the potential rumors of affairs in the community.

While training our salesmen in another one of Ahmedabad’s districts, Jivraj Park, we came across a young man who was very much interested in our course, but simply unable to attend. While speaking with him, I noticed he had peculiar redness lining his eyelids. He then proceeded to tell us that he was losing his vision due to his work in a chemical company in Ahmedabad. Afterwards, I asked Manish why someone would voluntarily work in a company that they knew was hazardous to their health. Manish explained to me the young man felt he had no choice because 5,000 rupees was the best income he could receive to support his family, which included a mother, two sisters, and a father who was unable to work due to a physical condition. The first thought that came to my mind was what short-termed thinking this was. After all, what sort of income was this family supposed to have once their child was fully blind? Thoughts of anger, frustration, and confusion all came across my mind at the same time.

Challenges were expected with this fellowship. I knew there would be obstacles along the way. However, I felt the greatest obstacles would include not being trusted to understand community needs, learning Gujarati, or simply convincing people our vocational training courses were of better quality than others. I wish I could say of whether or not I agree reasoning I came across. After all, we are receiving more students than ever before at Empower and making a tremendous impact. Is it our company’s responsibility to tell people what to do with their lives and explain to them where their priorities should be? For now, I can only say that one of my main goals with this fellowship is to understand the unfamiliar constraints towards a higher income that people here have in their lives.

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