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Bridging the gap

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Lakshmi V. Venkatesan connects disadvantaged young people and mentors

In 2005, Ramu Uyyala was 25 years old. Growing up in Kondramutla village in Guntur, all Ramu had was an education up to the age of 13 and a clutch of ideas. Then Bharatiya Yuva Shakti Trust (BYST), an NGO, stepped in and gave him a mentor to walk him through his plans and a loan of Rs. 40,000. Four years later, Ramu's business – manufacturers of plastic granules and bags – employs 95 people, has an annual turnover of Rs. 1.2 crore and is working towards reducing its carbon footprint.

The success stories flow thick and fast for BYST but for co-founder Lakshmi Venkataraman Venkatesan, they can never get old. “BYST is the missing middle,” she explains. “We connect disadvantaged young people who have ambition and dreams with mentors. We bridge the gaps.”

BYST provides youth with two ingredients –capital, and mentors to walk them through. “It's a very practical setup,” says Lakshmi. “We select these youngsters after working with grass root NGOs and panchayats, and provide them with awareness and opportunities for counselling.”

The emphasis on mentoring is unusual in India, where mentoring is all but inconsequential. However, Lakshmi's long career in the telecommunication industry abroad had prepped her. Daughter of former President of India R. Venkataraman, she also had enough global exposure. “We called it guru-ing, just so that it sounded more acceptable in the Indian scenario,” she explains. “At least that's something people understood.”

BYST works in rural and urban pockets with youngsters in the age group of 18 to 35 years, who battle economic, social and gender disadvantages. The programme was born during a conversation Lakshmi had with Prince Charles in Buckingham Palace in 1990 and was launched two years later by the late J.R.D. Tata. Today, it has created employment for 20,000 people and has reached out to 75,000 people. According to their reports, 10 per cent of their entrepreneurs have become millionaires.

“There's a lot more we need, like a public-private sector partnership and for banks to become more open to lending to the young and the disadvantaged,” says Lakshmi. “But we're hoping to grow to more regions. We also want to involve students in the mentor-entrepreneur chain as mentor interns. The need is everywhere and the potential is high. This is just the beginning.”

JAYASHREE ARUNACHALAM

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