Plan International India has been active for almost 40 years and on a recent visit there I saw the work of an amazing organisation with a crystal-clear sense of what it wants to achieve in transforming the lives of marginalised children.
Skills for India’s young people
The projects I visited included the Saksham Centre in Delhi, which delivers job-oriented vocational skills and training to youths living in slums. There I spoke to the 30-strong batch who are currently enrolled. To design their programme, staff asked multinational service industry organisations – McDonald’s, Costa Coffee, hotel chains and various others – which skills entry-level staff need. They designed their training programme around the responses and added broader life skills; everything from family planning to health and safety. And they included communication skills, which was all about how to engage people, write a good CV, and come across well in an interview – a full spectrum of interpersonal attributes.
The programme is now firmly established and has a 90% job placement rate, which is wonderful for any skills placement scheme. Big companies like Burger King have such strong confidence in the programme that they have pledged to employ any youths who are sent their way.
What about girls?
But how do girls living in Delhi slums even discover that a programme like this exists? The Saksham Centre has made a real effort to reach them through community outreach, volunteers and engagement with parents. And the centre couldn’t have done more to design the programme in a gender-sensitive and thoughtful way, from reaching the training centre safely (girls are paired-up so one is never left on her own) to making sure parents are aware of the programme and approve of it.
I also visited a pilot of a girls’ digital hub providing education and life skills training to 600 adolescent and young girls through a network of 12 digital learning centres across different Plan International communities.
The hub has enormous potential. Ericsson, the multinational communications and technology company, has provided the hardware and infrastructure for distance learning to supply girls – most already in school – with extra training or support. In a regular school setting bias might have prevented those girls from advancing in fields such as maths and science but the extra support helps them excel in those subjects.
Another day I visited Plan International India’s Safer Cities Programme which improves safety for girls in dangerous parts of Delhi by engaging with their communities and carrying out safety audits of public areas. It wasn’t just the girls trying to make spaces safe: parents, community leaders, rickshaw drivers, the local police, and other groups were all committed. One rickshaw driver, a father of one of the girls, had become involved and enlisted other drivers, setting out a code of conduct for them. Shopkeepers have helped devise a special sign to indicate their shop is a safe space for a girl to slip into while walking home during a darkening evening.
A safe building or a well-lit street is a good start and I challenged Indian colleagues to come up with a plan to make all of Delhi a safe place for girls. It would be fantastic if, 5 years from now, Plan International could say it had made Delhi safe for girls using this approach.
The power of partnerships in India
Strong partnerships are at the root of our achievements and the India office has proved proficient at forging them.
Our corporate partners often contribute far more than hard cash. The Ericsson partnership is a good example as it involves a structured and strategic approach to learning and to using technology. When companies like Ericsson want to be hands-on, their expertise can benefit the children and youths we are striving to help.
Private sector engagement can take many forms and companies are not only seen as potential funders. Indeed, companies are increasingly looking for more meaningful engagement with organisations like ours that involves their staff and raises awareness.
During the long flight home I peered out of my cabin window and pondered the goals and purpose of Plan International. I did so feeling assured that offices such as Plan International India, working in strong partnerships with others will help us realise our purpose in a positive, palpable and perceptible way. That’s good to know.