I had an unusual two days of the universe sending me signals - all of which screamed "women build true capability." It's unusual to find the same tune sung in so many different keys. It struck me that building the skills and capability for young talent and women is not about ticking the boxes, but thoughtful, ongoing, systematic effort.
Here's some light reading, going in order of scale from "home, sweet home", to "my friend, the entrepreneur" to "in memoriam to a robber baron's wife"....
I woke up jet-lagged this morning in Chennai, and found my mother coaching the maid's granddaughter, Viji. The young girl had failed her Tenth grade exams, and was on the verge of being married off in her village when her grandmother brought her along to the city.
It turns out that shifts in the education system meant that kids can go all the way to tenth grade, never having been tested. So here is young Viji, who my mother discovered has a photographic memory, with absolutely no ability to work with English or Math. When my mother encountered her, she put the kibosh firmly on the marriage idea, and has taken on the task of coaching the young girl and funding some occupational training. My contribution was copy writing and early math skills work books. Through small victories are the battles won!
It's a pity that the system doesn't quite address the needs of young, talented girls like Viji, who could so easily have been lost in the mire of early marriage, motherhood and drudgery.
At a slightly different scale, yesterday I met a young entrepreneur in Mumbai. I got to know her a few years ago in NYC when she kindly coached my kids in Hindi while she completed her Masters in Education at the Teachers College, Columbia University, NYC. Shraddha returned to India with a vision of truly making a difference, and after a few corporate roles, decided to go independent - she founded EduStop "your one stop shop for all your educational needs."
In essence, she was responding to a gap she saw - the gap in entry-level professionalism and productivity.
She and her partner run courses to help high schoolers and their teachers hone their soft skills. I loved that she'd just plunged in there and started a business based on her savvy, a great partner, a computer and some apartment space. The impact she's already had on the lives of thousands to young kids making their first set of career decisions is heartwarming. And practically speaking, I'm glad that they'll be more attuned to their work environments.
India doesn't yet have a vibrant internship approach and there's an opportunity there for a business person to train and farm non-MBA, non-Engineering interns to businesses so they are better prepared for their careers and realistic about their capability levels. (I know all of y'all who work with Gen Y'ers are saying "m'hmm"!)
Laudably, this is a start-up team that's already doing good - they have run free workshops for those who can't make it to the paid sessions.
So, capability-building was on my mind as I took one last scroll through my emails before hitting the pillows. This note from my Alma Mater Balliol College in Oxford got me thinking.
"In a bid to increase applications from female candidates to subject areas where there is an imbalance in the female-male ratio, Balliol College will select three female students to be Dervorguilla scholars. The divisions that are under-represented by women are Humanities, the Social Sciences, and Maths, Physical and Life Sciences."
Ummm - so in what disciplines exactly are women appropriately represented or, dare we dream, over-represented?
Click here to learn more about the scholarships, ladies.
I love that the scholarship is named for the true founder of Balliol college, not John Balliol but his wife Dervorguilla who seed-funded the school. A woman of substance, she funded a school for the poor as part of her husband's penance for his land dispute with the Bishop of Durham. A lady of good works, she was also plenty savvy, and seems to have quite a history of litigation to her name.
Given she was walked this earth about 900 years ago, I'll overlook the fact that when Sir John died in 1269, Dervorguilla had his heart embalmed and kept in a casket of ivory bound with silver. The casket traveled with her for the rest of her life.
Just a few of the women worth emulating out there....