Need a dose of inspiration? Read how Mrinalini Kher is changing the lives of lakhs of youngsters in India, one vocational course at a time.

Mrinalini Kher Giving the underprivileged youth of India a second chance in life

A messiah for the lesser privileged youth of India, Mrinalini Kher has been working tirelessly for more than two decades to provide them with skill development and make them employable. Her passion project Yuva Parivartan trains youth in vocations such as electrical work, automobile repair, appliance repair, beauty courses, nursing, tailoring, English-speaking, and more. It also trains them in soft skills such as discipline, motivation, interpersonal relationships, conflict management, and problem-solving to improve their chances of earning a livelihood. She is supported in her mission by her equally passionate husband Kishor Kher.

In conversation with Savvywomen, Mrinalini Kher gives us a deep dive into Yuva Parivartan, and shares advice for fellow social entrepreneurs. Here are some excerpts from the interview:

You have dedicated your life to the welfare of the underprivileged. What drives you to keep going?
My drive comes from the feeling that I, my children, and other family members are all privileged, and it hurts that there are millions of children out there who do not get the same opportunities. It could be due to various reasons such as poverty, illiteracy, gender bias, domestic violence, and so on. My life’s work is dedicated to providing a skill development platform to the youth of India so that they have the tools to earn a livelihood.

How did the idea for Yuva Parivartan come about? What was its genesis?
Yuva Parivartan was, and continues to be, a passion project. Back in 1998 when we started, we realised that there was no focused NGO that provided vocational training. The term ‘skill development’, as it is known today, had not been coined yet. We decided to take on the mantle of training the youth of India.

We picked school dropouts as our target segment. In those days, only 10% students of our huge population reached the 10th standard. Of this, only about 5%-8% reached college. This meant that 90% of the children dropped out of school. We were looking at a staggering 250-300 million youth of the country who never finished their matriculation. They are healthy youth like any other, but they were illiterate, unskilled, and a burden on society and the government. The idea was to build a model to make them employable so they thrive in their lives and become contributing members of society.

Over the decades, we have kept reinventing and redesigning our model as needs change. We have also ensured it is scalable, which has helped us reach 18 states of India so far. Yuva Parivartan continues to change the lives of less educated youth in India by giving them a second chance in life.

Is there any other strata of society that you have branched out to?
We have made Yuva Parivartan all-inclusive by accommodating youth of all kinds – girls and boys, from farmers’ children to children of labourers and more. There are many youngsters who are also stuck in prison. To help them, we have started offering our programme in many prisons in India. Additionally, we have started providing skill training at destitute homes, orphanages, and women’s shelters. We have focused on youth rescued from human trafficking and commercial sex workers who want to leave the trade. In fact, anyone who needs our help can come to us and we are ready. We never say no.

Can you talk about the national movement Yuva Parivartan has grown to be and the milestones it has achieved in the last 23 years? 
Started in 1998, our venture just completed 23 years on 15 February 2021 – a day we celebrate as Yuva Parivartan Diwas. However, officially it was launched on 15 February 2003 by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. That itself gave our organisation a big boost.

We soon realised that we alone cannot be everywhere. Hence, we needed to replicate our model to create a big impact. We studied the franchise model of McDonald’s and KFC, and decided to emulate it. Today, we have over 300 partners in places such as Odisha, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Karnataka, and Gujarat. We give them a certification, and they carry out the same work we do.

Another innovative thing we did was to recognise the important role technology can play in reaching out to even more youth of India. This was in 2005-06. With financial help from Give India, we created digital teaching models for five courses – AC and refrigeration, basic wiring and appliance repair, beauticians, para-nursing and English-speaking. These were shared via CD-ROMS. This way, the teaching was not solely dependent on the capabilities of teachers in small towns and villages. These CDs were there to supplement their learning.

We extended this initiative in 2015 with videos available on YouTube, by creating 15 more courses ranging from tailoring to two-wheeler repair to even hospitality. The pandemic has further instilled the need for online learning and we’re aggressively working on the same.

Do you also help the youth develop crucial soft skills? How do you do it?
We started our first batch with 150 students. After they finished their training, we helped them get jobs in various companies. However, after a few weeks, we realised that most of them had either dropped out or were thrown out as they didn’t have the values of reaching their workplace on time, or would bunk work for silly reasons. They were lacking discipline as they never went to school nor taught these values at home. 
One of our friends then told us that in a school in Ladakh, children are taught value education through stories of Panchatantra, Ramayana, etc. He suggested we try the same. We then picked our stories and created a model to teach them these soft skills and values, which we named ‘Soch ka Parivartan’. These are taught from Day 1, and in the 12 weeks they spend with us during their training, we cover topics such as discipline, motivation, interpersonal relationships, conflict management, problem-solving, behaviour and language to be used at the workplace, grooming, and more. 

In today’s uncertain world, equal importance needs to be given to our children’s mental health. What is your view on it?
Absolutely! When we started dealing with underprivileged youth, we came to understand that they come from dysfunctional families and their mental health is far from optimum. Therefore, we had a counsellor come on board who would visit these centres in and around Mumbai to talk to the youth and advice on them the issues they face in their personal lives. When we expanded to other cities and states, we incorporated counselling in the ‘Soch ka Parivartan’ programme, and started a helpline for students and staff so they could discuss their problems and raise complaints.

What is your advice for younger social entrepreneurs who want to work towards building a sustainable and equitable world?
Find a cause you are passionate about. Ensure you are in it for the long haul, and not for short-term gains. Do it because your heart is in it. Don’t wait for fame and money to come. Additionally, study various successful NGOs and emulate their models. This is how we learned and grew. Lastly, gather like-minded people, do good work, build credibility, and fame will follow.