CHENNAI: In February this year, V-shesh, a venture started in 2009 by two MBA graduates, Shashaank Awasthi and P Rajasekharan, to prepare job-seekers with disabilities for employment, won the Best Social Business of the Year award at the 10th Emerging India Awards held in Mumbai. CE traces its journey so far.
When Shashaank and Rajasekharan graduated in 1993, they hadn’t yet dreamed of starting a venture. They studied at Narsee Monjee Institute of Management, Mumbai and went different ways. Shashaank worked with Tata Finance and IDBI Bank, and later headed ABN Amro’s corporate banking practice in South India. Rajasekharan worked with IDBI Bank, and went on to the US to do a masters in Public Policy.
When Rajesekharan returned in 2005, they met and decided to put their skills to better use. The two started a microfinance venture in 2008 in Indore. “We wanted to build a platform for people from disadvantaged communities to get their first jobs,” said Rajasekharan. “Eight months into it, we trained a few school graduates and women above 30 to enter job markets. But in 2009, the sector collapsed and there were no jobs available. We had to think of a different plan. That is when we decided to move to the cities, and turned towards people with disabilities.”
They approached training centres and NGOs working with disability rights. He says, “These centres imparted very good training, but faced challenges in finding stable income jobs. We also approached the employment exchange, state rehabilitation centres at central and state government levels. We noticed that job seekers with disabilities needed to be counselled and prepared for what was to come.”
They started V-shesh as an enterprise with a dual purpose — to train job seekers with disabilites, and conduct awareness programmes for employers. They approached companies in banking, IT, BPO, retail, and hospitality sectors.
Their clients included ANZ, Bank of America, JP Mogan, Stand Chartered, Accenture, TCS, HP and Loreal. At the start, jobs for 200 persons with hearing, movement, vision, autism, and intellectual disabilities were facilitated. The number has gone up to 750 people in 2017 alone, with a retention rate of 99%.
Shashaank asserts that the quality of jobs they got also consistently went up. He says, “We were able to break through to companies at the higher end of skill requirement. This is also because ours is a reverse engineered model that simply prepares employees for the kind of jobs out there.”
Today, V-shesh is an enterprise with a team of 35 people spread across five cities in India. Over 40% of its employees are persons with disability. The venture sustains entirely on its revenue, and profits have led to the launch of pilot projects in many schools. One such project, still in its initial stages, facilitates English language training to children with hearing impairment in rural Tamil Nadu.
In 2016, V-shesh was given the National Award for Best Placement Agency by the Government of India; in 2013, the Shell Helen Keller Award for Workplace Disablity inclusion; and in 2014, Mphasis Award for Universal Design.