The time is 9 am and the workplaces around Kochi are just waking up, but the office of Prayaana—an employability, entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem for women—is already a hub of activity. At the centre of all the buzz is Chandra Vadana R, the heart and soul of the initiative.
Chandra’s efforts in women empowerment brought her the prestigious Empretec Women in Business Award 2018—a special recognition for social enterprise, instituted by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). She was shortlisted from 130 applicants from around the world and became the first and only Indian to win the honour in the decade-long history of the awards.
The path to this recognition was no bed of roses. “I had a career break and then wanted to start something on my own, so began an HR consultancy which sadly shut shop within a few months. I met a number of people, especially women, in the course of managing the HR consultancy and I realised many like me were struggling to get back to their mainstream careers. That was the birth of Prayaana,” she says.
In India, there is a major chunk of employable women workforce that remains unproductive because they have had career breaks or are not in careers suited to them. The mission, she says, is ‘to bring back women to careers’. “We held interaction sessions in many cities in Kerala and found that many women, sometimes highly qualified, remain as homemakers, but are keen to start a career,” says Chandra.
Prayaana has a two-pronged approach in empowering women: First, for women who have had career breaks, an assessment is done on their job prospects and then they are skilled up to meet the industry requirements. The organisation has tie-ups with prospective employers and the candidates get placed back in the industry according to their competencies. Second, they concentrate on skilling up the college students; they are given career counselling and internship opportunities.
They have also developed a programme called the ‘Prayaana fellowship’, where women are given assistance to embark on a career. The efforts of Prayaana have been recognised by the Kerala Startup Mission and are supported by the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Development Centre. Women who are keen to become entrepreneurs are given training and provided with support to work towards accomplishing their dream.