SHIMLA: Indian Institute of Technology, Mandi, has established an incubator to enable rural women of Kamand Valley in Mandi becomes entrepreneurs in the scenic hill state.
Started as an initiative of IIT Mandi Women's Center, the incubator, called 'Enabling Women of Kamand,' (EWOK) helps rural women set up their services or small enterprises.
EWOK has partnered with women from the four panchayats of Kamand, Kataula, Katindhi and Navlaya in Mandi district.
The first batch of seven women, certified in basic computer literacy, spoken English and personality development, graduated in May 2018 and a convocation program was held on 28th June, 2018, at the EWOK Office, IIT Mandi.
EWOK offered two certification courses in collaboration with NIIT (National Institute of Information Technology) Foundation.
The basic computer literacy certification covers training in MS Office and introduction to an Internet that includes online ticket booking, banking, enrolling to open universities and looking up Aadhar card details and so on.
The certification in spoken English and personality development concentrates on improving their English conversational skills as well as developing one's personality that would help them in interacting with various cultures.
About the importance of this initiative and the commitment of IIT Mandi to development of local community, Dr Priscilla Gonsalves, Chief Advisor, EWOK, said, ''Arriving at Kamand Valley for the first time in 2010, the director and I found a traditional, Himachal community. We realised that the growth of a new IIT in the valley would have a major impact on the lives of locals."
EWOK strives to ease the transition for local women by providing guidance, training and information. It has also helped bridge the gap between the largely urban, technologically oriented IIT community and the local agricultural community. Both sides have benefitted from the link. In the future, we hope to have closer ties as we work together to build a new Kamand.
Two of the women who graduated have landed paid internships and a third has applied for the license to take up contractual work for landscape development.
Each of these courses was conducted for three months with daily classes of two hours each.
The certification was provided after an assessment by external examiners from NIIT Foundation team.
Ms Parvati, a 25-year-old resident of Sandra village, said that she is happy that she got an opportunity to work after her training at EWOK. She received guidance on how to take the next step in her career.
Her confidence that women like her can do something and that they have sufficient knowledge has grown. Earlier, she used to feel hesitant and never shared it with anyone.
But her interaction here has helped her overcome that to some extent and she has found a place where she receives some help to actually do something.
She is now interning with a project by one of the Assistant Professors in IIT Mandi.
Ms Nirmla Devi, a 30-year-old resident of Baglidhar village, said, ''I learnt how to use computers to send messages and stay in touch.
I also feel more comfortable in understanding English and have started speaking a few words myself which helps me in communicating with visitors here.
'' Nirmla will soon be a licensed contractor for landscape developmental work.
In the entrepreneurial arena, EWOK is working closely with individuals as well as women groups to set up sustainable businesses.
In the agriculture sector, a number of women and their families are involved in various efforts ranging from mushroom cultivation to growing aromatic cash crops for oil extraction and sale to herbal infusions and beverages.
Dr Priscilla Gonsalves said that EWOK aims to help create an ecosystem where different entrepreneurial opportunities feed each other by providing networking opportunities, education and skills training and bringing to them relevant information like public schemes.
Younger women with graduate degrees are currently receiving internships in web content development and data collection and analysis to enable them to work as future consultants.
EWOK is enabling a few ladies to acquire licenses as contractors to carry out landscape developmental projects.
Individuals with other training like beauticians, tailoring and embroidery are also being helped on a need basis to fine tune their skills and gain a better reach in terms of customers in an around the area.
Each of the enterprise areas can do better with added skills in computer literacy and better communication.
Placement is not guaranteed but EWOK makes an effort to connect individuals with potential and interest with opportunities if available.
Since 2016, EWOK has closely worked with over 30 women in different capacities and most of those relationships are continuing today towards establishing sustainable enterprises.