Diamonds in India’s rough

Madan Padaki believes that today’s rural youth has raw talent, entrepreneurial spirit, global aspirations and access to technology. Through Head Held High, he aims to provide them with the right opportunities and eradicate rural poverty in the long run



Seven years ago, when Madan Padaki joined hands with Rajesh Bhat and Sunil Savara to found a social venture, the trio had just one question in mind; how do we educate the rural youth and eradicate rural poverty? “When managing MeritTrac, I saw the boom that the IT/BPO sector had brought in terms of jobs and income. People from Tier-III and Tier-IV cities were working in some of the largest companies in Bengaluru and their disposable incomes were rising. So, we thought, can we replicate the same idea in rural India?” recalls Padaki. That’s how, in 2007, they founded the Head Held High Foundation.

There’s an interesting story behind how the name came about.  Based on the various activities that the foundation would be pursuing, the team came up with four names, but, only one resonated, word by word, with the belief that the team held. “There’s a poem by Rabindranath Tagore which goes, Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high. Every word of the poem stands by our beliefs and we unanimously chose this name,” reminisces Padaki.

During the initial days, as an experiment, the team went around Karnataka, encouraging rural youth (between 18 to 22 years of age) to join its training program. In fact, the only quality they were looking for was grit. To justify this, Padaki quotes an example. Ramesh, who hails from a village near Raichur, lives with a family of ten, on an unarable land.  He has never been to school, and his duty was to graze buffaloes and pick groundnuts, for which he earned Rs. 10 a day. So, when the Head Held High team met him and asked him to say, my name is Ramesh, in English, he struggled for an hour, but in vain. However, he was still eager to join the training program and learn. Today, he works in a BPO, as a team leader after going through the complete program. “And, this has been one of our key learnings; that inner motivation is key,” adds Padaki.

For the rural youth, confidence means English and computer skills because they see their counterparts in urban regions being able to do that and they say if I can get that skill, I’m confident.

The company enrolled eight kids and set them up in a house in Bengaluru. “They underwent training, seven days a week, 16 hours a day. Even when they slept at night, the BBC radio was on. That’s how immersive the programme was,” notes Padaki. Essentially, he believes that main aim of the program was not just to teach English, but also to build confidence. “For them, confidence means English and computer skills because they see their counterparts in urban regions being able to do that and they say if I can get that skill, I’m confident,” clarifies Padaki.

Initially, the foundation sustained its business through self-funding and by raising grants from Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, Deshpande Foundation and other such entities. Soon, the founders realised that in order to build a sustainable business, they had to change their business model. “We realised that we were delivering value to the students, and so, we could build a sustainable entity only by charging a fee,” says Padaki.

Thus, in 2012, they developed a social enterprise model and founded Head Held High Services Pvt. Ltd., with the three stakeholders being the Head Held High Foundation (the single largest shareholder in the company), Rajesh Bhat and Padaki, and the external investors. In late 2013, the company raised its first round of seed funding, to the tune of Rs. 2.5 crore, from Unilazer Ventures, five angel investors from Intellecap Impact Investment Network (I3N) and other angels such as Kartik Kilachand, a U.S.-based investor.

Steps to empowerment

Given the raw talent, entrepreneurial spirit, the global aspirations and access to technology, the H3S team has coined a new term for the neo-rural youth – Rubans. Today, to empower them, H3S has setup RubanHubs, which include various initiatives such as RubanShakti, AntarPrerana, Rubanomics and other market outreach services.

RubanShakti is a four to six month residential programme spread over 14 hours a day and six days a week. The programme focuses on training both zero or low-literate youth and graduates in communication and management skills.  Secondly, H3S encourages Rubans to pursue entrepreneurship, through AntarPrerana, a Ruban Entrepreneur Network (REN). The REN chapters, currently rolled out in various districts of Karnataka, organise training workshops and events and help entrepreneurs connect and build growth opportunities.

Thirdly, H3S enables such entrepreneurs to provide a variety of services such as rural distribution, market outreach and business support services, by connecting them with large corporations in sectors like agriculture, health, digital inclusion and financial inclusion. Lastly, under Rubanomics, the company develops various case studies and white papers to understand and study the rural economy better. “Does every corporate business plan factor in the rural customer? In almost every case the answer is zero. That’s how Rubanomics was born,” explains Padaki. Currently, it has partnered with SP Jain Institute of Management and Research, Mumbai and SDM Institute of Management Development, Mysore, to take this forward. “This year, 100 MBA students visited rural districts and conducted a study. By their own admission, the perception they held of rural youth turned around when they met them. In five years, I’d like at least 50,000 more students to experience this. When that happens, we’ll have new and better ideas to contribute to rural growth,” shares Padaki.

Today, H3S has over 300 trainers across 11 training centers in Karnataka. And, it has trained over 800 rural youth through its training centres in Gadag, Koppal, Bidar, Tumkur and Belgaum districts in Karnataka, and Hindupur district in Andhra Pradesh. Its aim is to reach 100 districts and train one lakh rural youth, in five years. “When people ask us if we are a training company, we say no, training can be a reversible process, transformation is not. We’re a human transformation company and our aim is to leverage the potential of rural youth and create a better future for them,” says Padaki, on an ending note.


Inner motivation is the key to learning

There’s no black and white when determining the capability of an individual. We need to change the lens through which we look at the world.

Training should be a means to build confidence than just to enable learning 

Leave a Reply

Related Posts