Empowering ‘Ruban’ India

Empowering ‘Ruban’ India

Head Held High aims to train and empower the rural youth in India to become capable workers and entrepreneurs.  In five years, it aims to reach 100 districts and train over 1,00,000 rural youth and in time, eradicate global poverty


A 20-something Chandana, who hails from Tumkur (Karnataka), describes herself as someone who was least interested in studies yet held a passion for teacher training. However, given her low scores and economic constraints, she buried that ambition. Later, when she heard about a team from Bengaluru visiting her village to interview candidates for BPO training, she participated and got selected for the programme. Today, Chandana can converse in fluent English and currently works as a trainer at RubanHub (Tumkur), part of Head Held High Services Pvt. Ltd. (H3S), the organisation that trained her to become what she is today.

The Head Held High Foundation (which started off as an NGO), was founded by Rajesh Bhat and Sunil Savara in 2007, with an aim to transform the less fortunate villagers into capable workers and to provide employment and entrepreneurial opportunities to them. Madan Padaki, the co-founder of MeritTrac, joined the team in 2008. Initially, the foundation sustained its business through self-funding and by raising grants from Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, Deshpande Foundation and other such entities. However, this route was becoming difficult for the team. “We had two learnings here; firstly, that the ability to scale would depend on the grants we could raise. Secondly, that we were delivering value to the students, so we could build a sustainable entity only by charging a fee,” says Padaki.

Thus, in 2012, the organisation developed a social enterprise model and founded Head Held High Services Pvt. Ltd. This company has two subsidiaries; Magic Wand Empowerment Pvt. Ltd., the training arm which Bhat heads, while the second is RubanHub, which delivers end-to-end services for and by the rural community. H3S raised its first round of seed funding in late 2013, 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. The company currently has three stakeholders; the Head Held High Foundation, which is the single largest shareholder in the company, Bhat and Padaki, and the external investors.

Bhat indicates that in the next five years he aims to create a presence in 100 districts and train over one lakh rural youth.  Meanwhile, Padaki is working towards making H3S a global organisation, to eradicate rural poverty across countries through a sustainable business model.

Training the Rubans

Rubans, a term coined by the H3S team, refers to the neo-rural youth who posses raw talent, entrepreneurial spirit, global aspirations, and access to technology. To empower them, H3S has setup RubanHubs in various districts, to transform talent through immersive training modules, to support rural entrepreneurs, and to connect consumers through a rural gateway that provides market access and business support services to corporates.

The first among its initiatives is the RubanShakti (a platform provided by Magic Wand Empowerment), which 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. The trainers are locally available MBA or MSW graduates, who are further trained through the RubanShakthi Leadership Programme, before being placed across training centers. H3S currently has over 300 trainers across 11 training centers in Karnataka. 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. These trainees have been placed in various companies such as FirstSource, Aegis, and Portea Medical, to name a few.

Secondly, H3S encourages Rubans to pursue entrepreneurship, through AntarPrerana, a Ruban Entrepreneur Network (REN).   Supported by the Department of Industries and the Government of Karnataka, H3S has currently rolled out REN chapters in Gadag, Shimoga and Bidar, and plans to enter other districts (in Karnataka) over the next six months. These chapters will 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.

Building an affordable for-profit entity

Padaki indicates that H3S adopts two approaches to ensure that training is provided at an affordable cost to the rural youth – the effective and the cost effective approach.

“First, the training has to be effective, which means, we have to prove that we can take anybody from the rural areas and transform them into an outcome we want to see,” he says. To achieve this, the team researched upon various teaching methodologies and identified a strategy that would make the program intensive, immersive and a continuous learning process.

On the other hand, to keep the programme cost low, three aspects had to be kept in mind. Firstly, it had to be held at the Taluk itself and not at Bengaluru. Secondly, the training had to be conducted by locally available resources, to lower the cost of overheads associated with high-end training programmes. The third mandate was to rent out spaces and setup training centres, to keep capital expenditure at a minimum.

Taking H3S to the global arena

When Padaki built MeritTrac, the skill assessment company, he never envisioned his product in the global market. Instead, after the business achieved stability in India, he tried to scale globally and failed because the product could not be changed mid-way. To avoid a similar circumstance, when he joined H3S, he ensured that he built a platform that could achieve global scale.

He adopted several strategies, the first being, to enter into partnerships and collaborations. For instance, H3S has partnered with the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education to evaluate the effectiveness of its training outcomes. Simultaneously, the organisation is having bigger conversations with other countries to understand how its model can be made applicable there. “For example, Columbia has a similar set of problems; of training youth who are essentially war victims. So, in February, we deployed a consultant from our end in Bogota to engage with the Government and corporate entities and understand how we can replicate the H3S model there,” says Padaki.

On an ending note, he says, “Rural poverty or poverty is a problem in every other part of the world. Our mission is to eradicate rural poverty starting with India and moving on to the world.”



Promoters: Head Held High Foundation, Rajesh Bhat and Madan Padaki, external investors

Year: 2007

Investors: Unilazer Ventures, five angel investors from Intellecap Impact Investment Network (I3N), and other angels such as Kartik Kilachand, a US-based investor

Reach: Trained 800 rural youth, through training centres in Gadag, Koppal, Bidar, Tumkur, and Belgaum districts in Karnataka, and Hindupur district in Andhra Pradesh.


As told by Madan Padaki

Social (entrepreneurship) can be looked at in two ways; one that you chose to serve a category of customers who get access to certain services. For example, to me, the illiterate or the lower-educated population is my customer segment. And, because I am going after them, it makes my cause social. Secondly, the moment I view them as my customers, they are as good as any customers for me. I deliver the value to them; they appreciate the value of it and pay for it. Of course, affordability plays a vital role here.

In a social impact space, we need to own the outcome to close the loop. For example, our end- goal is to improve rural income and through this eradicate poverty. Instead, if I do not measure my company on this outcome and just say I am a training company, I am not closing the loop. Thus, when pitching to an investor, you have to be clear about the business model and the outcome it will deliver.

The only difference between an impact investor and a regular investor is, the former sets a longer timeframe to recover his investments and the expectation on returns is not exorbitant. Keep this in mind.

Knowledge Partner:

Altacit Global is a boutique legal firm specialising in Intellectual Property and Corporate Legal Matters. Altacit Global has partnered with The Smart CEO, to present a series of articles on Impact Ventures. Please visit www.altacit.com for more details.

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