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In Conversation with Meera Shenoy: Empowering Youth with Disabilities through Entrepreneurship

Meera Shenoy is a renowned social entrepreneur and an advocate for employment for persons with disabilities. She is the founder of Youth4Jobs Foundation, a non-profit organisation dedicated to assisting young individuals with disabilities to achieve economic independence through training and employment.

With over 30 years of experience in social work, Meera has made a significant impact on the lives of thousands of disabled individuals in India.

Meera's pioneering work has been recognized internationally, with accolades such as the National Award from the President of India and the Asia Game Changer Award from Asia Society.

Known for her visionary approach, Meera believes in creating systemic change by partnering with corporations, governments, and other NGOs.

She is instrumental in altering societal perceptions about disabilities, particularly in rural India, where she works tirelessly to create opportunities for marginalised communities.

We caught up with Meera to talk about Youth4Jobs, their work and impact and about the challenges faced by entrepreneurs with disabilities -

Q: Could you tell us a little bit about Youth4Jobs?

Youth4Jobs is an organisation dedicated to making the youth with disabilities poverty-free. Our pathway to this goal is through resilient livelihoods. We focus on jobs but also recognize the need to work on enterprises. We aim to impact Bharat at scale, influenced by Gandhi's values.

We recently set up Swarajability, an AI-triggered accessible job platform dedicated to youth with disabilities. The algorithm is being made by IIT-Hyderabad. A completely homegrown solution built for disabled youth.

At Youth4Jobs, we work to make the youth with disabilities poverty-free. We believe in building resilient livelihoods and that if we can provide good livelihood opportunities to a person with a disability, it not only lifts that person but their entire family out of poverty in a very sustainable manner.

Q: What are the different types of nano-enterprises that entrepreneurs with disabilities usually work in?

We have trained around 125 youth with disabilities in micro-enterprises and helped establish various enterprises. The majority of these entrepreneurs have locomotor disabilities and have set up stores, tailoring and garment businesses, digital services, catering centres, online services, Xerox centres, vegetable shops, and internet cafes.

There are also other activities like salons, medical shops, scrap businesses, retail stores, watch shops, dairy milk businesses, carpentry, flour mills, beauty parlours, mobile repairs, and electrician services. Q: Can you share a few anecdotes from your work at Youth4Jobs?

The societal attitudes we've encountered pose significant barriers to disabled entrepreneurs, especially in rural areas. Often, these individuals are seen as 'useless', leading to low self-esteem and limiting their entrepreneurial aspirations. We're determined to change this narrative at Youth4Jobs. We strive to highlight successful entrepreneurs with disabilities as role models, aiming to instil confidence and a sense of possibility among others.

One success story that comes to mind is that of a girl named Lakshmi. She just had a sewing machine and after we taught her some social media skills, she turned her simple sewing operation into a successful boutique.

Another story is of Baby Agarwal who had an electrical shop that was losing money. We taught her some skills and also helped her get a scooter from a government scheme she was entitled to but didn't know about. These stories underscore the impact of providing holistic support and empowering individuals with disabilities.

We have a focused approach towards women with disabilities, aiming for at least 35% of our data to be young women with disabilities. When we went online, we started afternoon batches as per the request of these women, which led to an increase in enrollments.

We also got McKinsey to do a pro bono study on the impact of our work on women with disabilities. The results showed reductions in sexual violence, increased participation in financial and non-financial discourses, and a willingness to mentor other women.

We are soon going to start a dedicated program for women with disability entrepreneurs, which will be the first of its kind anywhere.

Q: Could you share about the partnership between Rang De and Youth4Jobs?

Our partnership with Rang De is aimed at providing alternative solutions for youth with disabilities who want to establish or scale up their enterprises. We realised that access to startup capital was a major challenge for these individuals.

Rang De's model offers flexibility, low interest rates, and doesn't burden the poor with unnecessary costs. We're currently piloting this partnership in one area, and if successful, we plan to scale it across all our programs.

We've started an initiative called the Entrepreneurs with Disabilities Fund which aims to help entrepreneurs with disabilities set up and grow their own businesses sustainably. Youth4Jobs is a not-for-profit organisation which focuses on youth with disability. Youth4Jobs implements multiple programs that shift youth with disabilities from the vicious cycle of poverty and makes them confident and self-sufficient.

Your investment can enable these entrepreneurs to generate incomes through self sustaining entrepreneurship. Head to the fund page to invest -

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