Part 2: Can technology-based learning improve employment rates in India?

Here is the second in a two-part blog series on a programme that Sattva developed with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, to expand English-language skills to address employment challenges in India. This blog looks at the challenges in the programme and the feedback from the students, they key stakeholders.

In India, many graduates with bachelor’s degrees lack the English-proficiency skills they need to get jobs and launch their careers. Many students turn to vocational training programs to get additional skills to increase their chances at employment, but most of those programs do not provide English-language courses. Sattva Consulting partnered with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation to identify programs that could incorporate technology-based courses to help students learn English.

In our last post, we talked about how those programs were chosen and what we aim to achieve. We met Madhu Kumari, who travelled to Bangalore from Jharkhand for a vocational training course at Unnati, one of our five program partners, in December 2017. At that time, she barely spoke any English. Her success in working as a call center employee depends on the skills she receives from Unnati. In this post, we aim to share the feedback we received and the lessons we learned from our most important stakeholders – the students themselves. Madhu and her classmate Mahendra shared their feedback on four technology-based apps that were created to help students with Spoken English Skills (SES).

Lesson 1: Personalize and prepare. Madhu and Mahendra had different levels of English-language skills when they started the program at Unnati. The apps that provided customizable, personalized learning opportunities were more useful than those that provided a one-size-fits-all model.

Lesson 2: Context is everything. India has 22 official languages. English comprehension varies across students from different states, so any app that aims to help with English-language skills must provide lessons and support in different languages. The app that earned the most student engagement offered support in 18 languages.

Lesson 3: Context is everything – really. In Madhu’s class, all students use pre-paid data connections to access the apps. However, about half of the students had pre-paid connections that needed to be re-charged frequently – and the data they were able to purchase only lasted about 10 days. Technology-based interventions in a country like India should be mindful of data constraints and be able to fully function and save data offline.

Lesson 4: Interaction promotes learning. Madhu and her classmates unanimously said it was the ‘talk back’ feature that they liked best about apps they tried. They enjoyed being able to speak to the app and have a conversation, without worrying about their accent or feeling self-conscious, like they might in a classroom. We are looking at strengthening voice recognition features in apps to add value to the student experience.

Lesson 5: Gamification rules. Madhu and Mahendra loved seeing their scores go up in the app as they took quizzes. Surveys deployed across Madhu and Mahendra’s classrooms indicate that students are especially motivated to use an app when they can see how their friends and classmates are performing and where they stand in comparison.

Madhu, Mahendra, and their classmates have shown us that it is possible to design and develop low-cost scalable solutions to make a dent in one aspect of the daunting, but solvable, challenge of India’s employability crisis.

The blog was originally published here –

Click here for Part 1 of the blog.

(Image credits:

Can technology-based learning improve employment rates in India?

Presenting the first in a two-part blog series on a programme that Sattva developed with the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, to expand English-language skills to address employment challenges in India. This blog looks at the programme challenges, how they were addressed to develop the programme and what measurement outcomes were put into place.

When Madhu Kumari travelled to Bangalore from Jharkhand for a vocational training course at Unnati in December 2017, she barely spoke a few words of English. However, 50 days later, she is now working at HDB, a non-banking subsidiary of HDFC bank, as a call center employee. Madhu’s customer-facing role requires English proficiency – a skill that Madhu learned through her hard work with Unnati’s technology-led program.

When Madhu started studying at Unnati, she needed skills to increase her chances of employment – and she isn’t alone. The Government of India worked with research company Aspiring Minds to conduct the National Employability Report-Graduates 2013 study. The study revealed that nearly half of Indian college graduates are considered unemployable because of their English language and cognitive skills. A college degree is supposed to be a pathway to employment and stability. But in India, where 55 percent of the population is under 30 years old, a lack of English-speaking skills is standing in the way of success.

Solving this challenge can be complicated. For many families, it isn’t as simple as getting an English-language tutor or enrolling their kids in English classes. High-quality English teachers are often hard to find and too expensive to retain for low-income families. Even families who can afford an instructor find it difficult to sustain lessons because of an in-person, classroom-based teaching model that leaves many students behind who cannot attend courses because of work and family responsibilities. That’s where our project comes in.

The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation partnered with Sattva Consulting to identify organizations like Unnati that are working to help youth in India gain employment. While major employers in India agree that English proficiency is important for their customer-facing and administrative entry level positions, many existing employment programs do not include English-language lessons in their models.

In her journey to find employment, Madhu chose to attend Unnati’s short-term vocational training programs. Students are placed in jobs at the end of their training courses. The organization’s focus is primarily on providing technical skills development for retail and administration jobs. With the help of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation and Sattva, Unnati added a technology-led English-language proficiency program as a new part of their employment training program. The goal of the English-language program is to provide:

-Personalized learning for each student based on their current English-language knowledge and skills, as opposed to a one-size fits-all approach, and

-Content that can be accessed at the student’s convenience.

Three other organizations like Unnati have been identified as partners, with hopes to create a comprehensive program across India to provide apps and other technologies to help teach English-language skills to improve employability of students. The purpose of the program is to find the extent to which technology solutions can be effective language learning tools. It aims to find apps and learning models that can be scaled across different learning environments.

The main questions that this program will seek to answer include:

-Do technology-based solutions help improve the Spoken English Skills (SES) of youth between the age of 18 and 22?

-What specific capabilities and features have the highest impact on improved skill outcomes in youth?

-Does improved SES result in increased chances of employment?

The program started in August 2017 and will run for two years in six states, impacting approximately 15,000 students across the country. The participants of the program are all students in their final year of college who are between the ages of 18 and 22.

In our next blog post, we will share the feedback and lessons we learned directly from Madhu and her classmates at Unnati, and how those lessons ladder up to larger insights into how we develop and implement technology-based solutions to improve SES across India.

The blog was originally published here –

Click here for Part 2 of the blog.

(Image credits:

Video: Design for Social Impact

“When you set off to make big social impact with product design, two things can make all the difference – the right social context and being prepared to take big risks.”

This was how our CEO Srikrishna Sridhar Murthy kicked off the Introduction to Design Thinking session for the applicants of the Design:Impact Awards.

The Awards promote visionary and transformative product design for social impact. The initiative has had a tremendous response and here is a quick glance at the applications received.

The applicants have been through selection processes and learning sessions and the finalists of Design:Impact Awards have now been selected. These life-changing innovations from all over the country are a great showcase of how great design can create great impact.

The initiative has had a tremendous response and Sattva is proud to partner with Design:Impact Awards to promote visionary and transformative product design for social impact.

Meet the finalists

Lakshmi Sethuraman

Lakshmi currently heads Operations at Sattva. She has been with Sattva since 2010 and has led a diverse set of projects during this time working extensively with leaders of social organisations in building and scaling their operations sustainably. She has also worked with key CSR clients of Sattva in designing, implementing impactful programmes. She also set up the sales function at Sattva.

Prior to Sattva, Lakshmi has worked with the Manipal Group, Jubilant Retail and ITC Hotels across sales, business development and strategy functions. She holds a PGDM from T.A.Pai Management Institute and is an alumunus of the INSEAD social entrepreneurship programme.


A solar power company delivering viable electricity solutions through decentralised renewable energy mini-grids, wanted to spur socio-economic growth in rural and semi-urban areas. They wanted to create an ecosystem to encourage this segment of people to become entrepreneurs on the back of reliable supply of energy. Our work as knowledge and implementation partners was to bring rural women into mainstream employment through setting up of micro-apparel manufacturing centres.

We designed and executed a programme based on an entrepreneur-led model here. The first step was developing a site selection framework using certain basic criteria:
– choosing a location for the manufacturing centre close to a solar plant to ensure a steady supply of electricity, – within a radius of 200 kilometres from the market,

The focus was on selecting married women to train since the study suggested that such selection would help maintain high retention rates. We covered 8-10 villages under outreach to encourage women to visit the centre and gauge their interest in joining the programme. Selected candidates were charged a monthly sum of Rs 100 to ensure accountability and retention. This 20-seater centre, in Kamalapur near Lucknow, trained women in apparel making over six months. Our on-ground training partner trained women to use automatic machines. Post this we worked on a job-order model securing bulk orders from vendors (wholesalers or retailers) in Lucknow which in turn were executed by these women over the next few months as part of on-the job training.

The program had far reaching socio-economic impact as it saw women from orthodox families venture out of home into mainstream employment. As a result they were now empowered to improve personal livelihood and educational aspirations. In parallel, it highlighted the importance of creating market linkages for rural entrepreneurs as a crucial component for any skilling program. Our approach demonstrated that a well-designed model is imperative, but motivating and building trust with women is as important to mobilise them. During the course of the programme we saw women build personal relationships with each other and work together with complete solidarity. The company was able to make the first crucial step in solving problems of migration, gender gap in mainstream livelihood opportunities and unemployment in Uttar Pradesh. The Kamlapur centre served as the anchor in that area, enabling the energy service company to be sustainable enough to provide energy at community level covering more beneficiaries. Also, the client is now confident of replicating the model for similar projects in other locations.

No. of women in program: 20 women
Centre location: Kamlapur, Uttar Pradesh
Increase average income: Rs 2000-3000 per month from Rs 200 per month
Age bracket: 21+ years