Dr Saundarya Rajesh is an award-winning social entrepreneur from Chennai.
One of the earliest voices to speak on gender diversity and inclusion of women in work spaces from India,
Dr Saundarya Rajesh is an award-winning social entrepreneur from Chennai. Best known for pioneering work in creating second careers for women, she was recently named to the UN’s list of ‘25 Women Transforming India’ in 2016.
Founder-President of the Avtar Group, Saundarya was herself a second-career woman — who earlier pursued a corporate career in banking, only to discover that the workplace had to undergo several transformations. Having started India’s first career service for women in 2005, she says, “I have 40,000 women like me on the Avtar I-WIN network (Avtar India women professionals interface network),in which 8,000 of whom have re-entered the workforce. Working with women and helping them is my ultimate passion.”
Saundarya passionately believes that women are the backbone of any economy and if a country focusses on increasing its women’s labour force participation, then it would reach its true potential. Recently, her group’s CSR arm Avtar Human Capital Trust kickstarted the ‘Project Puthri’ campaign on National Girl Child Day (January 24). The objective of this project is to create career intentionality among corporation school girls and enable them to rise out of poverty, early marriages, sexual abuse, and domestic violence and propel them to become a new cadre of talent for corporate India.
“Project Puthri is India’s first ever career intentionality training initiative addressed at 10,000 girl children across Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. The girl children are from corporation, government and government-aided private schools. Now, almost 100 schools are a part of the project. We launched the initiative one month back and are planning to kick in the programmes by June 2017,” Saundarya shares.
Elaborating on the project, the entrepreneur says, “We want the girl students from class eight to class 12, to focus on their careers. Career intentionality is not like a course or a vocation; instead we will teach them the ability to demonstrate resilience, the ability to show passion, to work in a team, to focus on their careers and get ahead. We also provide them three things — mentor, role model and corporate exposure through career coaches. Through this five-year programme, we become a part of their life and influence them.”
Saundarya believes that this training will prevent drop-outs, and build meaningful relationships. “It’s a sad state that only one out of every 100 girls in the state finishes class 12. We want to change the statistics. We make sure that there is a quantum jump in the number of children who finish plus two. We expect Project Puthri to have a social awakening,” adds the entrepreneur.
Saundarya wants to ensure that these girl children get into tertiary education and make certain they pursue white-collar jobs upon graduation.
A leading keynote speaker at national and international forums in the areas of entrepreneurship and human capital management, her vision is to reach out to the 1.8 million Indian women, who wish to make a career come back.