As per India’s Census 2011, Youth (15-24 years) in India constitutes one-fifth (19.1%) of India’s total population which is about 430 million. India is set to become the world’s youngest country in 2020 with about 34.33% share of youth in its total population. In the next 20 years, it will add another 480 million people to its existing workforce of 430 million. According to ‘State of the Urban Youth, India 2012: Employment, Livelihoods, Skills,’ a report published by IRIS Knowledge Foundation in collaboration with UN-HABITAT, a person in an urban area has a 93 per cent greater chance of acquiring training than someone in a rural area. This speaks for the fact that unemployment rate among rural graduates is 37%, which is more when compared to the unemployment rate of 25% rate, of urban graduates. One major reason for this is, rural graduates are mostly first generation college goers. They often lack awareness about various opportunities, cannot access the right resources, do not have the skills to fit into the market and face unique challenges at the domestic level unlike their urban counterparts. They do not get the end to end support that can help them materialise their aspirations and often end up dropping out at various stages of their education and career. .
Growing up as a girl in a rural poor household where one had to live a life of no voice and no choice, Ashweetha’s life transformed through the power of education. Through education, Ashweetha could break the mould of what was expected of her and dreamt beyond her gender, demography and socio economic backgrounds. At the age of 20, she moved out of her village to do a fellowship program in Delhi. Through that program, she became aware of the inequalities and gaps that existed, and learnt that stories like hers were considered an exception from the mainstream world. After working for a year in the healthcare sector, she came back to her village and started engaging with the rural youth holding deep faith and a single-minded focus that their background should not determine their destination. In 2014, after working with village youth for 8 months, she realised the need to produce young rural leaders and bridge the rural-urban divide and hence, went on to set up Bodhi Tree Foundation. Bodhi Tree Foundation started with soft skills and career awareness session in colleges. Slowly we started engaging with the villages and the community, to create safe spaces for youth to explore their potential. We also conducted focused residential programs for female graduates on life skills and career opportunities. We started with an extensive approach reaching out to as many students as possible. Over time, we also realised the need to engage youth in a deep manner, so we increased our village engagement initiatives. Now we do a mix of both intensive and extensive programs.