Our team has been in Kolkata for about a week now. We’ve halfway figured out the public transportation, bought proper local clothes, and tried our first meal of street food. (Haven’t thrown up yet, cross your fingers). We are still very much new in this city of five million people, but at the very least we’ve set our feet on the ground.
We’ve had the opportunity to visit a few of the Anudip and iMerit centers since our arrival and though I can only speak for myself, they are inspiring, thrilling, and surprisingly grounded. This past Monday, Lauren, Melissa, and I traveled to two different Anudip centers, Icon and Sonarpur, with Radha Basu, Anudip’s CEO. At each center, the students stood up, introduced themselves and exhibited their English language skills as they described their hobbies, families, education, and most importantly aspirations. Many wanted to find a job in the tech industry, but others wanted to work in tourism, and a slim few voiced their hope of starting a new business. The young women and men laughed along with Radha’s poor Bengali (it seemed perfect to me), and were emboldened by her antics to use their raw English to talk more.
One young man stood up and discussed his education. He had finished his high school equivalent, but had been unemployed for three years. With the completion of his Anudip training through their unique M.A.S.T. (Market Aligned Skills Training) system he hoped to finally find employment to support his family. Having analyzed Anudip and iMerit thoroughly through our preparatory class at Santa Clara University, it was refreshing and uplifting to see the social enterprise’s at work before my eyes.
After our session at Sonarpur, Radha went into the next room with the administration of the center and began sternly, but not meanly, informing them of the potential problems she saw in the center,its curriculum and what needed to be done to make sure this ‘batch’ maintained the level of quality education that Anudip provides. Most notably, the students needed to fully understand what Anudip is and what they were investing their time and money in. The mixture of hope and hard line questions was indicative of the success of Anudip/iMerit and I think the nature of a true social enterprise.
The students of the Sonarpur center started their session with a loud and fervent cheer as enthusiastic as if they had just won the Cricket World Cup: “WE CAN, WE ARE THE BEST”. As my team and I struggle to understand the norms and culture that define Kolkata, I think back on their chant and know that I can as well.