Empowering Women through
Microsoft Unlimited Potential Programme
Though the Indian Information
Technology industry is expected to touch a figure of $87 billion in
terms of its worth for the current fiscal year, a major part of the
population in rural India is yet to be a part of the IT revolution.
The Microsoft Unlimited
Potential program (MSUP) is a landmark initiative to bridge the gap in
IT skills across rural India, particularly amongst the disadvantaged
sections and women. Microsoft, in partnership with TARAhaat,
Development Alternatives, began the Microsoft Unlimited Potential (MSUP)
program in 2004. TARAhaat’s ICT-enabled network provides a
scalable and sustainable vehicle to deliver this program to women in
dispersed regions at affordable costs. The roll out of the programme in
the TARAhaat network has clearly demonstrated its potential to
create a dramatic and substantial difference in the lives of young women
who were so far denied access to quality education and training. Their
newfound confidence and self-reliance is a source of inspiration for
many young women and girls in their local communities.
Various success stories of
empowerment and local role models have emerged as a result of this
The ability to use ICT-based
services has the potential to liberate women from their current state of
constraints. They can apply this skill to access critical information,
communicate with families and their support network and also equip
themselves with skills that enable them to become gainfully employed.
This will be a source of immense self-confidence and financial
independence for women who have till date believed that their lives will
never change. This new generation of women will be inspiring role models
for other women, as informed parents for their own children and
responsible members of their communities. The project operates in a
social environment that imposes enormous socio-cultural barriers and
constraints on women to become self-reliant. These beliefs have taken
root over centuries and across generations of rural families and will
only change over time.
The project has addressed these
serious challenges and delivered some positive results:
1. More than 7000 female students have been trained/are being trained
under the MSUP Program.
2. 140 Female Master Trainers have been recruited and trained to deliver
Activities Under the MSUP
The intensive instructor training program has been developed, refined
and is being executed to train the Master Trainers so that they can
deliver the best education to their students. The quality of curriculum
delivery is being closely monitored and refresher trainings are being
provided periodically to ensure that the Master Trainers are equipped to
deliver the program. Master Trainers are also being trained to counsel
women and young girls to ensure an impressive rate of program
Mobile Master Trainers:
The highly innovative concept of Mobile Master Trainers (MMTs) has been
developed and implemented in a large scale to extend the reach of the
program to the disadvantaged girls and women who, for a variety of
social and economic reasons, cannot travel to their nearest TARAkendras.
Mobile Master Trainers deliver a short-term IT course with an efficient
proportion of theory and practicals, which is available at the doorstep
of the female students in villages.
Capacity Building of TARAhaat’s
Team: TARAhaat is in a big
expansion mode. It has spread its TARAkendra network in 8 states
of northern India. Territory Offices have been set up and potential
franchisee partners have already been identified. For the efficient
rollout and execution of the MSUP program in new areas, intensive
capacity building of TARAhaat’s local operations teams was
required. Field teams have been trained extensively on program
implementation. Their progress and effectiveness is being tracked and
monitored regularly. The operations support team based in New Delhi
ensures that the field teams, specifically the new ones, have the
requisite support and capacity to meet the program deliverables.
Outreach and Marketing
Initiatives: These measures are
critical to the success of the program. A school contact programme in
the form of a contest called ‘Disha’ was launched to create the
awareness about the IT and its applications in life. It was run in more
than 100 schools and generated a huge awareness about TARAhaat,
which resulted in a large number of walk-ins at various TARAkendras.
TARAhaat also organises
an IT Olympiad, a national level rural IT talent hunt programme every
year. This programme intends to generate awareness and motivation among
the rural youth to grasp IT education. Apart from these events,
awareness about MSUP is being created through road shows, free demos,
wall paintings, posters and leaflets containing a message targeting the
rural youth, especially women. These outreach initiatives are innovative
and interactive to ensure that the message reaches out to the intended
Identifying and Supporting the MSUP
Role models who can demonstrate
the transformational power of IT training and are a key to breaking down
the barriers faced by girls and women in the conservative society in
rural India are being appointed as MSUP spokespersons in TARAkendras.
They disseminate the benefits of IT training to large groups of girls
and women. A spokesperson may be an ex-TARAkendra student or a
woman from local community with a respectable image in the society.
Sheilly, Zira, Punjab
The last six months have brought a lot of changes in Sheilly. Her life
style, attire, new found self-esteem, all reveal this transformation.
Born in a small town, Zira of Ferozpur district in Punjab, Sheilly was
not a good student in her school days, which finally drove her to pursue
her schooling from the open school. Among her friends, she was not
considered a very bright student. She never talked much and suffered
from a feeling of frustration.
Sheilly does not belong to a well to do family. Her father runs a shop.
One day, her uncle informed Sheilly about TARAhaat, located near her
house, offering computer courses especially for women, young and adult.
Though she was interested in computers right from childhood and also
well familiar with its importance and usage for different purposes,
because of her educational background, Sheilly was a little hesitant.
Her uncle’s perseverance led her to join the course. She was now
determined to do something on her own after completing the course. She
says, ‘I wanted to show to my friends that I can do something on my
Sheilly owes a lot to her uncle, who stood behind her and gave the
much-needed encouragement and support throughout the training period.
Her father too wanted Sheilly to learn and willingly paid her fees. At
the centre, Sheilly found the CTC staffs and trainer very cooperative.
Initially, she did find the training a bit tough but gradually she was
able to grasp the subject. She has full praise for her trainer, who
always encouraged her to ask questions and always treated her like a
sister. She says, ‘Karamjeet didi ne kafi support kiya. Unone kabhi
begano jaisa feel nehin hone diya’.
After the completion of the course, a newfound enthusiasm appeared in
Sheilly’s face and soon she found a job in the Hutch outlet located in
the town. She worked in the shop as a coordinator, which gave her the
needed opportunity to apply the computer skills she had learned during
the training. The job profile too was to her liking as she was in charge
of handling stocks, accounts and sending emails, etc. Apart from the job
satisfaction, Sheilly is earning a modest amount of Rs 2000 per month.
Now Sheilly is a much happier person, honing her computer skills while
working at the Hutch shop. For her, this is not the end. She aims for a
higher job in the computer field. For all this, she thanks the MSUP
project, through which she got an opportunity to learn and stand on her
Hurdles and Challenges
TARAhaat has recently
expanded its network of TARAkendras in some of the 100 poorest
districts situated in Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh,
eastern and central Uttar Pradesh. These districts rank among the lowest
in the country in terms of socio-economic indicators, especially female
literacy and gender ratio. In fact, the official female literacy rates
in most of these districts prevail around 40% or even lower.
Furthermore, the gender-biased traditional beliefs in the society do not
allow girls at many places to go out of their homes and/or visit a TARAkendra.
At most of the new places,
especially in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and eastern Uttar Pradesh,
where TARAhaat is setting up its CTLCs, there has been no IT
intervention of any kind so far. Youth, more specifically girls and
women, do not have any access to IT training. This, coupled with the low
literacy rates that exist in these areas, makes it a big challenge to
get participants and qualified women Master Trainers.
from the onset of the implementation of the project indicate a high rate
of turnover amongst women Master Trainers as compared to male trainers.
Given the fact that the MSUP
program imparts basic IT skills, establishing a strong linkage with job
opportunities has been a challenge .However, TARAhaat has
designed high end job-oriented courses to be clubbed with MSUP program
to address this issue.
MSUP: A Way Ahead
The program’s vision is
ambitious and must be backed by a commitment to support it consistently
over time. In a social environment that imposes restrictions and
constraints on women to become self reliant, the MSUP program has taken
its first steps. The results of the MSUP program at TARAhaat till
date have demonstrated that while focused marketing and outreach
programmes can attract women in a large scale to avail the benefits of
IT training, the conservative social environment in rural areas requires
a sustained and long-term approach to contribute towards a widespread
benefit to rural women. This project is based on developing a long-term
approach, which over time, will become self sustaining and contribute
positively to the development of this much neglected and hard to reach
segment of the rural population.
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