This Journalist Left His Job To Make Rural Communities Digitally Literate, Empowers Vulnerable Tribes

Image Credits: Suchayan Mandal

This Journalist Left His Job To Make Rural Communities Digitally Literate, Empowers Vulnerable Tribes

After working in the media industry for 10 years, Suchayan Mandal started Advaita Bodhi Foundation in 2021. It works on four pillars—Digital Inclusion, Financial Inclusion, Quality education for rural communities and Rural Entrepreneurship.

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It was the early summer of 2021. Suchayan Mandal, a former journalist, walked into a remote village in Nadia district in West Bengal. With 95 per cent of the scheduled caste and scheduled tribe population, the problems communities faced in Chorsorati village of Nadia district were unique.

They had at least one smartphone per family but didn't know what they could do with it apart from watching YouTube or WhatsApp. Most of them earned less than ₹500 daily, their primary occupation being weaving sarees. They generally sold these sarees through mediators who paid them ₹200 or ₹300 for a single piece with a market worth of ₹2000. However, the weavers believed this was the way forward as there was no other option.

Mandal left the media world after working for 10 years in Delhi and decided to empower the marginalised communities in Bengal.

In early 2021, he started Advaita Bodhi Foundation, which works on four pillars—Digital Inclusion, Financial Inclusion, Quality education for rural communities and Rural Entrepreneurship. Until now, the organisation has trained more than 5000 beneficiaries across West Bengal.

Building Digital Labs

As a social worker, Mandal developed the first Jana Pragati Udyog (JPU) at a local school in Chorsorati village. JPU is a digital lab with computers, projectors, printers, and internet connectivity. The idea was to build it into an open space where rural communities of all age groups could walk in without hesitation and learn digital skills, financial, and media literacy.

He and his team invited 180 young men and women in the age group of 18 to 29 years who were related to these weavers.

"The idea was to make them get enabled in digital skills. These people were trained to use digital payments, internet banking, selling on e-commerce, making PAN cards, booking train tickets and more," Suchayan Mandal shared with The Logical Indian.

Impact Of First Training

A few months later, the weavers were convinced. The children of their families could sell volumes to customers without mediators' intervention.

"We trained them in the basics of social media marketing. So, they sell using Facebook groups and get payment through digital apps. We have also trained them to sell on Amazon and Flipkart," Mandal said.

"Twelve youths we trained are forming an SHG to get GST numbers and start selling on e-commerce. Five of the beneficiaries have started a digital service point including a CSP of a private bank at their homes," he added.

Within a year, the economy of this village has shown significant changes, with the youths no longer looking for jobs but doing something by themselves and supporting the community.

Advaita Bodhi conducts regular training in this village and also tries to add various courses interlinked with digital literacy - financial advisors, Coding, CRM, para-medical training etc. The Foundation works on eight of the seventeen UN SDGs. Since last year, it has opened four JPUs. One has been made operational at a tribal village in the Jhargram district of West Bengal.

Tribal Upliftment

Home to 100 Lodha families, the 'Primitive Vulnerable Tribal Group' was called Criminal Tribes because they tended to kill and loot people earlier. The digital lab at the tribal village built by Advaita Bodhi Foundation caters to young adults to guide them about various career opportunities, including vocational courses. A significant problem in this belt is dropping out of school because the majority of students do not have enough motivation.

"We are providing foundation courses to these students to strengthen their English, mother tongue, Math and Basic Science. These are animated classes with volunteer trainers. More than learning, these students now need motivation and inclusion to stay at school," Mandal shared.

Bharat Unlimited

While the Foundation is training the communities on digital skills, it is also essential for them to access information on careers. The organisation conducts regular career guidance workshops for the rural youth and school students to talk to them about various career opportunities, including Artificial intelligence, rural tourism, IT, Para-medical courses, financial advisors, and scholarships to pursue these courses.

"We have conducted more than 15 career guidance workshops till now. This is also the platform where we invite various SMEs for on-ground placement sessions for the youth beneficiaries we cater to," Mandal said.

Future Initiatives

Advaita Bodhi Foundation has earmarked a few key impact areas that they will be working on now:

Primary level e-learning: Under Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme, there are primary schools every five-ten kilometres. However, a few lacks regular teachers, and the pedagogy isn't very engaging for young minds. Advaita Bodhi is plugging in an extension and would be providing a world-class education for the primary level, so these children are at par with the urban students. The initiative isn't to make students toppers but just to ensure they are at par with their city counterparts when they go to the high school.

The Global Communication Lab: While a few students learn English in villages, most cannot communicate. This makes them less qualified for the jobs of their dreams where the privileged students get ready access. To bridge this gaping imbalance between talent and skill, Advaita Bodhi Foundation is building the Advaita Bodhi Global Communication Lab at Chorsorati village in Nadia, a first-of-its-kind English language laboratory exclusively made for rural India. Designed with the best acoustics and technology, this lab will handheld the students of the rural communities master this international language.

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