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A slightly overwhelming class strength of 45 girls greeted us on Day 1 of our business skills course for aspiring beauticians in Ghansoli village, Navi Mumbai. All of these girls are part of the Godrej Saloni beautician training programme, a CSR initiative of Godrej Industries being implemented in Mumbai and several districts of Karnataka. We had been working very hard over the last fortnight to create the instructor modules and student workbooks. Both manuals went through several iterations – Draft 1, Draft 2 and so on until the Final Draft until they were deemed to be just right!

Engrossed in the theory lesson

We started our first session (Preparing for Work) even as the monsoon rains started drumming on the asbestos roof of our makeshift “training centre” in Ghansoli. Struggling to be heard over the din of the rain, Reshma kick-started the workshop with our first session on preparing to work and scheduling one’s day. While the girls were a little hesitant at first, they soon loosened up and began to be absorbed in the exercises we had set out for them. The role plays which formed a significant part of the sessions were highly entertaining (most of them had both participants and audience in loud fits of laughter). But they also boosted the girls’ confidence and made them think about potential real-life situations and how they would manage those (irate customers, unhappy customers, hostile co-workers and so on).

Group work

In the course of the other 3 days, the instructors and students learnt about making a resume, cracking interviews and getting a job, starting your own business, costing your services, making a rate card, marketing and publicity, calculating income and expenses, calculating profit and loss, and much much more. List-making, role plays, resume-writing, number-crunching – they did it all.

Some girls were shy and reserved and some were role models with their wit, confidence and passion. The feisty go-getters were natural leaders, volunteering to step up and come in front of the class to explain what their team had been working on. Many had troubles at home. Someone’s sister insisted she leave the workshop to attend college. Another’s husband objected to his mother having to babysit the kids while she was at the workshop. The instructors grappled with these “HR” issues while of us mentored the girls as best as we could.

What we realized unequivocally was that vocational training alone is not the

Happy faces on the last day of the workshop

solution to lifting girls out of poverty or giving them a better standard of life. True empowerment comes from believing in oneself and being willing to stand up for one believes in. Learning the skills of the trade is important. But sometimes, far more important is learning the tricks of the trade. Soft skills, confidence, presentation, some financial savvy and a go-getting attitude is what will differentiate some girls from the rest.

Here’s to the Saloni girls flying high in their chosen career!